Aberystwyth robot prepares to go to Mars

 ABERYSTWYTH University’s Department of Computer Science will be taking a robot called Idris to the Canaries this week for field trials.

The journey is part of a project called “Planetary Robotics Vision Scout” (PRoViScout), and will see the device, right, undertaking field trials at the El Teide National Park, Tenerife, between 13th and 17th September 2012.

Aber is a major participant in the project, a collaborative “EU Framework-7” funded effort which brings together major European groups currently working on robotic vision for planetary and space exploration.

PRoViScout aims to demonstrate computer vision based techniques for identifying navigation hazards in the terrain, spotting likely science targets, and selecting the “most interesting” targets for further study, without human intervention – all abilities crucial to future long range scouting and exploration missions on other planets.

El Tiede National Park is favoured as a field trials venue as it has good weather and a rich tapestry of image textures and features, which are important in providing a wide range of conditions under which to test the imaging systems. Its flat landscape with fine textures of volcanic sand, pebbles and occasional rocky outcrops are similar to those encountered on the surface of Mars.

Most robotic planetary space missions performing in situ exploration of the surface and atmosphere for any planetary object outside the Earth involve a means of mobility provided by either a surface vehicle (rover) or by aerial vehicles (balloons, aerobots etc.). Mobile systems are among the most critical of all space missions in requiring a rapid and robust on-site processing and preparation of scientific data to allow efficient operations for a maximum use of their limited lifetime.

Professor Dave Barnes

Professor Dave Barnes, of the Space and Planetary Robotics Group at the University’s Department of Computer Science said: “Last year there was a Tenerife field trial as part of the PRoViSG project, using the EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space) Astrium Bridget rover. This time, it will be an Aberystwyth rover, and our rover will autonomously identify science targets and navigate to these targets using new sophisticated software developed during the PRoViScout project.”

As future robotic space missions become more numerous, more ambitious and of longer duration, they will need to be more self-reliant than is feasible today. They will need to make some of their own decisions about navigation, selecting important science samples and possibly even collecting them for return to Earth. ProViScout will provide the robotic vision building blocks for such future autonomous exploration systems.