Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Carnegie Mellon, NASA to develop robot illustrating how to seek life on distant planets


A team of Carnegie Mellon University and NASA scientists will travel to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile in April to conduct research that will help them develop and deploy a robot and instruments that may someday enable other robots to find life on Mars. The researchers will be using the Atacama, described as the most arid region on Earth, as a Martian analog.

The group is funded with a $3 million, three-year grant from NASA to the university’s Robotics Institute. They are collaborating with scientists at Carnegie Mellon’s Molecular Biosensor and Imaging Center who have a separate $900,000 grant from NASA to develop fluorescent dyes and automated microscopes that the robot will eventually use to locate various forms of life.

The project falls under NASA’s Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets or ASTEP program, which concentrates on pushing the limits of technology in harsh environments. NASA experts believe that by pushing the known limits of life on Earth scientists will be better prepared to search for life on other worlds.

"Our goal is to make genuine discoveries about the limits of life on Earth and to generate knowledge that can be applied to future NASA missions to Mars," said project leader David Wettergreen, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute. "We will conduct three annual field experiments in the Atacama. Each time, an increasingly capable robot will use sensing and intelligence to find land forms or environmental conditions that could harbor life."

This year, the team will be using an autonomous, solar-powered robot named Hyperion to determine the optimum design, software and instrumentation for a new robot that will be used in the more extensive experiments to be conducted over the next two years. In 2001, Hyperion was taken to Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic where it successfully demonstrated a concept called Sun-Synchronous Navigation. It tracked the sun as a source of power and explored its surroundings as it traveled continuously through a 24-hour period of daylight.

During this year’s visit to the Atacama, researchers will focus on measurements and experiments with the robot’s hardware and software components. They will test Hyperion as it travels through the desert and collect data with scientific instruments, including a fluorescence imager, near-infrared spectrometer and a high-resolution panoramic imager.

Wettergreen said that Hyperion would travel some 10 kilometers through the desert this year while the researchers study issues related to robotic autonomy. The robot’s solar panels have been laid flat on top of its body for the upcoming experiments so it can capture the maximum amount of sunlight in the equatorial environment. In the Arctic, the panels were mounted vertically, like sails on a boat, because the sun was often low on the horizon.

A next generation robot, developed from the findings of this year’s work, should perform 50 kilometers of autonomous traverse in the desert in 2004. In 2005, the final year of the project, a robot equipped with a full array of instruments should operate autonomously as it travels 200 kilometers over a two-month period. During this climactic journey, the robot should map sites where life is abundant, and then move into drier areas where life has not been detected.

In 2005, plans call for the science team to operate as if it were exploring Mars in a scenario that would include a time delay and limited communication. "We’ll operate under the constraints of Martian exploration in order to better develop procedures for seeking life on another planet," Wettergreen said. "The robot will monitor its own power, balance, locomotion, communication and science operations as it goes. It needs to be able to move into unknown terrain using cameras and internal sensors--the same instruments and information that would be available to a robot exploring Mars."

In addition to Wettergreen, the Carnegie Mellon team heading to the Atacama includes William L. "Red" Whittaker, the Robotics Institute’s Fredkin research professor and the project’s principal investigator; Alan S. Waggoner, professor of biological sciences and director of Molecular Biosensor and Imaging Center; James P. Teza, research engineer; Michael D. Wagner, research programmer, and Robotics Institute doctoral students Christopher Urmson, Paul Tompkins, Denis Strelow and Vandi Verma.

Nathalie Cabrol, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and the SETI Institute, will lead the science team for the investigation of the Atacama. Members of the science team are geologists and biologists who study both Earth and Mars at institutions including NASA Ames and the Johnson Space Center, SETI Institute, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Arizona, the University of Tennessee, Carnegie Mellon and Universidad Catolica del Norte (Chile).

"Their role in the first-year campaign will be to become acquainted with the data sent by the rover and assess the validity of astrobiological exploration strategies that will be used in the 2004 and 2005 field campaigns and on future missions to search for habitats and life on Mars," said Cabrol.

Also under development is the capability for education and science communities to experience the mission through the EventScope interface ( EventScope converts data from rovers and orbiters into three-dimensional "virtual worlds" that realistically represent remote sites, enabling students to experience the mission from their classroom computers.

EventScope’s team is directed by Peter Coppin, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon’s STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, and includes experts in software engineering, interactive art and educational technology working to develop next generation tools for public remote experience. The goal is to have hundreds of students participating remotely in the Atacama experiment by the end of 2005.

Anne Watzman | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Process Engineering:

nachricht No compromises: Combining the benefits of 3D printing and casting
23.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Produktionstechnik und Automatisierung IPA

nachricht Intelligent wheelchairs, predictive prostheses
20.12.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Produktionstechnik und Automatisierung IPA

All articles from Process Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>