The landing of Curiosity on Mars and the breathtaking pictures it is beaming back to the earth is fascinating. We all heard that a NASA team is using a remote control to move the car-sized rover on the Red Planet. The time lag is 14 minutes to get a signal from the rover as it is 35.2 crore miles away.

But what if the rover faces a ditch or hits a rough patch? It is wise enough to send a signal back home. It will take some more time for the NASA team to discuss and analyse the issue and send directions accordingly. It could be too late for the rover.

The NASA team at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which controls the rover, has taken a cue from video gamers to plot a path for the rover. On average, the team tests a 40-metre path to test and then guide the rover to a safe drive. The team is using 3D Vision glasses developed by the chipmaker NVIDIA to see Mars in 3D and plan the rover path in a game-like environment virtually. The team devised a plan to address the challenge.

“It developed a simulated environment, like a video game, to test each action before telling the rover to move. The Robot Sequencing and Visualisation Program, or RSVP, is a fully 3D virtual environment with Martian terrain captured by the rover,” an NVIDIA executive said in a statement here.

“By inserting a detailed 3D model of Curiosity, and using off-the-shelf 3D Vision glasses, the JPL team can model every movement to see how Curiosity would behave. This not only helps with navigation, but also helps them test complicated movements of the robotic arm (like drilling and recovering soil samples) to ensure each motion will be unimpeded,” he said.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 18, 2012)
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