As mankind expands outwards into the universe, unmanned spacecraft will face a growing problem: as Earth becomes more distant, the transmission time for information and instructions to reach these craft becomes longer and longer. This time lag could make it difficult or even impossible for satellites to respond to fast-moving threats, like space debris, or quickly take opportunities to collect data from unexpected sources, like a passing meteorite.

A new grant from NASA to the University of Akron in Ohio will fund research to overcome this issue by helping such spacecraft "think" for themselves using deep-learning artificial intelligence (AI) that works over an Ethereum blockchain network.

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"I hope to develop technology that can recognize environmental threats and avoid them, as well as complete a number of tasks automatically," Akron Assistant Professor Jin Wei Kocsis, who will lead the research, said in a press release. "I am honored that NASA recognized my work, and I am excited to continue challenging technology's ability to think and do on its own."

As reported by ETHNews, the three-year, $333,000 grant will allow Kocsis' team to research decentralized computing networks capable of processing "the massive amount of high-dimensional data" that a deep-space satellite might collect. In addition to investigating technologies like the Ethereum blockchain, the team will develop an AI scheme that utilizes "deep learning techniques and fuzzy logic methods."

Such technology could be critical to the next few decades of space exploration. With NASA currently planning missions to distant worlds like Alpha Centauri and beyond as soon as 2069, unmanned spacecraft that can think and react autonomously to their surroundings could ensure our ability to gather information far from our terrestrial home. Despite space's numerous challenges, this research could help our voyaging craft get to their destinations in one piece.

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