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Project Antares: Simulations for STEM Exploration
Watching robots explore Mars is incredibly exciting and inspiring, particularly to young learners. But today, no child has the opportunity to control a robot on Mars, or to explore an unknown frontier. Project Antares aims to drive home Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education with rich, interactive explorations that encourage children to engage in constructive learning.

Begin with the end in mind

Before I tell you how Project Antares might work, I want to tell you the impact I want it to have.

I want Project Antares to be one of the most significant parts of a future NASA engineer's childhood. I want to see environmental policy improved as a result of understanding that arises from Antares simulations. I want people to be able to relate to what the Mars rovers are doing because they've played with simulations where they've deployed a rover and investigated the geology of another planet, and perhaps found simulated life in its virtual rock. I want to encourage people to tinker with natural phenomena. I want Antares to inspire young learners, and encourage children to become scientists and engineers. I want to read the newspaper and see positive, progressive developments and change, and know that Antares contributed to people's motivation and comprehension.

Many of the things that Antares will be able to simulate - loss of biodiversity, global warming - are quite abstract in the real world. If a particular species of salamander dies off, how does that affect me? By shrinking space and time - simulations take pixels and milliseconds instead of kilometers and centuries - we can get a better sense of the impact these changes have.

In another 20 years, engineers and scientists around the world will have grown up with Antares, and their ideas will be influenced by the sciences it helps them understand.

How will it work?

I have a comprehensive idea that has been refined over plenty of time.

The avatars in the simulations (robots, animals, whatever) will make observations about their environment that people can compare against real scientific data to arrive at conclusions (e.g., certain patterns in the planet's rock may indicate a former presence of water).

Learners may create and share high-level behaviors: once one person creates and shares a "Flock" behavior, everyone else can easily create a flocking swarm of robots, enabling people to stand on each others' shoulders to advance their exploration possibilities.

I envision a compelling set of simulations that tell a story: An archaeology dig of some unknown civilization. An undersea expeditition to uncover new life. A spy robot sent into an enemy headquarters to stealthily obtain battle plans. An ecology in which the avatars are animals, and the system must sustain itself.

If these simulations are rolled out in a coordinated manner, learners will be able to share their ideas and findings about these new-found worlds by testing hypotheses and sharing their results in Antares's version of scientific journals.

Next Steps

If this sounds like something you would like to help develop, or support in any way, please let me know. I view this as an idea of strong potential impact, and I need a team to pull it off.