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Mars Curiosity Rover Can Now Fire Its Laser Autonomously

Jul 25, 2016 12:11 AM EDT
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NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover has been granted with a powerful decision-making role, it can now fire laser by itself without waiting for human commands.

 

Curiosity has been studying the red planet since 2012 and has provided numerous significant data that led to a better understanding of Mars. And on the last stretch of its mission, it is granted with a fuller reign of its instruments including the ChemCham that uses lasers to shoot rocks.

The ChemCam helps in studying the details and microstructures of Martian rocks. With the ChemCam, the rover can look at rocks from a distance by firing a laser to analyze the composition of vaporized materials in areas as small as one millimeter.

After the laser hit the rock, the rover will then analyze the gas released by the laser impact. For years, scientists are instructing the rover where to shoot from their base on Earth. But the recent developments allow Curiosity to fire away the laser on its own as per the report from New Scientist.

The Curiosity rover is smart enough to fire laser beams on its own to zap Martian rocks on a planet without any human habitation. The ruling is purely scientific in nature. By zapping rocks and analyzing the gas from the impact, Curiosity can identify the chemicals present. This autonomy will be very useful especially when the base is out of reach, according to The Verge.

To enable the rover to pick its target autonomously, NASA is using the software called Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS).

"This autonomy is particularly useful at times when getting the science team in the loop is difficult or impossible," NASA robotics engineer Tara Estlin said in a press release. "In the middle of a long drive, perhaps, or when the schedules of Earth, Mars and spacecraft activities lead to delays in sharing information between the planets," Estlin added.

The rover can detect and choose its target by using cameras on board and comparing it characteristics set by scientists on Earth. This way, Curiosity can select its target on its own even when its human controllers are out of reach.

Currently, the Curiosity Rover is analyzing Martian topography on the lower Mount Sharp and it is most likely the part where the autonomous lasers of the smart rover will be first put to use.

 

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