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Life Detector Robot To Find Life On Distant Worlds

A robotic rover called Zoe is the first robot to remotely detect the presence of life. On a NASA-sponsored mission in the harsh Atacama desert in Chile, Zoe was able to detect life by looking for natural fluorescence from lichens and bacteria.


(From Zoe the Life Detecting Robot)

The Atacama desert is one of the driest regions on Earth; NASA hopes that equipment that will detect life there would also work on future missions to Mars. Zoe, which was developed by Carnegie Mellon University, detects life by looking for natural fluorescence from cells that contain chlorophyll. The robot can also spray four special dyes on soil samples; they fluoresce only when they bind to one of four substances associated with life - DNA, protein, lipids or carbohydrates.

Images from the device were transmitted to Pittsburgh during the field test; scientists tried to determine whether life was found in a given sample. Field crews obtained samples from each site examined by the robot, which were sent to a laboratory to confirm the presence of life.


(From Zoe's Life Detection Technology)

Science fiction writers have long been fascinated with the possibility of being able to detect life remotely. You probably recall the long-range sensors of the Enterprise (from the original 1960's Star Trek); these devices were handy for finding life readings without having to go through the tedious process of landing and looking around. An earlier example is found in the 1958 short story Cease Fire by Frank Herbert; he referred to a life detector that was able to remotely detect living tissue. This interesting cold-war story also provides the counter-weapon - the life detector shield.

Read more at CMU Robot finds life all by itself.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/16/2005)

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