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Friday, December 29, 2006

Older and Wiser

As a 3rd birthday present to the rovers, NASA is upgrading their software. This upgrade makes the rovers smarter and more capable. For instance, one of the upgrades looks for dust devils by analyzing changes in images taken few seconds apart. This saves the ground scientists from countless hours of looking at pictures to find them. Another upgrade, "visual target tracking," allows the rovers to follow a specific feature as it rovers. Khaled Ali of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., flight software team leader for Spirit and Opportunity, said, "The rover keeps updating its template of what the feature looks like. It may be a rock that looks bigger as the rover approaches it, or maybe the shape looks different from a different angle, but the rover still knows it's the same rock." The last feature allows the rovers to figure out where it can reach its arm. The last two upgrades gives the rovers more autonomy. "Before this, the rovers could only think one step ahead about getting around an obstacle," said JPL's Dr. John Callas, project manager for the Mars Exploration Rovers. "If they encountered an obstacle or hazard, they'd back off one step and try a different direction, and if that direction didn't work they'd try another, then another. And sometimes the rover could not find a solution. With this new capability, the rover will be smarter about navigating in complex terrain, thinking several steps ahead. It could back out of a dead-end cul-de-sac. It could even find its way through a maze." The software was written by Carnegie-Mellon University and JPL.

(More info: RedOrbit)

- posted by Jim @ 13:50 EST