For the first time since it landed a year ago, the Mars rover Curiosity has made up its own mind where it wanted to go, NASA says.
Using autonomous navigation, the car-size, six-wheel laboratory negotiated a small dip Tuesday by analyzing photographs and determining the safest way to get from points A to B on its way to Mount Sharp, Curiosity’s handlers said. The maneuver over previously hidden terrain covered about 33 feet of the day’s 141-foot excursion.
Mark Maimone, a rover mobility engineer and one of its navigators at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained how Curiosity did it without a backseat driver:
“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. The rover considers all the paths it could take to get to the designated endpoint for the drive and chooses the best one.”
Curiosity will increasingly use “autonav” as it travels along a “rapid transit route” to the 3-mile-high Mount Sharp, still more than 4 miles away. The rover will stop for several days at three “waypoints” for a little science.
Since landing Aug. 5, 2012, in Gale Crater, Curiosity has traversed just over a mile.
Similar technology is behind the emerging “driverless” cars on Earth.
source: USA today