ESA tests self-steering rover in ‘Mars’ desert
26 Jun 2012
ESA challenged a top engineering team to devise a way for rovers to navigate on alien planets. After just six months a fully autonomous vehicle was charting its course through Chile’s Mars-like Atacama Desert.
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A time-lapse panorama of the Seeker rover negotiating a small hill. The ROBOVOLC platform, which served as the basis for the locomotion system, was not specifically designed for Mars-like conditions, nevertheless it proved very trustworthy.
Experts from five British organisations and one French joined together to use the world class facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in the UK. Their challenge was to demonstrate in six months how a planetary rover – equipped with state-of-the-art autonomous navigation and decision-making software – could traverse 6 km of Mars-like environment and come back where it started.
The rover acquired visual odometry systems to assess its distance moved, stereo-vision reconstruction to map its surroundings and advanced path-planning and obstacle avoidance systems. The Seeker was finally tested over two weeks in the Atacama Desert near the European Southern Observatory, one of the driest places in the world, because of its similarities to martian conditions. Their daily efforts culminated in the official trial, when the Seeker completed 5.1km of a programmed 6 km loop. This was an excellent result considering the variety of terrain crossed and changes in lighting conditions experienced.
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ESA's Seeker rover during its May 2012 test campaign in Chile's Atacama Desert, coasting along one of the rare flat loam deposits.
The ESA-funded team included STFC’s RAL Space, SciSyS, BAe Systems, Roke Manor Research, MDA Space and Robotics, Laboratoire d’Analyse et d’Architecture des Systémes, and Oxford University. The UK Space Agency is responsible for the UK subscription to ESA.
Standing for ‘Space Technology Advancements by Resourceful, Targeted and Innovative Groups of Experts and Researchers’, StarTiger involves a multidisciplinary team gathered at a single site, working against the clock to achieve a technology breakthrough. The UK Space Agency has recently opened a call for Space CITI, a scheme inspired by the StarTiger programme to be based at the International Space Innovation Centre.
For the full release please visit the ESA website.