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NASA Uses Interplanetary Internet to Control Robot in Germany

We're not going to say these are the tools of the robot apocalypse. But, they're probably the tools of the robot apocalypse

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A LEGO rover (not the one used in the experiment.) Photo: legoalbert

Whenever some fancy new robot or robot-related advancement gets bandied about, you’re sure to be greeted with a few cries of “Ahh! Robot Apocalypse!” Most of those cries are just for fun and even a bit tacky (probably). And most of the fears are unwarranted (hopefully). But a new report by the BBC—that NASA and the European Space Agency have just successfully tested their ability to use a shadow internet to control a robot on Earth from up in space—could leave a person shaking his head and muttering, “Come on people. What are you thinking?”

The technology, known as Disruption-Tolerant Networking (DTN), is just like the internet, only hardier and meant for transmitting data over long distances through somewhat less hospitable conditions. In late October, says the BBC, ” Expedition 33 commander Sunita Williams used a laptop with DTN software to control a rover in Germany.”

The goal of the project is to have a more robust way of controlling our rovers and satellites as humanity continues to push into the next frontiers of solar system exploration. According to NASA, the space-controlled robot rover was made of LEGO, which makes the whole thing harmless and fun.

Robot apocalypse fear mongering bonus points, courtesy of the BBC:

The DTN is similar to the internet on Earth, but is much more tolerant to the delays and disruptions that are likely to occur when data is shuttling between planets, satellites, space stations and distant spacecraft.

… The system uses a network of nodes – connection points – to cope with delays. If there is a disruption, the data gets stored at one of the nodes until the communication is available again to send it further. This “store and forward” mechanism ensures data is not lost and gradually works its way towards its destination.

Which means it can’t be stopped.

More from Smithsonian.com:
Robot Apocalypse Inches Closer as Machines Learn To Install Solar Panels
Why You Should Stop Worrying About the Robot Apocalypse
Don’t Trust Robots? The Pentagon Doesn’t Either

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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