News FocusExploration

Making Smarter, Savvier Robots

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Science  30 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5991, pp. 508-509
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5991.508

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There's a defect in current space-exploration technology: Basically, robots are pretty dumb. Now scientists across the world are striving to change that by developing intelligent robots that can circumvent danger and spot enticing features on their own. Hundreds of scientists, mostly at NASA and at universities, are working on improving robot explorers. But only a few dozen specialize in developing robots with true, high-level independence. The main NASA lab, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has a dozen people and a budget of about $4 million—a lower figure than in the past. But scientists there see promising signs. For one, NASA chief technologist Robert Braun has begun a new, general Space Technology Program that lists "machine intelligence" as one thrust.