NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is using its self-driving capabilities to navigate across the Jezero Crater, gathering rock and soil samples for planned return to Earth as it seeks signs of life.
With the help of specially designed 3D glasses, rover drivers on Earth plan routes with specific stops, but increasingly allow the rover to “take the wheel” and choose how it gets to those stops.
Perseverance’s auto-navigation system, known as AutoNav, makes 3D maps of the terrain ahead, identifies hazards, and plans a route around any obstacles without additional direction from controllers back on Earth.
Now the rover can drive through these more complex terrains, which helps Perseverance achieve its science goals and break driving records. The rover is traversing from an area near its landing site, “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” to an area where an ancient river flowed into a body of water and deposited sediments (known as a delta).
Tyler Del Sesto, a rover driver for NASA’s Perseverance rover explained that Perseverance’s self-driving software is an improvement over previous rovers, he said: “Perseverance is able to process and analyse images while the wheels are still in motion. Previous rovers like Curiosity needed to stop then take images and then process those images before choosing a safe path.
“Perseverance is able to do all of this while driving. We call this a thinking while driving capability. The Perseverance rover has already broken all of the driving records from previous rovers. This means we’re able to drive farther every day than the previous rovers ever were able to,” added Del Sesto.
The Perseverance rover has a top speed of 0.1mph enabling it to drive over 300 yards every day.
“Perseverance’s self-driving ability is very important to this mission. It allows us to get to the Jezero river delta as fast as possible, and that gives the science team as much time there to study the rocks and collect samples for future return to Earth,” concluded Del Sesto.