NASA Mars Rover Curiosity Drives Solo: Autonomous Navigation on Red Planet
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has gone solo. Scientists have announced that the rover has used its autonomous navigation for the first time, trekking across the Red Planet as it decides for itself how to drive safely.
Like Us on Facebook
The autonomous navigation system, also known as autonav, is useful for exploring the rough terrain on the rocky planet. With the ability to analyze images that it takes during a drive to calculate a safe path, Curiosity will be able to proceed safely even beyond the area that human rover drivers on Earth can evaluate ahead of time. This, in particular, will give the rover a leg up when it comes to its journey to Mount Sharp.
"Curiosity takes several sets of stereo pairs of images, and the rover's computer processes that information to map any geometric hazard or rough terrain," said Mark Maimone, a rover mobility engineer, in a news release. "The rover considers all the paths it could take to get to the designated endpoint for the drive and chooses the best one."
Curiosity is currently driving across the Red Planet toward Mount Sharp. There, it will analyze geological layers which hold information about the environmental changes on ancient Mars. This will allow scientists to better understand the history of the Red Planet and may even hold clues to life.
The latest autonomous drive occurred on Tuesday, taking the rover across a depression where ground-surface details had not been visible from the location where the previous drive ended. In all, it included about 33 feet of autonomous navigation across hidden ground as part of a day's total drive of about 141 feet.
"We could see the area before the dip, and we told the rover where to drive on that part," said John Wright, one of the rover drivers, in a news release. "We could see the ground on the other side, where we designated a point for the rover to end the drive, but Curiosity figured out for herself how to drive the uncharted part in between."
The latest feat is a huge leap forward when it comes to testing the rover's capabilities. Currently, Curiosity has about .31 mile left to go before reaching a waypoint, where it will study features of local interest.
Want to learn more about Cuirosity? Check out NASA's site here.