Teresa Escrig

News and oppinion about Cognitive AI & Robotics

ESA tests autonomous rover in Chilean desert ahead of ExoMars mission

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With remote control of rovers on Mars out of the question due to radio signals taking up to 40 minutes to make the round trip to and from the Red Planet, the European Space Agency (ESA) has developed a vehicle that is able to carry out instructions fully autonomously.

With Mars lacking any GPS satellites to help with navigation, the rover must determine how far it has moved relative to its starting point. However, as ESA’s Gianfranco Visentin points out, any errors in this “dead reckoning” method can “build up into risky uncertainties.”

To minimize any uncertainties, the team sought to fix the rover’s position on a map to an accuracy of one meter (3.28 ft). To build a 3D map of its surroundings, assess how far it had traveled and plan the most efficient route to avoid obstacles, Seeker relied on its stereo vision.

“We managed 5.1 km (3.16 miles), somewhat short of our 6 km goal, but an excellent result considering the variety of terrain crossed, changes in lighting conditions experienced and most of all this was ESA’s first large-scale rover test – though definitely not our last.”

“The difficulty comes with follow-on missions, which will require daily traverses of five to ten times longer,” he says. “With longer journeys, the rover progressively loses sense of where it is.”

By , June 19, 2012

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