'Windbots' could explore Jupiter's stormy atmosphere

Drawing energy from the turbulence around them

Getting humans to other planets is not yet within our technological capabilities as a species, but we're getting quite good at exploring them with robots. We've got rovers on Mars, and we've sent landers to several other members of the inner solar system.

But it gets a bit trickier when it comes to the outer planets - they're almost all gas giants, meaning they consist of a huge, violent atmosphere around a thicker core. Anything we send there will need to be able to fly.

So Nasa engineers have put together a concept design for a robot that can stay aloft without wings or hot air balloons. Their 'windbot' uses the energy from air turbulence to keep it up - like a dandelion seed blowing past.

Extremely valuable

"A dandelion seed is great at staying airborne," explained Adrian Stoica, the principal investigator of the Windbot study. "It rotates as it falls, creating lift, which allows it to stay afloat for long time, carried by the wind. We'll be exploring this effect on windbot designs."

There might be some applications of the research on Earth too - a windbot that feeds off turbulence might be useful in meteorological research into hurricanes and other extreme weather phenomena.

"We don't yet know if this idea is truly feasible. We'll do the research to try and find out," Stoica added. "But it pushes us to find other ways of approaching the problem, and that kind of thinking is extremely valuable."