SETI bioastro: Fw: All-Terrain Rovers May Scale Mars' Cliffs

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Date: Wed Dec 19 2001 - 20:44:02 PST

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Sent: Wednesday, December 19, 2001 5:27 PM
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Subject: All-Terrain Rovers May Scale Mars' Cliffs

PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011

Contact: Carolina Martinez (818) 354-9382



     NASA researchers are developing new prototype robots that
can drive up steep hills and descend almost-vertical cliffs.
Working alone or as a team, these autonomous robotic explorers
may go where no rover has gone before -- the cliffs of Mars.

     Recent Mars Global Surveyor images suggest water outflows
near cliff edges and the possibility of rich water-borne
mineral deposits that extend all the way to the cliff base.

     "We know that some of the most exciting Mars science and
history will be in very rough, currently inaccessible terrain.
Getting to those hard-to-reach spots -- navigating and
exploring them -- will require altogether new types of robotic
vehicles," said Dr. Paul Schenker, supervisor of the
Mechanical and Robotics Technologies Group at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and principal
investigator for the All-Terrain Explorer.

     "These include rover systems that can surmount the hilly
base of cliffs, even descend from cliff edges to study cliff
stratigraphy. Some years from now, rovers may literally be
hanging out on Mars," he said.

     In a demonstration near JPL, a new mobility system
navigated a cliff face. Two "tether-bot" rovers stationed
themselves at the cliff's edge, assisting a third steerable
"cliff-bot" as it actively descended and ascended the steep

     "They're a true team, tightly coordinating their
behaviors, sharing what they sense," Schenker said. "They
communicate instantaneously, make mutually informed decisions
and jointly implement their control actions. We can think of
them as a climber with two good friends. We're not yet at the
point of human competence, where one robot can go it all

     The rovers can cooperate in a number of ways: controlling
tension to avoid slackness in the tethers, matching velocity
of tether payouts to cliff-bot navigation, maintaining
stability to prevent cliff-bot tip-over and hauling actions to
initiate the "climber's" uphill driving when the going gets
really rough.

     Over the past year, the JPL researchers also successfully
developed and demonstrated a single rover that can traverse
sandy natural terrain on slopes of 40 to 50 degrees. Similar
to an agile animal, this mechanically reconfigurable All-
Terrain Explorer behaviorally adapts its stance and balance,
reacting to visually perceived changes in the terrain ahead
and motion cues from onboard accelerometers.

     "These technology advances should enable broader robotic
exploration of planetary surfaces, letting rovers truly follow
the water, thus giving us a better look at possibilities of
past or present life on Mars," Schenker said. "Similarly,
there are potentially important terrestrial applications,
including urban and rural search-and-rescue operations."

     Basic research on the All-Terrain Explorer rovers
continues, and engineers envision that their work may well be
part of a future Mars mission to explore the steep hills and
gullies, nooks and crannies of the red planet.

     More information on this work is available at: .

     NASA's Cross Enterprise Technology Development Program
provided funding for this work. The California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA. JPL is the lead
NASA center for robotic exploration of the solar system.

                   # # # # #
12/19/01 CM

Note to Broadcasters: A video file to accompany this release
will air on NASA Television
Dec. 19, 20 and 21, during the NASA TV video file feed
scheduled for noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m., 9 p.m., and midnight EST.
A live satellite interview opportunity with the principal
investigator, Dr. Paul Schenker is available via NASA
Television on Thursday, Dec. 20, from 3 to 7 p.m. EST. To book
an interview, call Jack Dawson at (818) 354-0040. For NASA
Television schedule information see .

NASA TV is broadcast on GE-2, transponder 9C, C-Band, located
at 85 degrees West longitude. The frequency is 3880.0 MHz.
Polarization is vertical and audio is monaural at 6.8 MHz. For
general questions about the NASA Video File, contact Fred
Brown, NASA Television, Washington, D.C. (202) 358-0713.

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