NASA trains Perseverance robot in autonomous driving

The Perseverance rover of the POT you are training in autonomous driving while performing the early stages of your journey through the Jezero crater on Mars in search of signs of ancient life.

Progressively, the rover will take over driving by itself, using a powerful automatic navigation system.. Called AutoNav, it creates 3D maps of the terrain ahead, identifies hazards and plans a route around any obstacles with no additional direction from controllers on Earth.

“We have a capacity called ‘think while driving’“, He said it’s a statement Vandi Verma, senior engineer, mobile vehicle planner, and driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The rover is thinking about autonomous driving while its wheels turn.”

120 meters per hour maximum speed

That capability, combined with other enhancements, could allow Perseverance to reach a top speed of 120 meters per hour; its predecessor, Curiosity, equipped with an older version of AutoNav, covers about 20 meters per hour as you climb Mount Sharp.

“We accelerated AutoNav four or five times,” said Michael McHenry, mobility domain leader and part of JPL’s team of mobile planners. “We are driving much further in much less time than Curiosity showed.”

When Perseverance begins its first science campaign on the floor of Jezero Crater, AutoNav will be a key feature to help get the job done.

This crater was once a lake, when, billions of years ago, Mars was wetter than it is today, and Perseverance’s destination is a dry river delta at the crater rim. If life ever took hold of the first Mars, signs of it might be found there. The rover will collect samples over about 15 kilometers, It will then prepare the samples for collection on a future mission that would take them back to Earth for analysis.

Crossing complex terrain instead of circling it

“We’re going to be able to get to the places that scientists want to go much faster,” said Jennifer Trosper, who has worked on each of NASA’s Martian rovers and is the project manager for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. “Now we can drive through these more complex terrain instead of around it – it’s not something we’ve been able to do before.”

Perseverance doesn’t handle AutoNav alone. Rover team involvement remains critical in planning and conducting the Perseverance route. A team of specialists develops a navigation route along with planning the rover’s activity, whether it is examining a geologically interesting feature on the way to its destination or soon taking samples.

Due to the radio signal delay between Earth and Mars, they cannot simply move the rover forward with a ‘joystick’. Instead, they scrutinize satellite images, sometimes putting on those 3D glasses to see the Martian surface in the vicinity of the rover. Once the team signs, they send the instructions to Mars and the rover executes those instructions the next day.

Perseverance’s wheels have also been modified to help with how quickly those plans are executed: In addition to being slightly larger in diameter and narrower than Curiosity’s wheels, they each feature 48 tracks that look like slightly wavy lines. The goals were to help with traction and durability.

Perseverance’s increased underbody clearance also allows the rover to roll safely over rougher terrain, including good-sized rocks. And Perseverance’s enhanced automatic navigation capabilities include ENav, or Enhanced Navigation, a combination of algorithm and software that enables more accurate hazard detection.

Unlike its predecessors, Perseverance can use one of its computers only to navigate on the surface; your main computer can do many other tasks that keep your mobile healthy and active.

This Vision Compute Element, or VCE, guided Perseverance to the Martian surface during its entry, descent, and landing in February. It is now being used full time to chart the rover’s journey while helping it avoid problems along the way.

The rover also keeps track of the distance it has traveled from one location to another using a system called “visual odometry”. Perseverance periodically captures images as it moves, comparing one position to the next to see if it moved the expected distance.

Team members say they hope AutoNav “take the wheel”. But they will also be ready to step in when needed.


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