Microbots – The Seeds of Interstellar Colonization by Robert Buckalew
The long-term viability of humanity depends on the colonization of planets in other star systems. The difficulty of such an enterprise might best be overcome by following a model evolved in nature. Like a tree dropping many thousands of seeds every fall in expectation that one may sprout, the colonization of space by micro-robots would involve sending out many times more robotic seed pods than might be expected to find fertile ground and germinate. Like plant seeds, each tiny robot must carry all the essential information to autonomously begin a complex implementation process upon arrival at its targeted destination.
Sending an abundance of tiny autonomous robots to targeted locations in space, like the seeds in Nature’s model, acknowledges an anticipated high failure rate for this long term, very far reaching project while placing no living humans at risk. Designing, mass producing and deploying interstellar microbots can be funded over many decades to extend the economic and political costs while this dispersion could be readily redirected as new, potentially habitable worlds are discovered. The burgeoning fields of biotechnology, genetics, artificial intelligence, nano technology and micro-robotic technology are making remarkable advances. Developing an interstellar microbot might impel a symbiotic convergence of these promising technologies. Conversely, the development of propulsion systems or physical phenomena that could provide intra-generational human interstellar space travel, such as warp drives or worm holes, are based on tenuous scientific precedence.
An elongated polyhedron shape may prove most functional. Every surface would serve a specific function. The leading and trailing hexagonal surfaces would be photo sensitive for guidance between Sol and the destination star. From the eight elongated surfaces, eight panels would be deployed and latched at 90-degree angles to the main body for solar energy collection and solar sail navigational control. Each side of a control panel would have separate functions. One side would be energy collecting solar cells and the other side would be variable contrast panels such as micro-particle displays (E Ink) to allow low energy changes in the photo absorption and reflectivity of the panel. The reflective panels act as solar sails providing only limited navigational control in space. These panels would include terminals at their outer ends for mechanical and electrical connections to other microbots when forming arrays. The panels would also employ nano motors or bio-mechanical muscles at their pivoting connection points allowing rotation of the panels. The eight exposed rectangular surfaces of the polygon would emit redirected light for further photonic thrust control.
Each microbot would carry the primogenitor seeds for bringing life to the destination planet. This genetic seed would be hermetically sealed inside the microbot for safe transport during interstellar travel. Their construction might incorporate a combination of machine made and organic components of a DNA-like mechanism to allow regenerative repair, production and reproduction of microbots and other living or biomechanical organisms once activated upon reaching the planet surface where the necessary water, minerals and energy would be available.
For minimum mass and future biological reproduction, microbot memory and programming might best be constructed with molecular sequencing similar to the information in chromosomes.
Durability of the Microbots
The bots must be durable enough to survive the forces of rapid acceleration. They must be unaffected by exposure to interstellar radiation, as the travel time of 100+ years would subject them to solar and cosmic radiation. The bio-organic components can borrow designs from Earth tardigrades and other extremophilic microbes so that they can be hardened to radiation and remain torpid and preserved during their interplanetary travel. Even in this dormant state the organic progenitors would need to be sealed from liquid evaporation. Their preservation may be aided by the extreme cold of space. Other hazards include physical degradation over time, thermal stress during atmospheric entry and subjugation to an alien planet’s surface environments. The microbot design must allow inexpensive mass-production, for like seeds from a tree, an overabundance of them need to be launched (millions to each potential exoplanet) to allow for expected failures while assuring that a sufficient number of functioning bio-machines reach and survive at their destinations.
Microbots will incorporate no self-contained propulsive means but will be externally accelerated to a high terminal velocity which will give them the their directional vector and inertia to carry them to their destination. These tiny microbots must be of very low mass (1-5 micro grams) to allow them to be more easily accelerated to the very high velocities with a practicable expenditure of energy. Sending larger, higher functioning robots, while making the planetary preparations somewhat easier, would either greatly increase the propulsive energy required or extend the travel time. Once the microbots and launch system are developed, these robotic precursors to humans can be sent to various exoplanets over extended time periods as more candidate exoplanets become known to us. Microbots would be accelerated to fractional light speeds in a magnetic accelerator or rail gun and launched in a focused beam toward the target star. Similar to CERN and other Earth based particle accelerators, this accelerator would necessarily be in Earth orbit or moon based to avoid atmospheric heating of the microbots at the very high exiting speeds (approaching 1/10th the speed of light). Power requirements might be similar to proposed space lasers for interstellar solar sail acceleration. By attaining relativistic speeds the travel time would be significantly shortened to around 100 years for nearby star systems.
Magnetic Orientation and Panel Magnetism
In order to attain the initial velocity and direction (inertia), microbot construction requires some ferromagnetic property in order to respond to the electromagnetic forces of the accelerator. To impart correct spatial orientation upon discharge from the accelerator, the magnetic property should be located asymmetrically, for example, at the front of the body shell. This magnetic asymmetry would orient the microbot so that the lead photon detector emerges aimed at the destination star and the trailing photon detector looks back toward Sol. The acceleration process might impart a magnetism (or residual magnetism) that could aid in connecting bots into arrays. Discharge from the magnetic field of the accelerator might additionally trigger the deployment of the control panels.
Variable Launch Speeds
To maximize the velocity of the bots and minimize the size and energy requirement of the magnetic accelerator, the bots must be launched individually and in rapid succession. The timing and velocity of the microbots launches would be designed to create a clustering of multiple groups of bots during their travel through interstellar space. It is necessary for communication that some of these individual bots cluster in space in order to form arrays. The earliest bot in a cluster would be launched at the slowest speed. The last would be the fastest. And the intermediate bots would launch at velocities proportionately faster and slower relative to their launch position. The different velocities would cause the lagging bots to catch up with the middle bots and the earliest to launch would be overtaken by the followers until at some point they would be all traveling in proximity.
During this clustering, which has a window limited to around 100 years, the bots could modulate their initial velocities through photon pressure (solar sail thrust) and position by photonic radiation. As they cluster their relative velocities should be approaching parity, and once in proximity they could attach to form mechanical and electrical connections.
Bots Maximize Surface Area
Following acceleration, the microbots would unfurl eight panels from their eight elongated sides as a flower unfolds its petals. This increase in their exposed surface area would maximize the solar energy collection area as well as the radiant/reflective control surface areas. The extended panels would be permanently latched. Extended panels would terminate with magnetic, mechanical latches. Magnetic attraction would aid in attaching to their polar mates, and a mechanical connection would provide a secure physical and electrically conductive connection as required for collected arrays. To maximize solar efficiency and achieve control functions the bots would be able to physically rotate the extended solar collectors and reflective panels. This could be accomplished though nano motors or bio-mechanical muscular tissue. Bio-muscular actuators, such as employed by electric eels, could also serve as electrical storage systems.
Connected clusters of microbots might contain 10,000 bots for a 100 x 100 array. Hundreds of arrays might be created, though arraying would only be necessary for such specific functions as communication antennas and power arrays. Any bots that do not array or are not needed to form into an array during the interstellar journey would still retain full autonomy. Solitary bots would possess the hardware and programming to navigate, land and colonize without arraying. Their individual energy-gathering and control abilities would allow them to achieve planetary orbit where they might still form arrays, serve as replacement units or land and colonize the planet.
Once physically arrayed the autonomous control of microbot individuals would be relegated to a central control of one or a grouping of designed bots utilizing a mergeable nervous system1 capability. Borrowing from organized insect colony life on Earth these “queen bots” would coordinate control of the individual bots in the array. Instructions for this change in authority may be part of existing programming or administered from Earth. Establishing Arrays in Deep Space
The long travel time and the relative ease of movement in space would be opportune for the bots to establish agglomerated arrays. Individual bots could send out a bio-luminescent laser beacon of timed light flashes, much like that of a firefly. Recognizing another beacon pattern with their photo collectors would instruct bots to the location of others. Once two or more bots were attached, their beacons would become synchronized so their combined light would become brighter and more easily located by other wondering bots.
Traveling Communication Dish in Space
Once collected, antenna arrays could be established for radio or optical communication with Earth during the journey. Communication with Earth would allow reprogramming and mission adjustments as scientific knowledge and data transmission technology improve. Self Guidance
Although the direction of their travel would largely be determined by the accelerator, microbots would possess limited self guidance, as the ability to make minor course corrections would help assure that a maximum number reach their destination. The fixed leading and trailing solar octagonal photoelectric surfaces can multi-function for guidance, communication and as solar energy collectors. Sol initially would be the primary source for energy collection through the trailing photocell and expanded panels. Storage of photonic energy would be important, though severely limited by the low mass of the vehicle. As the microbot nears the destination star, its radiation would increasingly become the primary source of energy for making the critical approach maneuvers.
At the mid-point between navigational stars, about 50 years into the trip, little photo energy would be available so maneuvering or data transmission would be limited. Some light from background starlight would be available and stored, but not enough to perform extended navigation or communication tasks.
If necessary, a space-based laser might be employed to provide additional guidance, energy and communication for the microbots, especially during travel in deep space. The laser signal could also be encoded with information and programming through pulses or twists in the light signal which would be received through the trailing light sensor.
With only low thrust photon (solar sail) maneuverability, all microbot activities in space would appear a very slow process to humans. However, they have almost two human lifetimes to perform these deep space maneuvers.
The inverse surfaces of the expanded solar panels would have the ability to change reflectivity through liquid crystal or micro particle (E Ink) display surfaces. With limited solar power in deep space, high and low reflectivity on different panels could deflect or absorb background illumination to affect speed and direction. Directional control would be achieved by both rotating panels and adjusting reflectivity between panel surfaces to create a differential pressure. Since arraying would produce no net gain in solar sail area to mass, the microbots would be just as effective as individuals in navigational control.
The eight exposed surfaces of the microbot body could emit photonic radiation as reflected photons or illumination (LED or bio-luminescence) to additionally produce low thrust control forces. In either case, low thrust navigation would be accomplished by emitting, absorbing or reflecting light from different surfaces of the deployed panels or body surfaces. This might be sufficient for array clustering and anticipated, minor course corrections considering the low mass of the vehicle and the long travel time involved. Internal Redirection of Reflected Photons
Incoming light from the primary (nearest) star could be statically redirected (reflected) to specific control surfaces to supplement navigational control. Internal bio-organic surfaces with adjustable transparency and reflectivity could direct outside light through transparent surfaces on the microbot body. Emitting light asymmetrically would produce an uneven thrust on the microbot. If no position correction is required, equal output from opposing surfaces would produce a net balanced force on the microrobot.Planetary Orbit
Whether employed in solar sail arrays or traveling as solitary individuals, the microbots can, through solar sail adjustment, gradually adjust their speed and direction to place them in an orbit near the orbital path of the target planet. By setting all the extended panels to face the approaching star and having them set to maximum reflectivity, the light pressure of the photons would create maximum deceleration of the microbot. This would slow their approach to establish the correct speed to enter a solar orbit near the orbital path of the destination planet. As the microbots approach the planet, they need to be gradually drawn into the planet’s gravational influence. This would likely require numerous planetary passes to synchronize with the orbital path and velocity of the planet.
Orbiting Antenna Arrays
Radio Communication with Earth
Earth is now a very distant invisible point orbiting a visible but diminutive star. For practicality and efficiency, two dedicated antenna arrays orbiting the planet are required: one a larger interstellar parabolic array with an active element aimed at Sol and a smaller parabolic dish for surface communication with the future surface bots on the new planet surface. The larger dish antenna would be more effective for receiving the distant Earth radio signals. The smaller, geosynchronous antenna, would be aimed at the fixed location where the colony would be located on the planet and act as a relay for signals traveling both to and from Earth.
Employing two orbiting antennas allows both continuous orientation with Sol and constant contact with ground antennas located on the planet. Additionally, the two antennas would be required to communicate with each other in order to transmit the signals received from Earth by the larger antenna to the smaller relay antenna that will send the signals to the surface. Conversely, the smaller dish antenna will receive signals from the colony and relay them to the larger dish for transmission to Earth. Until development of entangled particle technology, radio signals offer the best method of communication with Earth and the host planet. Local communication between orbiting arrays, or local arrays on the planetary surface might be accomplished with either radio or laser light.
To increase transmission rates, orbiting power arrays of collected microbots could be used to add power to the interstellar (Sol directed) and to the planet-directed, relay antennas. This would not only improve outgoing transmission rates but increase transmission wattage facilitating Earth reception. This flat power array would be programmed to directly face the nearby star and would function only to collect and store energy for use by the interstellar antenna. Bathed in persistent light from the host star, these arrays would enjoy an uninterrupted energy supply.
Once the successful deployment of the dish antenna arrays were completed, Earth communication established, and the planet surface mapped for optimal landing and colonization locations, the remaining orbiting bots could be programmed, arrayed and configured for atmospheric entry and their new functions on the planet’s surface.
Atmospheric Entry – Surface Communication
Atmospheric Entry Velocity
Uncontrolled entry through an Earth like atmosphere would generate heat that would be damaging to mechanical, electronic and biological components. For this reason it is important that the orbital velocity be established as low as possible to reduce atmospheric entry speed. Solitary bots in planetary orbit could enter the atmosphere with individual, guided descent. These microbots, with their panels extended, would inherently have a high surface to mass ratio. This will naturally maximize atmospheric drag and slow descent. Substantially slowed by the deployed panels, the bot’s need for thermal shielding would be minimized. With sufficient speed reduction, the risk of thermal damage to the solar and reflective panels would be greatly reduced. These panels, adjusted for the angle of attack by nano motors at their base, can control spinning and gliding while providing some limited directional control to a landing site. Programmed for selected landing sites, the microbots light sensing photo receptors would act as eyes to locate and track prominent geographic features.
Over time, additional wayward bots might find their way into planetary orbit. These could collect in orbit as reserve components for orbiting arrays, form into arrays or descend to the surface as individuals.
Atmospheric Entry of Arrays
Physically connected arrays might act as a glider, parachute or landing vehicle. All arrays must be pre-assembled in space because, once on the surface, microbots and microbot arrays lack mobility. These arrays would use their deployed panels as aerodynamic control surfaces. Nano motors at the stem of the panels would rotate these panels to control the descent velocity and influence the landing location. If arraying as a landing vehicle improves atmospheric guidance control, it also has the disadvantage of losing large numbers of microbots in the case of a navigational error.
Arrays pre-configured for planetary surface functions such as communication and power must be assembled not only for their intended function but to slow and control atmospheric entry. These arrays would be targeted to solid terrain proximate to the body of water where non-arrayed microbots would be targeted.
Establishing Planet Based Communication
On the surface, certain pre-configured, arrayed microbots would be designated as a communication base for radio, optical laser or entangled particle communication. The initial planetary communication station would not utilize a dish antenna since these must be specifically oriented, and the microbot arrays have no terrestrial mobility. Initial surface communication would therefore require an omni-directional antenna that would function without physical orientation. Until the microbots create controllable, kinetic life forms they remain non-motile and cannot manipulate themselves or aid in orienting the antennas and power grids.
Establishing a communication link with the geosynchronous relay antenna and sending a status report to Earth would be a significant milestone toward colonization of an alien planet. The technicians on Earth now would have an established, responsive, communicating machine on another world. Information concerning surface conditions could be relayed for analysis and, in turn, any adjustments to the microbot programming would follow. The microbots might then be reprogrammed for an endless variety of changing functions that would incorporate the latest technological developments.
Microbots on Earth 2.0
Machines as a Synthetic Life Form
Growing and producing new living cells involves the creation of new genomes. This is routinely accomplished on Earth in microscopic packages, with little energy consumption and under a wide variety of Earth conditions. Primitive Earth organisms such as fungi, tube worms, mold, bacteria, diatoms and algae all share the ability to create new DNA from common non-organic minerals given the favorable circumstances of climate, water and energy. Organic production has proved to be an extremely robust, highly successful method of creating genetic material.
The microbots, though manufactured, would need to have the bio-engineered ability to reproduce genomes and cells using a synthetic genomic process analogous to simple life on Earth. However, their procreative purpose on the host planet would not be limited to reproducing themselves, but to producing a variety of bio-mechanical life forms with planetary surface mobility that can function and thrive yet be controlled by human programming.
Like life on Earth, these bio-machines would also need to incorporate systems that will transform and store energy from available sources such as solar electric collection, photosynthesis, chemical reactions or heat. Whatever energy collection and storage method they possess, it must keep them alive as bio-machines and allow programming and communication with Earth. The diploid bot cells carried by the microbots and introduced to the environment would require a regular supply of energy and minerals in order to grow into functional biobots with the capacity to move.
Microbots Become Amphibious Biobots
The helpless microbots would not be capable of the locomotion required to locate the necessary minerals to feed the genomic seed that is programmed to become the biobot. Whereas the arrays will have been targeted to terra firma, the microbots would necessarily be aquatic machines and naturally buoyant. Living on the surface of the water would give them access to both solar energy and the moving, dissolved minerals in the water. Upon determining a suitable environment, the released passenger proto diploid would divide and grow until it became a functional, mobile bio-machine. The sunlight would provide the energy and the dissolved minerals would provide the chemical building blocks for an amphibious biobot. This may require consecutive generations or a bio-machine capable of an evolving morphology.
This proto creature would grow from the genetic instructions in the biogenetic seed carried by the microbot. As with tellurium life, activation of the primogenitor seed could be triggered by the presence of moisture, warmth, light and/or gravity. In begetting this amphibious creature the microbot might be incorporated into the amphibian’s brain. In this way the microbot would not only be preserved but the microbot could communicate and direct the actions of the amphibian. If successful, the beaches of this lifeless, distant world would become populated with alien bio-mechanical creatures emerging from the ocean, remotely programmed by intelligent life light years away on a distant planet.
Motile Terrestrial Biobots
Once upon land this biobot, instructed by its microbot program, could begin important work stabilizing the antenna and power arrays that descended from orbit and relocating them to optimum and secure locations. The more effective dish antenna could now get a secure base constructed of local materials and be aimed at the space-based relay antenna for improved communication. The biobots could search for and collect individual microbots that fortuitously landed on the dry ground or those that washed to the beach unsuccessful at generating biobots. Solitary microbots could charge with sunlight and send out a bioluminescent or radio signal to aid the mobile biobots in locating and collecting them into a microbot community.
The damaged or quiescent microbots would continue to have important uses worthy of collection by biobots, especially if genetic production of their LED, laser, photo voltaic, communication, processor or memory hardware is difficult or impossible. Harvesting them for their components could provide valuable and necessary resources.
The amphibious bots would be just the first form of working biobots. Production of new, motile, reproducing, function specific, terrestrial bots is essential for creating the infrastructure for human colonization. Growing terrestrial biobots of much larger form with greatly increased mass, previously a detriment for space traveling microbots, would now be advantageous. They would still need to retain communication, networking and reprogramming functions either with a brain imbedded microbot interface or with an endemic, programmable communication system. They should generationally accrue more mass, surface mobility, manipulative dexterity, visual acuity and artificial intelligence while retaining their programmed functions.
Genome Introduction and Manufacturing
Assembled Introduction vs Genomic Capability
There are two basic approaches to delivering genetic material to the target planet. The simplest method is to assemble the genetic seeds on Earth and use the microbots to transport and deploy them on the planet. With the second approach, genomic capability, microbots could alter and assemble genetic material at the target planet.
Assembled Genome Introduction
With pre-assembled genome introduction each microbot could carry all the genetics required. If it proved impractical for the microbots to each carry all the necessary genes in one payload, separate microbots could carry separate genetic payloads. Though these could still be sent in one integrated mission, it would preferably be done in timed phases anticipating the new diploid introduction needed for growing terrestrial biobots, terraforming and human introduction. The first phase of microbots to arrive might carry only the genetics for explorer bio-machines. Information the explorer biobots sent back to earth would influence the decision whether to proceed or not. If proceeding, the information would then influence subsequent designs of bioengineered genes and seeds. Each phase of gene introduction would require about 100 years travel time to reach nearby exoplanets.Genomic Capability
With on-board genomics, the microbots would possess the capability of assembling genetic material in situ. They would only need to transport the genetic material that would develop the explorer biobot and a gene assembler. Subsequent genetic material would be sent as data to the embedded microbots for genome assembly. Though technologically much more advanced, it has the advantage of significantly shortening the time required between exploration, terraforming and human introduction, being constrained by light speed communication time rather than physical travel time.
The technologically ambitious component of this single-phase genomic microbot would be a reprogrammable genome assembly and deployment system. By interfacing the microbot’s bio-engineered memory register with the genome manufacturing mechanism of, for example, simple unicellular plants, the microbot could construct any DNA sequence inside a synthetic proto cell. This machine memory register, arranged as genetic information, would construct and mimic DNA sequences within a bio-engineered surrogate cell.
Machine to Organic Cell Division
Once sequenced, this artificial cell would then divide (cleave) a genetic copy as an organic diploid cell capable of divisible growth into a plant, animal or bio-machine embryo. The copied genome, now a reproducible cell in a nurturing environment, would further divide until it became an embryo of an ordinary tellurium organic life form or a bio-machine. These living cells would continue the programmed cell reproduction until a completed form of the plant, animal or bio-machine was extant.
With sufficient memory, this primogenitor construct could assemble the genome of any life form on Earth or any human engineered bio-machine. The capacity to store a complete digital instruction set of organic DNA sequences would likely necessitate interfacing atomic scale memory registers similar to information in chromosomes. Being programmable, the memory registers could then be cleared and other genome sequences inserted into the cleavable proto cell to produce a variety of organic and bio-robotic life forms. Genomic technology would prove expeditious for production of the terrestrial plants, bacteria, microbiomes and animal forms that would terraform the planet in preparation for human occupation.
Once genomic, bio-robotic systems were in place, scientists on Earth would have an unlimited capacity to implement the genetic production of Earth life or engineered bio-mechanical life on Earth 2.0 with a time lag of only a decade or two (assuming local star systems).
Earth organisms often share large parts of their genome sequences with other life forms. Those commonly shared sequences would be organized and stored for insertion into other genomes saving both radio transmission and sequence assembly time. Once the first complete human genome was assembled, genetic diversity among humans could be quickly created since all of the human genetic diversity on Earth is a matter of altering only 0.01 percent of the human genome.
Preparations for Humans
A century or more may be required to establish the necessary biologic and vegetative terraforming to support a modest human habitation. All the required natural life must be sequenced from Earth-based genomes, downloaded and assembled by the microbots and released into the environment to grow and self-reproduce. Oxygen producing algae, animal and human microbiomes for digestion and other necessary life forms would also need to be synthesized and produced along with engineered organisms created to synthesize lactose for feeding the first baby mammals including humans. Plants, animals and humans may require re-engineering for deviations in planetary environments. Temperature, gravity, atmospheric oxygen or CO2 concentrations could be compensated for by altering the plant or animal structure. Special non-reproductive, limited use biobots could be introduced into the system as well. This might include construction bots for making human habitat, animal incubators and nanny bots that would raise the first generations of human children.
Animal protein, carbohydrates and milk (lactose) could be synthesized with simple, genetically engineered unicellular organisms such as algae, fungi or bacteria. These support systems for bio-farm products would be a necessary prerequisite for human introduction. Traditional food sources should also be established before introducing humans. Soybeans, rice and wheat could be introduced. Poultry might be synthesized as a supply for both meat and eggs. Reproducing small animals could be self-sustaining in terraformed enclosures. Small animals and insects would also be helpful (if not necessary) in creating a sustainable ecology and a varied food supply. The types of plants and animals would be selected and genetically modified based on the planet’s climate extremes, soil, water, rainfall, etc.
The habitat must maintain a sustaining, non-lethal climate, by controlling temperature, humidity and air quality. Under ideal planetary conditions the habitat would just be a basic shelter providing protection from extreme or intrusive weather. Otherwise it may require airtight walls and sealed doors with airlocks to minimize atmospheric entry from the outside. Artificial control of oxygen and other gaseous levels may be required. Plants, oxygen producing algae or cyanobacteria, kept in a connected greenhouse, could be employed to produce additional supplementary oxygen and reduce CO2 if required.
Habitat might best be constructed below ground for temperature control. Enclosed spaces could be heated with passive solar collectors, biologic composting or combustion of introduced plant life. Like tellurium housing, easy access to clean water and systems for waste disposal must be incorporated in any design.
Traditional assembly of existing local materials or introduced bio-engineered plant materials could be used to create habitable housing. Robotic construction of stone, rammed earth, adobe or subterranean living space can be underway while instructions for new gene assembly and biobot programming are being downloaded from Earth (a decade or more travel time for a local star system). By culturing bio-engineered microbes, such as silica producing phytoplankton, the direct deposit of expired life forms could form floors and structural components at the building site.
The first generation of complex animals would require artificial incubation. Incubators would be needed to provide a controlled supportive environment that functions to feed and sustain introductory animal embryos as they gestate into viable reproductive individuals. Artificial, warm blooded, mammalian machine incubators could be bio engineered. A dedicated incubating biobot could be one of the biological systems created using the microbot’s genetic sequencing technology. If designed as dedicated, single use incubators they would not require vision, dexterity or motility. They would consume and digest food to sustain themselves and create the nourishment required for the fetus. They might also be designed for lactating though lactose might be more easily synthesized from bacteria.
Testing and improvements in the incubation process would be performed on the smaller mammals in preparation for human embryo incubation. Specially created nursing bots might be required to monitor, feed and maintain the incubators and later raise the infant mammals.
Nanny bots could be programmed to both operate and maintain the incubators and also care for, nurse and raise the first animal and human infants. Their programming and ongoing improvements would be downloaded and overseen from Earth during the many decades of terraforming and machine/animal creations.
Once human incubation was complete, the living infants would continue to need special attention and care. Nursing bots would be high functioning biobots created in limited (non-reproductive) numbers. These hybrid animal/machines must be mobile, dexterous, vocal and possess the sensory perceptions of sight, sound, smell and touch. Facial reactions are important to infants and children so the nanny bots might incorporate an arrayed microbot LED facial screen for mimicking human facial patterns to allow infant imprinting. This would also give the surrogate nannies the ability to imitate emotional responses to the babies’ actions and needs in serve-and-return responses.
Earth Monitoring of Progress
Without entangled particle communication, the very slow electromagnetic communication time makes any reaction to problems in the nursery ineffective, as any human baby would be an adult before a response arrived. The nannies would therefore require artificial intelligence in order to react to ongoing situations in the nursery. In anticipation of this need, an isolated local twin colony (possibly on the far side of the moon or on Mars) might test and evaluate every piece of hardware and software as if in interstellar space.
The New Human Genome
Though artificially manufactured, these interstellar humans would not be clones but genetic individuals, assembled from a wide diversity of human populations to maximize the necessary genetic diversity for later, healthy human reproduction. The first generation of babies might be genetically altered to shorten their infancy and reduce their most vulnerable and helpless period. This trait need not be continued in later generations when human adults will become parents. Genetic engineering might also modify human DNA to minimize psychological mechanisms that are vestigial behaviors of our stone-age ancestors, such as selfish aggression, clan mentality and territoriality thus producing humans better suited to a technological culture and urban society. This could not only decrease the threat of destructive behavior in the nascent community, but such modifications would also increase the survivability of the human race in the long term by eliminating those primitive survival traits that cause wars, crime and social problems in a developed society.
The First Generation
There exists a significant challenge in raising the first generation of children solely by nanny robots, which would more easily provide for physical necessities than psychological needs. The only other humans present would be other infants of similar age though later generations would have older children and eventually adults to interact with. Until then the nannies would need to be nurturers, disciplinarians and instructors of morality requiring the necessary AI programming to discourage and reward applicable behaviors.
Humans throughout history have learned morality through stories. Sympathy, empathy and identity with the characters in stories are innate responses. Listening to stories, reading books, watching video or virtual reality might contribute to acculturating these isolated children while engaging them in a healthy range of normal human behaviors and traditional social and family structures.
The complexity involved in establishing a human colony on another planet cannot be underestimated. Major advances in bio-engineering and nano technology are the obvious prerequisites to producing these tiny, versatile microbots. However, entangled particle communication may be an equally important development for a successful colonization process. Quantum entangled communication would dispense with the need for microbot arrays necessary only for radio communication antennas. To eliminate the decades long radio response lag would greatly enable informed problem resolution and allow real time intervention into technical and human situations.
Robotic preparation for human habitation appears, in the foreseeable future, to be the most viable approach to colonizing planetary systems outside our solar system. Space traveling robots would be the most cost effective, politically accommodating and scientifically accessible solution to human interstellar colonization eliminating the risk of sending living humans on a dangerous, technologically elaborate and multi-generational journey from which they would never return.
Once a productive human society was established on Earth 2.0, it would be expected that the inhabitants would someday institute a similar program of interstellar expansion. Over time these colonies could develop into a network of communities throughout the galaxy.
An evolved, self-aware, rational intelligence may be a very rare commodity in the universe. At a time in our development when we virtually have the tools to take action it becomes our responsibility to preserve and bequest this uncommon gift of fortuitous circumstance. Propagating our inheritance to other habitable locations may be the only way to assure humanity’s survival while establishing diverse cultures of sentient life across the cosmos.
1 – N. Mathews, A. L. Christensen, R. O’Grady, F. Mondada, and M. Dorigo. Mergeable nervous systems for robots. Nature Communications. 8(439), 2017