NASA news release -- learning more about driving ROBOTIC

From: (by way of Jan Wee <>)
Subject: NASA news release -- learning more about driving ROBOTIC
Date: Tue, 17 Jun 1997 14:26:32 -0500

Dear discuss-lfm members,

The connection between the Mars Rover, Sojourner, and this
robotic rover caught my eye as well as the NASA Ames involvement.

Jan Wee, Moderator

Douglas Isbell
Headquarters, Washington, DC                June 17, 1997
(Phone: 202/358-1753)

Michael Mewhinney
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA
(Phone: 415/604-3937)

Anne Watzman
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
(Phone: 412/268-3830)

RELEASE:  97-136


    From laboratories and a science center in North America, a 
group of NASA and Carnegie Mellon University scientists will 
control a robotic rover this summer as it explores a desert in 
South America to learn more about driving automated vehicles on 
Mars and the Moon.

    During the 45-day field experiment from June 15 to July 31, 
scientists from NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, 
and Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, will 
conduct an unprecedented 120-mile robotic trek in the Atacama 
Desert in northern Chile.  The scientists will test the ability 
of the robot, nicknamed Nomad, to navigate, explore and perform 
science tasks remotely.

    "The primary objective of the Atacama Desert trek is to 
develop, evaluate and demonstrate a robot capable of long 
distance and long duration planetary exploration," said David 
Wettergreen, NASA Ames project manager.

    "During different phases of this test, we will configure 
the robot to simulate wide-area exploration of the Moon, the 
search for signs of past life on Mars and the gathering of 
meteorite samples in the Antarctic, which makes for a really 
unique and challenging experiment," said Dave Lavery, 
Telerobotics Program Manager at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

    Chile's Atacama Desert, a cold, arid region located above 
7,000 feet, was chosen for the field experiment because its 
harsh terrain is analogous to that found on Mars and the Moon.  
The desert's barren landscape features craters, rocks and loose 
sand without any vegetation due to the lack of rain. 

    "This site is pretty much what we expect to find on Mars," 
said Nathalie Cabrol, the expedition's NASA science team 
leader.  "Our goal is to simulate several NASA planetary 
exploration missions, and this will provide some good training 
for future missions," Cabrol added.  The desert trek also will 
test and validate tools and techniques that NASA has been 
developing for future planetary missions.

    Nomad was designed and built by researchers at Carnegie 
Mellon's Robotics Institute.  About the size of a small car, 
the robot weighs 1,600 pounds and features 
four-wheel drive/four-wheel steering with a chassis that 
expands to improve stability and travel over various terrain 
conditions.  Four aluminum wheels with cleats provide traction 
in soft sand.  Power is supplied by a gasoline generator and 
enables the robot to travel at speeds up to 20 inches per 
second.  Nomad also contains onboard navigation sensors and 
computers to enable it to avoid obstacles without relying on a 
human operator. 

    Nomad's unique onboard panospheric camera provides live 
360-degree, video-based still images of the robot's 
surroundings.  The images will be displayed on large screens at 
Ames and Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, where the 
public will have an opportunity to control the rover every day 
throughout the trek.  The rover carries additional color video 
cameras to provide stereo vision for detecting obstacles and 
high-resolution color video cameras for experiments in remote 
geology to be conducted by NASA.  

    The total cost of developing Nomad and conducting the 
desert trek is $1.6 million.  The project is funded by NASA 
with in-kind support from corporate sponsors and educational 
foundations.  Information about the desert trek and live images 
and data from Nomad will be available on the Internet at URL:


Carnegie Mellon also will maintain a website at URL:


A website in Spanish has been established at URL: