Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are developing robots to explore volcanoes in Hawaii. The team, led by geologist Carolyn Parcheta, has already tested VolcanoBot 1 at Kilauea volcano in Hawaii and is now preparing VolcanoBot2 for its mission later this year. The team’s robots have been developed in order to gain new information about what happens within volcanoes. Naturally, it’s a dangerous business, so Parcheta and her co-advisor, JPL robotics researcher Aaron Parness, are developing robots that can get into the most perilous of crevices.
“We don’t know exactly how volcanoes erupt. We have models but they are all very, very simplified. This project aims to help make those models more realistic,” Parcheta said a statement.
In May 2014, VolcanoBot1 went into a fissure on Kilauea volcano, where it used 3D-mapping technology to chart magma pathways for four days. It was able to descend to depths of 82 feet (25 meters), and could have gone deeper with the use of a longer tether. The next-generation model, VolcanoBot2 is smaller than its predecessor and will be able to turn and look at features around it, and also store all data on a on-board computer. It will be tested in Kilauea in early March.
NASA is interested in the robot research as it could also be used on other planets, such as Mars, where volcanic fissures are commonplace. Other moons and planets in the solar system also have volcanoes, including Mercury, Enceladus and Europa.
“In the last few years, NASA spacecraft have sent back incredible pictures of caves, fissures and what look like volcanic vents on Mars and the moon. We don’t have the technology yet to explore them, but they are so tantalizing,” Parness said. “Working with Carolyn, we’re trying to bridge that gap using volcanoes here on Earth for practice. We’re learning about how volcanoes erupt here on Earth, too, and that has a lot of benefits in its own right.”