Ex­plor­ing Mars

AI will soon be driv­ing Mar­tian rovers

Sky at Night Magazine - - NASA’S PIONEERING -

Hu­mans may not have reached Mars yet, but AI has, in the form of the tar­get­ing soft­ware cur­rently used by the Mars Sci­ence Lab­o­ra­tory’s Cu­rios­ity rover. Sci­en­tists, Chien ex­plains, use ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to spec­ify very high-level tar­get re­quests, such as search­ing for rocks with a set tex­ture, size or dis­tri­bu­tion. The soft­ware then de­ter­mines the right ori­en­ta­tion for aim­ing NASA’s Chem­istry and Cam­era (ChemCam) laser at the tar­gets and fires it, burn­ing the planet’s ever-present iron dust off their sur­faces in or­der to ex­pose their un­der­ly­ing min­eral struc­tures.

The next gen­er­a­tion of rover, how­ever, will be able to do much more, pro­grammed not only to drive it­self, but to plan its own tasks. Cur­rently, hu­man sci­en­tists direct what the rover does and when. The 2020 ver­sion will be able to an­a­lyse data it­self, al­low­ing it to work out how much time to spend on a task. If it com­pletes one early, the rover will ei­ther move on or de­cide to spend higher-qual­ity time on the orig­i­nal as­sign­ment, for in­stance tak­ing a 4x4 im­age mo­saic in­stead of the 3x3 sci­en­tists re­quested.

“We’re very ex­cited about that,” Chien says, and not just be­cause of the ob­vi­ous in­crease in rover ef­fi­ciency. By al­low­ing some au­ton­omy in fu­ture mis­sions, mul­ti­ple rovers will be able to team to­gether, ex­plor­ing not only Mars’s sur­face, but its caves. They’ll con­nect through a dy­namic al­lo­ca­tion al­go­rithm, a com­puter sys­tem tech­nique for al­lo­cat­ing mem­ory. This will help the group of rovers to de­cide which part of the cave each will map. Then when one rover dies and can’t send feed­back to the team, oth­ers can take over.

“The next gen­er­a­tion of Mars rover will be able to do much more – not only driv­ing it­self, but plan­ning its own tasks”

An artist’s im­pres­sion of NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover de­ploy­ing its ro­botic arm. AI will help it make its own de­ci­sions dur­ing tasks

Cu­rios­ity’s pho­to­graph of drilling sites on Mars – but fu­ture rovers will de­cide how to use their own time

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.