After conquering the Sahara, the U.K.’s self-driving rover is ready for Mars

uk space agency self driving mars rover software 4 selfdrivingr
U.K. Space Agency

The above image may look like a scene from some as-yet-unannounced Hollywood adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. In fact, it’s a picture from recent tests which took place in the Sahara desert, the world’s largest hot desert region, where an autonomous driving software for future Mars rovers was put through its paces in the closest environment Earth has to a harsh Martian landscape.

The self-driving software was developed by researchers at King’s College London, the aerospace company Airbus, and software company Scisys. It improves on the current remote control Mars robots being used by allowing it to navigate on its own, as well as making decisions to carry out power-saving functions where necessary. Since it takes around eight minutes for commands to be sent from Earth to Mars, making it possible for the present generation Mars rovers to be able to move, this could prove especially useful.

During the Sahara trial, the software was tested on a four-wheeled rover called Sherpa. It traveled for more than 1.4 kilometers without any human intervention. The hope is that it should make it possible for Mars rovers to travel up to one kilometer per day. That might sound a short distance, but it’s considerably more than the few dozen meters current Mars rovers are able to travel as a result of the technical challenges involved.

“Mars is a very difficult planet to land safely on, so it’s essential to maximize the discoveries from each successful touchdown,” Catherine Mealing-Jones, director of growth at the U.K. Space Agency, said in a statement. “New autonomous robot technology like this will help to further unlock Mars’ mysteries and I’m delighted that the U.K. is a key player.”

The U.K. Space Agency is the second largest European contributor to ExoMars, a two-part astrobiology project that aims to search for evidence of life on Mars. A joint mission on the part of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russian space agency Roscosmos, the next phase of the project will involve landing a rover on Mars’ surface. This is scheduled for 2020, and the subsequent exploratory process will last through at least 2022.

Emerging Tech

SpaceX experiences problem during test, Crew Dragon capsule may have exploded

SpaceX has experienced a problem during the testing of its Crew Dragon capsule. During the engine test firing at Cape Canaveral yesterday afternoon, an unspecified anomaly occurred which lead to plumes of smoke rising from the test site.
Smart Home

These are the 13 best games to play on your new Google Home

Google Home is a handy device, but did you know you can play games with it? There are a ton to play, and we tested them all. Here are some of favorites that you can play on your Google Home device.

Photography News: Instagram’s disappearing likes, the best photos of the year

In this week's Photography News, see why Instagram is testing a version that excludes the number of likes a post gets. Also, see the impressive winners from two photography contests and the latest features coming to the Fujifilm X-T3.
Smart Home

Ecobee leverages humor in a heated discussion with climate change skeptics

Ecobee cranked up the heat on climate change doubters. In observance of Earth Day, Ecobee and ad agency DCX released video of a social experiment that tested the effectiveness of humor in easing tension during discussions with skeptics.
Emerging Tech

Beresheet crash caused by manual command, but reflector device may have survived

Details are emerging about what may have gone wrong with spacecraft Beresheet's failed moon landing. A manual command was entered which led to a chain reaction. But NASA still hopes to salvage use of its Laser Retroreflector Array device.
Emerging Tech

The oldest type of molecule in the universe has been located at last

A milestone in the development of the early universe was the combination of helium and hydrogen atoms into a molecule called helium hydride. But strangely enough, this ancient molecule has never been detected in space before now.
Emerging Tech

The grid of the future will be powered by … giant subterranean bagpipes?

In order to transition to a more renewable-focused energy system, we need to scale up our grid storage capacity --- and our existing methods aren't going to cut it. Could compressed air be the key?
Emerging Tech

Mercury’s wobble as it spins reveals that it has an inner solid core

Scientists have long wondered what the inside of Mercury looks like, and they now have strong evidence that the planet has a large and solid metallic core. The data for the new findings was collected by the now-defunct MESSENGER mission.
Emerging Tech

Gravitational forces at heart of Milky Way shaped this star cluster like a comet

Hubble has captured the stunning Messier 62 cluster. The cluster is warped, with a long tail which stretches out to form a shape like a comet. It is thought this distortion is due to Messier 62's proximity to the center of the galaxy.
Emerging Tech

Burgers are just the beginning: Embracing the future of lab-grown everything

You’ve almost certainly heard of the 'farm to fork' movement, but what about 'lab to table'? Welcome to the fast-evolving world of lab-grown meat. Is this the future of food as we know it?
Emerging Tech

Troubleshooting Earth

It’s no secret that humans are killing the planet. Some say it’s actually so bad that we’re hurtling toward a sixth major extinction event -- one which we ourselves are causing. But can technology help us undo the damage we’ve…
Emerging Tech

Inside the Ocean Cleanup’s ambitious plan to rid the ocean of plastic waste

In 2013, Boyan Slat crowdfunded $2.2 million to fund the Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit organization that builds big, floating trash collectors and sets them out to sea, where they’re designed to autonomously gobble up garbage.
Emerging Tech

Climeworks wants to clean the atmosphere with a fleet of truck-sized vacuums

Using machines that resemble jet engines, Climeworks wants to fight climate change by extracting CO2 from thin air. The gas can then be sold to carbonated drink and agriculture companies, or sequestered underground.
Emerging Tech

How 3D printing has changed the world of prosthetic limbs forever

When he was 13 years old, Christophe Debard had his leg amputated. Here in 2019, Debard's Print My Leg startup helps others to create 3D-printed prostheses. Welcome to a growing revolution!