NASA TextureCam Will Enable Rovers To Analyze Space Objects On Their Own, Speeding Up Exploration

By Josh Lieberman on September 10, 2013 12:34 PM EDT

mars curiosity rover
The TextureCam will allow rovers like the Curiosity (above) to analyze objects quickly, giving rovers more autonomy to choose the path they take on space surfaces. (Photo: NASA)

A new camera developed by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., may allow space rovers to traverse celestial bodies at a faster pace by giving rovers greater autonomy. The TextureCam aims to enable a rover itself to determine whether objects in its path are worth exploring, a process that currently involves a rover capturing images and beaming it down to NASA to analyze. That's a slow process, and if a rover were able to use TextureCam to make its own determinations about whether to keep exploring or move on, it would be far more efficient.

Like Us on Facebook

Take the case of the Curiosity Rover, which is currently exploring the surface of Mars. It takes 20 minutes for data from Mars to arrive on Earth for NASA scientists to see -- a speed of 0.012 megabits per second, which is 250 times slower than a 3G cellphone's transfer rate. NASA then analyzes whatever Curiosity is looking at to determine whether the rover should explore it further, then sends back its own data, which once again takes 20 minutes to reach Mars. And the data delay would be even greater if a rover explored Jupiter, with the data speed slowing to 45 minutes each way.  

"We currently have a micromanaging approach to space exploration," said Kiri Wagstaff, a computer scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "While this suffices for our rovers on Mars, it works less and less well the further you get from Earth. If you want to get ambitious and go to Europa and asteroids and comets, you need more and more autonomy to even make that feasible."

As it is now, NASA sends a sort of schedule to the Curiosity rover at the beginning of each Martian day. NASA tells Curiosity to do things like move to a certain area, take a photo and dig up some soil, for example. But with the TextureCam, the rover wouldn't be as beholden to this set of instructions sent to it each morning.  

The TextureCam works by taking images and then analyzing them. The TextureCam's two lenses create a 3D image, which is then processed by an onboard computer. The computer analyzes the texture of objects in the 3D images to see if they seem interesting. If it finds a boring pile of sand, it tells the rover to move on. If it comes across something interesting, like layered rock, it may decide to go over to the layered rock and collect samples.

TextureCam will also help the rover decide which images to send back to NASA. A rover can only send back so much data given those slow transfer speeds, and data transfer uses up a lot of the rover's power.  

"If the rover itself could prioritize what's scientifically important, it would suddenly have the capability to take more images than it knows it can send back. That goes hand in hand with its ability to discover new things that weren't anticipated," said Wagstaff.

The TextureCam was recently successful in testing in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. The rocky desert was used to serve as a stand-in for the Martian surface. Wagstaff and her colleagues have published a TextureCam report titled "Smart, texture-sensitive instrument classification for in situ rock and layer analysis" in the latest issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

READ MORE:

NASA Joins Instagram, Kicks Things Off With Apollo 11, LADEE And Hubble Photos

After Successful LADEE Launch, NASA Fixes Lunar Probe's Wheel Problem [PHOTOS & VIDEO]

Virgin Galactic Flight: Watch SpaceShipTwo Break Sound Barrier 56,000 Feet Above Calif. Desert [VIDEO]

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

Join the Conversation

Sponsored From Around the Web

    ZergNet
Follow iScience Times
us on facebook RSS
 
us on google
 
Most Popular
Tiny 'Alien' Skeleton Discovered In Chile: DNA Analysis Reveal Shocking Identity Of Skeleton; Is It Human? [PHOTOS] [VIDEO]
Amazon UK Bans Foie Gras; France Protests, Claiming 'Real Product Quality' And Respect For 'Animal's Well-Being'
Nevada Dog Breed Law: Does New Law Target Pit Bulls?
Dyatlov Pass Explained: How Science Could Solve Russia's Most Terrifying Unsolved Mystery
Scientists Uncover Massive Freshwater Reserves Under the Sea
INSIDE iScience Times
Stress Makes The World (Literally) Stink, And 5 Other Negative Effects Of Anxiety
Stress Makes The World (Literally) Stink, And 5 Other Negative Effects Of Anxiety
Real-Life Lightsaber: Harvard And MIT Scientists Bind Light Together To Create New Form Of Matter
Real-Life Lightsaber: Harvard And MIT Scientists Bind Light Together To Create New Form Of Matter
A Fish With A Human Face? Entelognathus Primordialis, A Prehistoric Fish, Had A Jaw And Cheek Bones Just Like Modern Vertebrates
A Fish With A Human Face? Entelognathus Primordialis, A Prehistoric Fish, Had A Jaw And Cheek Bones Just Like Modern Vertebrates
Mars Water Found: Curiosity Rover Uncovers 'Abundant, Easily Accessible' Water In Martian Soil
Mars Water Found: Curiosity Rover Uncovers 'Abundant, Easily Accessible' Water In Martian Soil
What To Do With Your Old CDs: Turn Sewage Into Clean Water
What To Do With Your Old CDs: Turn Sewage Into Clean Water
Does Microwaving Wine Improve Quality? It Might Sound Strange, But One Scientist Says Yes
Does Microwaving Wine Improve Quality? It Might Sound Strange, But One Scientist Says Yes