To achieve the ambitious science goals of future Mars missions, the accompanying rovers must be highly capable and autonomous. They must be able to navigate, especially between sites, with minimal human intervention. They must be able to detect anomalies and deal with them effectively. They must be able to manage their limited resources, including power and computation, and use them in an efficient manner. Finally, they must integrate all these capabilities into a working, reliable system.
Our project, a part of the NASA Intelligent Robotics Program, is focused on the area of autonomous navigation. We are integrating previously developed local obstacle avoidance and global path planning algorithms and adapting them to a Mars-relevant rover in order to demonstrate reliable long-distance navigation (100-200 meters without the need for human intervention) in Mars-like terrain.
The Mars Autonomy program will demonstrate navigation on a vehicle of the scale identical to that of the FIDO rover that is baselined for a flight mission in 2005. Using a stereo vision algorithm developed at JPL, we will demonstrate collision avoidance and route planning in Mars-like terrain. Future issues involve long range route planning in the presence of position uncertainty, efficient search and exploration, rover localization with computer vision, and effective human-robot interfaces.