Today they’re scuttling around the parking lot of the Kennedy Space Center looking for barcoded scraps of paper. But one day, NASA hopes to use similar robots to comb the surface of the moon, or Mars, or an asteroid, looking for fuel or other valuable material underground.

The robots are simple “swarmies,” and carry a webcam, WiFi antenna, and GPS device. The goal, NASA explains, is to deploy a group of them to each search a section of land, then report back to each other if and when they find something.

This divide-and-conquer approach is one that ants use, to cover large areas in the most efficient manner. It’s also a more reliable approach: If one bot in a group is lost, the mission isn’t in jeopardy.

The robots are a long way from taking a trip to space—for now, the researchers in charge are developing algorithms that will guide the bots in their work.

Eventually, the testing will include RASSOR, a robot that looks like a laptop on wheels, that NASA is developing to mine.

Via NASA/IEEE Spectrum

Image via NASA