On Friday’s episode of Sanctuary, Magnus and her team were faced with tracking down a thief with the ability to squeeze into the narrowest of spaces. Suspicious of a pipe that may have been used to make a getaway, our intrepid heroes break out a ROV — remotely operated vehicle — to peer where they can not.
As Magnus notes in the episode, similar real-world machines have been used to investigate mysterious passages just 8 inches wide inside the Great Pyramid of Egypt. ROVs differ from autonomous robots like Roomba vacuum cleaners because they are constantly controlled by an operator, typically via a long tether which provides power as well as control signals (and a way to recover the robot if it breaks down). ROVs are often used to explore deep sea environments, and became familiar to many during their starring role in the 1989 first-contact science-fiction movie The Abyss.
The Google Lunar X-Prize is offering $20 million to the first team that can put an ROV on the moon by 2012. There’s no rule against using a fully autonomous robot, but guiding the robot directly from Earth would certainly makes the task easier — during the 1960’s, the Russians remotely operated two Lunokhod rovers on the moon that trundled around surface for about a year and 4 months, respectively — an impressive duration for the robot technology of the time, and even more so when the two-week long lunar nights are taken in consideration. So we can expect the first private robot moon buggy to be something not a million miles removed from Magnus’s little helper.