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New NASA Technology Supports Enhanced Robotic Exploration
02.17.05
 
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.

K9 rover robotDuring 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 Space Exploration."

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.

K9 robot roverDuring 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:

http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/multimedia/images/2005/K9.html

 
 
John Bluck
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Phone: 650/604-5026 jbluck@mail.arc.nasa.gov