The NASA-funded expedition to test three autonomous robots in the hazard environment of underwater volcano Kolumbo has brought the mission of exploring potential life on Europa and Enceladus closer, leading to new research findings about deep oceans at the same time.

NASA’s Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research (PSTAR) program has funded the expedition with a vision to future use the autonomous robots in exploring potential signs of life in the oceans of Europa and Enceladus, where manual exploration is simply impossible and only AI-powered robots could make breakthrough discoveries.

Richard Camilli from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has proposed to use a hyperactive underwater volcano Kolumbo near the Greek island of Santorini as a testing ground, naming it the “most dangerous place you could operate underwater vehicles”:

“We will demonstrate these new capabilities at Kolumbo, the most active submarine volcano in the Mediterranean basin. This underwater caldera is a complex, hazardous environment that is a suitable analog for autonomous risk-aware exploration of other planetary bodies containing liquid water”

During the expedition, scientists have used three autonomous robots: two lightweight gliders designed by Teledyne Webb Research and the two-tonne submersible HROV Nereid Under-Ice (NUI), all sharing information with each other, while navigating on their own as a “superorganism”.

The expedition was deemed successful: not only robots survived, but also discovered new strange microorganisms. Before “sending a mission to go”, more expeditions should take place, coupled with software updates, but this success has certainly brought humanity closer to space mission, concluded the scientists.


As Future Time previously reported, NASA also aims to bring interpretations of the data from future telescopes or satellites to a new level by using artificial intelligence, betting on new technologies in future space research, while European Space Agency plans to use robots to clean the Earth’s orbit.

Photo credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research