NASA is creating a rover using clockwork inspired by 2,300-year-old Antikythera mechanism


NASA is turning to a mysterious 2,300-year-old ancient device—referred to as the first ever computer on Earth, the Antikythera Mechanism—to construct a Rover which would survive the extreme environment on Venus.

NASA wants to go where no human has ever been, from distant alien worlds to the strangest moons in our solar system. In order to achieve that, the space agency has to rely on technology that that will get the job done.

Sometimes, the technology is anything but conventional, while other times it’s unlike anything you’ve ever imagined.

In order to explore planets like Venus—a planet too hostile even for our most advanced machines, where electronic circuits cannot withstand the extreme heat on the planet, to high pressure and clouds of sulphuric acid which destroy the most advanced rover in the blink of an eye.

Scientists turn back to history and go back in time to the mysterious Antikythera mechanism to get the job done, exploring an alien world.

The Antikythera Mechanism is basically an ancient computer created by an unknown “ancient engineer” some more than 2,000 years ago.

It was discovered in the 1900’s among the remains of a shipwreck near the Antikythera (or Anticythera) island.

No one knows for certain where the computer was built, although many historians argue it was constructed somewhere in Greece.

The intricate device consists of 37 different types of gears and is so complex that many scholars have failed to explain how anyone on Earth managed to build it more than 2,300 years ago.

After the Antikythera mechanism, technological artifacts approaching its complexity and workmanship did not appear again in Europe until the development of mechanical astronomical clocks in the fourteenth century.

AREE; a clockwork rover inspired by mechanical computers. A JPL team is studying how this kind of rover could explore extreme environments, like the surface of Venus. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Given its complexity, NASA has decided to take a look at the device and use a similar technology in its next rover that will explore Venus.

The rover—called the Automaton Rover for Extreme Environments or AREE, was proposed in 2015 by Jonathan Sauder from the Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory, according to The Space Journal Room.

Experts are now selecting parts of the AREE to be a prototype.

“Venus is too inhospitable for kind of complex control systems you have on a Mars Rover. But with a fully mechanical Rover, you might be able to survive as long as a year,” said Sauder.

A look inside the AREE rover (next to an astronaut for scale). The Wind would be channeled through the rover’s body for primary power. Rotating targets on top could be “pinged” by radar, sending data as Morse code. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The AREE would survive where no other rover could. In such extreme environments—like on Venus—most electronic parts would quickly melt or corrode due to sulphuric acid. This is why experts aim to build a rover similar to the Antikythera mechanism which according to them could get the job done and stay alive on Venus.

According to Discover Magazine, using a clockwork computer and a body composed of hardened metals, the Antikythera mechanism-based rover could take on the 800 degrees Fahrenheit surface temperatures of Earth’s ‘evil twin’ Venus.

The rover would operate without electronics and would rely on energy harvested from the wind and its turbine.

The rover would “walk” thanks to Jansen mechanism legs, all guided by a mechanical computer and a logic system specifically programmed for its mission on Venus.

The rover would collect basic data from the surface of Venus like wind speed, temperature and seismic events.

However, the biggest issue is sending the data back to Earth.

Experts suggest they could use a retroreflecter that would allow them to bounce signals from the surface. However, they also say using phonograph-style records, launched by a balloon to high altitudes drone could work.

This system could allow the rover to survive on the surface of Venus for weeks if not months, allowing it to collect and return valuable long term longitudinal science data from the surface of Venus.


(H/T NASA)


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