As Above, So Below: Frontier Robots. APCG RNO 2018

2018.  Sammler, K., House-Peters, L. As Above, So Below: Frontier Robots. Association of Pacific Coast Geographers Annual Confererence. Reno, Nevada 24-27 Oct.

TITLE: As Above, So Below: Frontier Robots.

AUTHORS: Katherine Sammler, California State University Maritime Academy and
Lily House-Peters, California State University Long Beach.

ABSTRACT: The Cold War Era Space Race had at one point included a race to the ocean’s depths as well. In the US, at the same time NASA was creating the infrastructure to put a man on the moon, the navy was constructing Sealabs (I-III), crewed underwater habitats to explore and dominate the sea. Outer space and ocean space–or as some have called ‘inner space’ –have long been imagined as analogs, mirroring each other as inscrutable frontiers. Regarded as empty spaces, astro nullius and aqua nullius, unmanned technology remotely fills them with the ideology of exploration and exploitation.

As follows, with the more accessible and economically viable materials on land depleted, many extractive industries have moved into more remote and difficult spaces. This includes prospecting the depths of the ocean, and even laying the groundwork for offplanet mining. The hostility of these environments to human bodies has ushered in a new wave of robotics for extreme conditions. For instance, Nautilus Minerals Inc in developing its experimental seabed mining project in Papua New Guinea has commissioned specially designed autonomous vehicles for the job. These Seafloor Production Tools are meant to animate soporific seafloors into lively and productive capital in the cold, dark, depths where only they can go. The challenges faced by such robotic systems are paralleled by those expected to undertake asteroid survey and excavation. The environments encountered are both mediated and reconfigured through robotics, generating knowledge of these worlds as they destroy them.