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Mars NASA Science

NASA Gives Mars Rover Extra Smarts 116

coondoggie writes "NASA today said it upgraded the software controlling its Mars Rover Opportunity to let it make its own decisions about what items like rocks and interesting red planet formations to focus its cameras on. The new system, which NASA uploaded over the past few months, is called Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science, or AEGIS and it lets Opportunity's computer examine images that the rover takes with its wide-angle navigation camera after a drive, and recognize rocks that meet specified criteria, such as rounded shape or light color. It can then center its narrower-angle panoramic camera on the chosen target and take multiple images through color filters, NASA stated."
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NASA Gives Mars Rover Extra Smarts

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  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Wednesday March 24, 2010 @12:29PM (#31599284)

    Can anyone give any insight behind how they perform upgrades like this?

    I'm sure we all have a "friend" who has bricked a router doing something. Thankfully my Sheeva Plug has JTAG built in and was able to get to the interface through that.

    Send everything, checksum it and then flash? If something goes wrong (solar wind) is there a very basic firmware that sits and listens? Probably some basic security so the Chinese can't sit there and flood it with fake update requests?

    I'm sure stuff is a lot more fun when pings aren't measured in seconds or minutes.

  • Awesome (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rival ( 14861 ) on Wednesday March 24, 2010 @12:33PM (#31599360) Homepage Journal

    The autonomy of these rovers is already quite impressive, as they can choose parts of their paths based on a braveness variable provided by the engineers.

    This latest enhancement is really interesting, essentially giving them something of a sense of curiosity. I'm not trying to anthropomorphize; the rovers are now allowed to use some sort of Bayesian-like algorithms for determining objects of interest, and examining them without direct input from us. This gives them the potential for returning more scientifically interesting information for the communication cycle.

    Way to go, NASA! You guys rock!

  • by Saishuuheiki ( 1657565 ) on Wednesday March 24, 2010 @12:34PM (#31599386)

    Well, the code they're uploading would be higher-level processing that would just control what it does, not how it does it. Think of it as re-writing the main subroutine, but all the other functions are the same.

    No doubt then there's still error handling to escape the process to return to normal control, and the code-upload area would be separate so even if that part froze, you could overwrite it.

  • by ls671 ( 1122017 ) on Wednesday March 24, 2010 @01:08PM (#31599894) Homepage

    It takes 4 to 20 minutes for data to travel between Earth and Mars (each way) depending on the planet positions. []

    Still, Mars is one of the closest planet to Earth. It looks like we will need to find some kind of warp driven data transfer mechanism to network the planets and take full advantage of IPv6 for real time applications. ;-)

    Achieving warp speed for data transfer should be easier than for matter and human beings so I suggest we look at this first. ;-))

  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Wednesday March 24, 2010 @04:09PM (#31602778) Journal
    Um... Contact was lost with Pioneer 11 in 1995. Pioneer 12 ran out of fuel and crashed into Venus in 1992. Viking 1's antenna pointing software was accidentally overwritten in 1982, and Viking 2's batteries died in 1980 after only three years. Voyager 1 and 2 are still "ticking over" as you say, making them the longest running space probes.

    But is longevity the measure of success? What about capturing the public's imagination? One could argue that despite their much shorter "lifespan", Spirit and Opportunity have done more to boost interest in Space than Voyagers 1 and 2 have.

    My question remains, though. Why haven't we launched a few more of these rovers.

Help! I'm trapped in a PDP 11/70!