At our August meeting I presented a short on some new tech in astronomy. The featured device was something called a Starbug, which is a piezoelectric driven small robot. They are called bugs because the piezoelectric locomotion makes a buzzing sound when in operation. It is being applied to a system for configurable fiber optic ports to replace the much more tedious method of drill plates. The drill plate is a metal plate that has holes drilled into it to match a specific piece of the sky using a specific telescope. Fiber-optic lines are then plugged into each hole, matching a specific target (e.g. galaxy, star, or quasar) and the other end of the fiber is plugged into a spectrograph. The drill plate is then placed in the focal plane of the telescope.
Instead of drilling and plugging a one-time use plate, the Starbugs walk across a glass plate to the desired position. Computer programs are being developed to get an array of Starbugs to walk to the optimal position without colliding. Position accuracy of 10 micro-meters can be achieved.
With too much time on your hands, you can even do other things with a Starbug…
The technology is currently being developed on a telescope Australia, but it is being considered for the Giant Magellan Telescope.