Using autonomous navigation software first developed at
Since July, Curiosity has been on a 5.3-mile trek from where it worked for the first half of 2013 to the lower reaches of
"Autonomous navigation already has made it possible for the rover to extend its range each day, continuing to operate beyond the area we have been able to evaluate in advance," said Maimone, who earned his Ph.D. in computer science at CMU and worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the
The high-level planning performed by the autonomous navigation software is based on a program called Field D*, which was created by
Field D* is one of a progression of programs that began in the early 1990s that were used on a number of autonomous vehicles at
The software was uploaded to the Mars Exploration rovers in 2006 and the rover Opportunity first used the autonomous capability in 2007. But high-level planning was used only sparingly by Opportunity and its twin, Spirit.
"Now that the science team has decided to hightail it to
Maimone said humans plan the first part of each drive based on high-resolution imagery from the rover. Once the rover has completed the human-directed portion of the drive, autonomous navigation kicks in, enabling the robot to analyze the images it has taken during the drive to calculate a safe driving path.
In the two-day drive that began Sunday, Curiosity followed a 180-foot route that rover drivers at JPL had evaluated and concluded was safe. The autonomous-driving portion began where that left off, with Curiosity evaluating the best way to each designated waypoint ahead, covering another 125 feet that day.
At the end of the day, Curiosity went into energy-conserving sleep mode overnight, but not before storing some key variables, such as the direction it was driving when it stopped and whether it had classified the next 10 feet in that direction as safe. On Monday, it resumed operations, evaluating the terrain ahead for safe driving and completing another 105 feet.
"We're pleased to know that Field D* has become part of
JPL, a division of the
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