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Michael Mewhinney                                                                            Dec. 22, 2003

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.                           

Phone: 650/604-3937 or 650/604-9000

E-mail: Michael.Mewhinney@nasa.gov

Anne Watzman

Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh

Phone: 412/268-3830

E-mail: aw16@andrew.cmu.edu


RELEASE: 03-106AR

NASA, CARNEGIE MELLON MAKE PERSONAL ROBOTS POSSIBLE

As NASA's twin robot geologists Spirit and Opportunity prepare to land on Mars in January, a cadre of 20 smart rovers will be deployed at some of the nation's most prestigious science museums to let visitors experience the thrill of exploring the red planet.

Developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University with support from NASA  and Intel Corp., the Personal Exploration Rovers (PERs) will reside in "Mars yards," specially designed to mimic martian terrain at the new visitor center at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.  The new rovers also will be deployed in Mars yards at the San Francisco Exploratorium; the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington and its new Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport; and the National Science Center in Augusta, Ga. The first exhibit will open at NASA Ames in late December.  The others will follow between January first and Jan. 24, 2004.

"With the Personal Exploration Rover, students can learn how robots interact with the world and see for themselves how the future might look as we have more and more robots helping us in our everyday life," said G. Scott Hubbard, director of NASA Ames Research Center.

"Our goal is to excite and inspire kids about science and technology and educate people about the role of rovers and rover autonomy in doing space science," said project director Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science. "We want people to understand why it's important for the rovers to be smart."

"The Personal Exploration Rover is part of a larger project to develop low-cost robotic devices that can be used in education, science museums and the home," said Daniel Clancy, director of information sciences and technology at NASA Ames.  "In future holiday seasons, you will be able to bring one of these home for your kids.  The robot will be able to move around your house, take pictures, interact with your dog, and do other tasks.  It's really about the whole creative process and exploring how you can program a device to do interesting tasks," he added.

The Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. The current mission is to search for clues to past water activity on Mars. The spacecraft are targeted to appropriate sites on opposite sides of the planet. The rovers they carry will drive to promising locations to perform on-site geological investigations over the course of their 90-day mission.

While Spirit and Opportunity are looking for water history, museum visitors interacting with the PERs will be able to search the Mars yards' rocky landscapes for organo-fluorescent evidence of life.

While each museum's exhibit is unique, they all contain one or more Mars yards populated by rovers. The identical rovers are 1.2 feet tall, weigh 10 pounds and can move 1.6 inches per second. They have mobility systems similar to those of Spirit and Opportunity.

Visiting 'mission scientists' will access the PERs through a kiosk, and then partner with a rover as it moves through the yard, scanning rocks and soil to find signs of life. The rovers are equipped with cameras mounted on a custom-designed head that can create a panoramic or 360-degree image. It also can detect obstacles using an optical rangefinder. 

Carnegie Mellon and NASA researchers have designed educational materials and ongoing support for the six-month-long exhibits that feature the rovers. "The gender gap closes when you use robots," Nourbakhsh said.

The PER project is funded as part of a four-year grant from NASA to develop educational robots. It is supported through the NASA Ames Intelligent Systems Program and Intel. The PERs are powered by Intel ¨ Xscale ¨ technology using the Intel ¨ PXA255 processors, which provide high system performance and low power consumption.  The rovers run the Linux operating system and are programmed in Java.

NASA Television will broadcast a video file including animation, interviews and b-roll footage of the Personal Exploration Rover on Monday, Dec. 22, at 9 a.m., 12 noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. PST. NASA Television is available on AMC 9 Transponder 9C, 85 degrees West Longitude, vertical polarization downlink frequency 3880 MHZ, with audio at 6.8 MHZ.   The NASA TV broadcast schedule is available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/ 

For images of the personal rover project, see:

http://amesnews.arc.nasa.gov/releases/2003/03images/rover/rover.html

For more information about Carnegie Mellon's personal rover project, see:

http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~personalrover/PER/

For more information about NASA's Mars Exploration project, see:

http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mer

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