NASA scientists have recently upgraded the software on the Mars Curiosity rover to adjust the speed of its wheels based on the Martian surface it navigates. The new algorithm will protect the rover’s wheels from damage and prevent them from falling apart.
According to Popular Mechanics, the Curiosity rover had started to suffer from impacts of the extended stay on the uneven, complex and hostile territory of the Red Planet. During a routine check in March this year, the team operating the rover detected numerous holes on the vehicle’s left middle. The discovery was made with the help of the images taken by the camera attached to the rover’s arm that allows it to capture photos of the wheels at regular intervals.
Though wheel damage is not a new phenomenon for the Curiosity rover, its condition worsened significantly during 2013 when it was crossing a particularly tricky area near Mount Sharp that had hard rocks. Moreover, when the rover moves on even ground, its wheels turn at the same speed. However, the actual problem arises when Curiosity has to travel over a rocky and uneven surface because its grip on the terrain changes significantly. This is precisely where the software upgrade is going to help the rover -- by controlling the change in traction or grip.
"If it's a pointed rock, it's more likely to penetrate the skin between the wheel grousers," Art Rankin from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. "The wheel wear has been cause for concern, and although we estimate they have years of life still in them, we do want to reduce that wear whenever possible to extend the life of the wheels."
Incidentally, this is the fifth upgrade that the rover has received since it landed on the Red Planet in August 2012. The software uses real-time data to adjust and calculate the correct speed for the rover’s wheels to avoid slippage and improve its traction.