Robotic squid will look for life on other planets

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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

A new squid-shaped robot is being sent into space. But the idea for it actually came from a sci-fi movie!

The robotic squid might be the first ever soft robot to explore the oceans of Jupiter's moon Europa, looking for life on other planets. It was developed by former NASA Chief Technologist Mason Peck.

Peck is considered the nation's most important aerospace engineer, and has always been inspired by the science fiction writing of his father. Peck will be at The Science Center on Wednesday, May 27 for a pre-Comicon event, to get diehard fans pumped up for science and Comicon.

Local Scientist Brad Synder is hosting Peck's event. He joined us on Tuesday's Good Morning Arizona to answer questions about the significance of this squid rover.

“It is a soft robot that can swim through the oceans of Jupiter's moon,” Snyder says.

Long intrigued by Europa's icy, water-logged environs, researchers around the world have long been trying figure out the best way to explore the alien world up close.

Engineers at Cornell University now say a giant soft robot is the best bet. This giant, soft robot, which remains only a design, (not yet a prototype), would forgo the dry surface for the moon's underwater worlds.

NASA recently offered a team of Cornell engineers a $100,000 starter grant to develop a soft-bodied self-sustaining robot capable of exploring harsh alien environments -- like the icy oceans of Jupiter's moon Europa. It's one of several grants offered as part of NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts program.

As of now, researchers plan to compose the eel-like body of stretchable, electro-luminescent skin that can light up the robot's marine surroundings. It will also be designed to source energy from its environment -- harvesting solar power and scavenging for hydrogen and oxygen gas which will be stored in internal chambers and then ignited to propel to the robot through the water.

"This robotic concept is inspired by terrestrial biology, and may help us understand how creatures in an environment like Europa's ocean could gather energy to sustain life," Peck said.

If NASA likes their initial designs, the team could be eligible for another $500,000. For more information about the event, visit www.azscience.org.

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