New NASA Technology Supports Enhanced Robotic Exploration
An experimental NASA K9 rover robot recently showed it could carry out tasks similar
to those that robots now exploring Mars are doing, but it could complete those
jobs more than 10 times faster.
During a demonstration in the outdoor 'Marscape' test yard at NASA Ames Research
Center in California's Silicon Valley, operators informed the K9 robot which rocks
were interesting. With no further human guidance, the K9 rover - using artificial
intelligence -- went to the 'targets' and examined them with a microscopic camera.
A control staff of only five researchers was required to conduct the rover demonstration.
"This represents a tenfold increase over current capabilities, moving us towards
our vision of robots being truly capable field assistants," said NASA Ames computer
scientist Liam Pedersen, whose team conducted the K9 test and demonstration at
NASA Ames. "It is an important step in moving boldly forward with the Vision for
Image left: The K9 rover robot on site during a demonstration in the outdoor 'Marscape' test yard at NASA Ames Research Center.
Developed jointly at NASA Ames and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena,
Calif., the K9 rover is a six-wheeled, solar-powered rover weighing 145 pounds
(65 kg) that measures 63 inches (1.6 m) high. The K9 rover is modeled after a
rover named "FIDO" (Field Integrated Design and Operations) developed at JPL about
six years ago.
The K9 rover includes automated 'planner' software that quickly determined the
steps the robot needed to make microscopic image measurements requested by the
operators. The artificial intelligence 'planner' software also made contingency
plans for the rover, in case it encountered problems.
During the test, K9 sent a panorama of images from the 'Marscape' test site to
the five operators in 'mission control' who explored a 3-D virtual recreation
of the simulated landing location. K9's operators included a MER science team
member and mission managers from a planned 2009 Mars mission.
Image right: An experimental NASA K9 rover robot recently showed it could carry out tasks similar to those that robots now exploring Mars are doing, but complete those jobs more than 10 times faster.
"Instead of examining one rock every three days, our K9 system has the potential
to investigate four rocks a day. We can place an instrument within one centimeter
(0.4 inch) of a chosen point on a target that is selected with the rover as far
as 10 meters (33 feet) away," Pedersen said.
In three hours, K9 traveled autonomously 28 meters (92.4 feet) to visit four targets
and take microscope images. K9 rejected the fourth target because it could potentially
damage the rover's microscopic camera. The robot sent the images to 'mission control,'
and Internet-like 'hyperlinks' appeared on a computerized map of the test site.
Operators could 'click' on the hyperlinks to see the images.
Publication-size images are available on the World Wide Web at:
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Phone: 650/604-5026 firstname.lastname@example.org