September 18, 2021

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Automotive maniacs

NASA’s Self-Driving Perseverance Mars Rover “Takes the Wheel”

5 min read

https://www.youtube.com/observe?v=zeWakBktTSs
Perseverance’s Initially Autonav Push: Perseverance relies on left and proper navigation cameras. The perspective found listed here combines the point of view of two cameras rover all through the rover’s to start with push making use of AutoNav, it is vehicle-navigation purpose. Credit rating: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The agency’s latest rover is trekking across the Martian landscape employing a freshly increased automobile-navigation program.

NASA’s most recent six-wheeled robotic on Mars, the Perseverance rover, is commencing an epic journey throughout a crater ground searching for symptoms of historical existence. That means the rover group is deeply engaged with organizing navigation routes, drafting directions to be beamed up, even donning unique 3D glasses to enable map their system.

But significantly, the rover will consider demand of the drive by alone, employing a impressive vehicle-navigation method. Referred to as AutoNav, this improved system makes 3D maps of the terrain forward, identifies hazards, and programs a route all around any obstacles with no additional course from controllers back on Earth.

“We have a ability named ‘thinking while driving,’” explained Vandi Verma, a senior engineer, rover planner, and driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “The rover is thinking about the autonomous drive while its wheels are turning.”

3D Glasses Utilized for Rover Driving: Vandi Verma, an engineer who now operates with NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, is seen listed here doing the job as a driver for the Curiosity rover. The distinctive 3D glasses she’s sporting are continue to applied by rover drivers to effortlessly detect modifications in terrain that the rover may well need to steer clear of. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

That capacity, mixed with other improvements, might help Perseverance to strike a prime velocity of 393 ft (120 meters) for each hour its predecessor, Curiosity, equipped with an earlier model of AutoNav, addresses about 66 feet (20 meters) for every hour as it climbs Mount Sharp to the southeast.

“We sped up AutoNav by four or 5 periods,” reported Michael McHenry, the mobility area guide and element of JPL’s group of rover planners. “We’re driving a lot farther in a lot fewer time than Curiosity shown.”

As Perseverance begins its first science marketing campaign on the ground of Jezero Crater, AutoNav will be a crucial feature in supporting get the occupation performed.

This crater the moment was a lake, when, billions of decades in the past, Mars was wetter than these days, and Perseverance’s place is a dried-out river delta at the crater’s edge. If daily life at any time took keep on early Mars, signs of it may possibly be found there. The rover will collect samples in excess of some 9 miles (15 kilometers), then prep the samples for collection by a future mission that would choose them again to Earth for examination.

“We’re heading to be equipped to get to spots the scientists want to go much a lot more swiftly,” explained Jennifer Trosper, who has labored on every just one of NASA’s Martian rovers and is the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover undertaking supervisor. “Now we are equipped to drive by way of these more advanced terrains in its place of likely about them: It is not a thing we’ve been ready to do ahead of.”

The Human Element

Of program, Perseverance can’t get by on AutoNav alone. The involvement of the rover crew stays crucial in scheduling and driving Perseverance’s route. An overall team of specialists develops a navigation route along with preparing the rover’s action, irrespective of whether it is examining a geologically attention-grabbing feature on the way to its destination or, quickly, taking samples.


Laptop Simulation of Perseverance’s Very first Autonav Drive: This laptop or computer simulation reveals NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover as it carried out its very first drive using its automobile-navigation aspect, which enables it to avoid rocks and other hazards without having enter from engineers back again on Earth. Credit rating: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Because of the radio sign hold off between Earth and Mars, they cannot simply shift the rover forward with a joystick. As an alternative, they scrutinize satellite pictures, sometimes donning those people 3D eyeglasses to look at the Martian surface in the rover’s vicinity. As soon as the group indicators off, they beam the guidance to Mars, and the rover executes people recommendations the subsequent day.

Perseverance’s wheels have been modified as very well to aid with just how quickly people plans are executed: Along with getting a bit greater in diameter and narrower than Curiosity’s wheels, they every attribute 48 treads that seem like marginally wavy traces, as opposed to Curiosity’s 24 chevron-sample treads. The goals have been to aid with traction as properly as sturdiness.

“Curiosity could not AutoNav mainly because of the wheel-don problem,” Trosper explained. “Early in the mission, we professional smaller, sharp, pointy rocks starting to set holes in the wheels, and our AutoNav didn’t prevent these.”

Higher clearance for Perseverance’s stomach also allows the rover to roll properly above rougher ground – together with good-dimensions rocks. And Perseverance’s beefed-up auto-navigation abilities include ENav, or improved navigation, an algorithm-and-software program mixture that permits much more specific hazard detection.

As opposed to its predecessors, Perseverance can employ one particular of its personal computers just for navigation on the surface its major computer system can commit alone to the several other responsibilities that hold the rover healthier and active.

This Eyesight Compute Component, or VCE, guided Perseverance to the Martian surface area in the course of its entry, descent, and landing in February. Now it’s remaining used comprehensive-time to map out the rover’s journey when supporting it prevent problems together the way.

The rover also keeps keep track of of how significantly it is moved from a single location to a different applying a system known as “visual odometry.” Perseverance periodically captures photos as it moves, comparing just one situation to the subsequent to see if it moved the predicted distance.

Staff associates say they glance forward to letting AutoNav “take the wheel.” But they’ll also be prepared to intervene when needed.

And just what is it like to drive on Mars? The planners and motorists say it in no way will get aged.

“Jezero is outstanding,” Verma stated. “It’s a rover driver’s paradise. When you place on the 3D eyeglasses, you see so significantly much more undulation in the terrain. Some times I just stare at the pictures.”

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