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ANTS: Autonomous NanoTechnology Swarm

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a tetrahedron?

A tetrahedron is a pyramid with three sides and a base. The tetrahedral pyramid shape is a fundamentally stable structure and the simplest space-filling solid.

What is ANTS technology?

ANTS is an acronym for Autonomous Nano-Technology Swarm.
ANTS technology builds on and advances recent trends in robotics, artificial intelligence, and materials processing to minimize costs and maximize effectiveness of space operations. The ANTS architecture is inspired by the success of social insect colonies, a success based on the division of labor within the colony in two key ways: First, within their specialties, individual specialists generally outperform generalists. Second, with sufficiently efficient social interaction and coordination, the group of specialists generally outperforms the group of generalists. Thus systems designed as ANTS are built from potentially very large numbers of highly autonomous, yet socially interactive, elements. The architecture is self-similar in that elements and sub-elements of the system may also be recursively structured as ANTS on scales ranging from microscopic to interplanetary distances.

What is ALI?

ALI is an acronym for the Autonomous Lunar Investigator (ALI) mission.
The crux of this mission is to allow autonomous in situ exploration of the lunar poles of the moon within the next decade. ALI will consist of one or more 12 tetrahedral walkers capable of rapid locomotion with the many degrees of freedom and equipped for navigation in the non-illuminated, inaccessible and thus largely unexplored rugged terrains where resources are likely to be found such as the moon’s Polar Regions.ALI walkers would act as roving reconnaissance teams for unexplored regions, analyzing samples, soil or rock, along the way. The payload would be designed to provide not only details of composition, origin and age of traversed terrain, but the identification of sites with resources useful for permanent bases, including water and high Ti glass.

What is LARA?

LARA is a Lander Amorphous Rover Antenna.
NASA’s Exploration Initiative requires tools to support of near term human activities on the Moon or Mars. An ANTS craft is an appendage-less multi-tetrahedral structure, harnessing the effective skeletal/muscular system of the frame itself to enable more ‘natural’ movement, effectively allowing ‘flow’ across a surface or into a particular morphological form. Individual craft would be deployed, with or without a human crew, land, using a miniaturized version of high impulse thruster technology, transform into rovers, bowl-shaped antennas, hut-like human shelters, or more specialized service providers, as needed, and ultimately return to the point of deployment.

What is ALMA?

ALMA is an acronym for Autonomous Lunar Manual Assistant.
This project brings robot-human relations to a reality by taking the first step of proving the concept. The 'tetarm' can be attached as a subsystem to any existing rover platform.

What is PAM?

PAM is an acronym for Prospecting Asteroid Mission.
PAM is ad advanced application of the Autonomous NanoTechnology Swarm (ANTS) mission architecture. Here the team intends to analyze the nature and use of spacecraft structures required for PAM, an ANTS mission application for a low gravity, low density multi-body target population survey. The basic design elements are self-similar low-power, low-weight, addressable components and individual systems capable of operating as fully autonomous, yet addressable, adaptable units as called for by swarm demands and environmental needs. With 10 to 20 sub swarms operating simultaneously, hundreds of asteroids could be explored during a mission traverse of an asteroid belt.

What is ART?

ART is an acronym for Addressable Reconfigurable Technology (ART) used to provide structures for ANTS architecture.
Robust, ‘form follows function’ structures transform ultimately capable of providing all key functions: transportation in space and on the ground, communication, shelter, resource identification and capture. The system will operate autonomously as robotic mission or through interface to support human exploration.

What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is a group of emerging technologies in which the structure of matter is controlled at the nanometer scale, the scale of small numbers of atoms, to produce novel materials and devices that have useful and unique properties. Some of these technologies impose only limited control of structure at the nanometer scale, producing useful products. They are also being further developed to produce even more sophisticated products in which the structure of matter is more precisely controlled. Also see additional information at the following two links:
Nanotube Site and MIT-Stanford-Berkeley Nanotechnology Forum

What is the Tetrahedral Rover or TetWalker?

The Tetrahedral Rover or ‘TeTWalker’ is in simplest terms a robot.
It is called a tetrahedral rover because it resembles a tetrahedron (a pyramid with 3 sides and a base). Referred to as TeTWalker, it will be able to fully function in high and low-gravity environments.

Why use a tetrahedron as the basic design shape of the walker? Why not improve the wheel?

The wheel is ancient technology. Moreover, the most interesting places in universe are located in and on places where the wheel cannot go. The wheel cannot climb, step, reconstruct, glide, etc…before humans can explore the unknown; it becomes feasible to develop ‘probes’ that can gather information on the places humans seek to explore. It is vital and necessary to have robots with many degrees of freedom for missions to the unknown. Like the many degrees of freedom found within the human body structure, the TeTWalker will be able interact with its environment by climbing, walking, bracing for impact, extending, tumbling, stepping over, self healing, etc…in order to ensure a successful mission.

What does the TeTWalker do?

The TeTWalker is in essence a multi-purpose space exploration device that will go places where man has not set foot – yet. Below are some of the things the TeTWalker will be able to do: How can we explore complicated, dynamic and unpredictable environments? TeTWalker technology will not only revolutionize space exploration, it will enhance humanity.

What is the purpose of the TeTWalker?

To study remote multi-body or high surface target area in inaccessible locations (although we are referring to extraterrestrial locations, note this can be applied to terrestrial). This represent challenges unachievable by conventional (direct control of single craft from centralized location) or even evolutionary (direct control of multi-craft from control surrogate) mission design. Such targets include surveys of extreme environments on the Earth, Moon, Mars, asteroids, comets, or dust populations. The revolutionary ANTS technology makes the achievement of such goals possible through the use of many small, autonomous, reconfigurable, redundant element craft acting as independent or collective agents.

How fast does the TeTWalker travel?

10 km/day or 6.23 miles/day

How is the TeTWalker powered?

The TeTWalker is currently powered by LiPo batteries. However, the TET Team is currently working on developing a more efficient and longer lasting nuclear battery.

How is the TetWalker controlled?

For now, the TeTWalker is control remotely by a VITRUAL REALITY program, of which commands are sent to the rover by radio frequency. However, the TET team is currently in the process of developing a fully autonomous neural system that will be placed on the TETWalker in order give it decision making capabilities when encountering problems on the moon’s surface.

How was it constructed?

In the prototype, electric motors were placed on the corners of a tetrahedral shaped structure, which are called nodes. The nodes are connected to struts which form the sides of the tetrahedral. The struts telescope like the legs of a camera tripod, and the motors in the nodes are used to expand or retract the struts. This allows the tetrahedral to move. Additionally, changing the length of its sides alters the tetrahedral’s center of gravity, causing it to topple over. The nodes also pivot, giving the robot great flexibility. The struts are aluminum segmented telescoping segments designed to change length by a factor of 5. These are then attached to the two nodes with joints allowing movement over a wide range of angles. The strut material is relatively lightweight and easily machinable, yet strong enough to hold the weight of the structure. In relation to deployment, each strut is reversibly shortened or lengthened using a battery-operated high torque motor driven string pulley mechanism at each node. Additionally, the nodes will contain the power, control, and communication systems. Sensors in each node allow position of node relative to the ground and other nodes as well as location of walker to be ascertained at any time. The specially designed interior nodes will are easily identifiable for the payload. The TeTWalker will be controlled from manually driven to preprogrammed sequencing to autonomous navigation.

What are the benefits of the ANTS - TETWalker?

The team anticipates TETWalkers can be made much smaller by replacing their motors with Micro- and Nano-Electro-Mechanical Systems. Replacement of the struts with metal tape or carbon nanotubes will not only reduce the size of the robots, it will also greatly increase the number that can be packed into a rocket because tape and nanotube struts are fully retractable, allowing the pyramid to shrink to the point where all its nodes touch. These miniature TeTWalkers, when joined together in "swarms," will have great advantages over current systems. The swarm has abundant flexibility so it can change its shape to accomplish highly diverse goals. For example, while traveling through a planet's atmosphere, the swarm might flatten itself to form an aerodynamic shield. Upon landing, it can shift its shape to form a snake-like swarm and slither away over difficult terrain. If it finds something interesting, it can grow an antenna and transmit data to Earth. Highly-collapsible material can also be strung between nodes for temperature control or to create a deployable solar sail.

Additionally, the nodes will be designed to disconnect and reconnect to different struts (The self-healing, self reproducing aspect of the project). If a meteoroid or rough landing punches a hole in the swarm, the system can heal itself by rejoining undamaged nodes. One of the main reasons spacecraft are so expensive is because failure in a single component can cripple the entire spacecraft. As a result, extensive testing and redundant systems are employed to reduce the chance of catastrophic failure. The benefits of this technology will allow space exploration to consistently complete every mission at relatively financial low cost and no cost to human lives.

What value does the TeTWalker bring to space exploration, specifically? And humanity in general?

The TeTWalker will be able to go to places on the moon that no human has been able to go. Additionally, it will offer information that can prove to be vital to life on Earth. The TeTWalker brings a revolutionary reconfigurable and scalable benefit to space exploration. The shape, size, and volume of its elements can be controlled as well as the ART structure can take on multiple configurations and perform multiple tasks. Additionally, the TeTWalker is robust, totally controllable, and lightweight. Requires minimal power and more importantly, reduces mission failures. The TeTWalker is first and foremost a transferable technology. The effective ART skeletal/ muscular frame system enables fluid motion over any terrain and supports performance of varied functions. As a result, the ART frame may be applied to wheel chairs or other assistive devices or adapted to enhance human performance. ART’s maneuverability and ability to reconfigure make it particularly useful in situations where tasks must be preformed in inhospitable environments. Lastly, the unique abilities of the technology also open the door to a new era of toys and novelty items.

When will the TeTrahedral devices be ready for flight?

The team is anticipating that the TetArm would be ready for a 2010 launch, the 12TetWalker ready for launch in under ten years, and LARA ready within two decades.

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Autonomous NanoTechnology Swarm


Designed to be self-healing, the TET walker will be able to discard and replace broken parts of its structure.

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