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Day 5 of the Mars Rover Field Trials

25 September 2009 - Field Trial Day 5

A very warm and sunny day greeted us at the quarry in the morning and provided us with perfect conditions all day.

Today, two technology teams were working on optical payloads:

The team from the University of Surrey arrived at 7.30am with a very early prototype of a four-camera omni-view camera. This allows a 360 degree view of the environment around the Rover, and will employ some sophisticated algorithms to stitch together information from all four sides of the rover to create the all round view. Despite one of the cameras suffering some damage in transit to the site, it was decided to press ahead and gather a three-camera view of the test site (forward and to two sides) for processing and evaluation back in the lab. A set of reference points were placed randomly on the test site and the distances between established to allow a geometric fix to be established for later use. The Rover was then driven through the field, stopping at first, every half metre for imaging and later towards the end of the day stopping every metre.

The PanCam/High Resolution Camera team (MSSL, DLR and University of Aberystwyth) were focused on gathering image data after having sorted out their technical challenges yesterday. Using the ‘rock garden’ created yesterday in the middle of the test site, they were able to test their rock recognition software with success and to gather High resolution camera images from different vantage points. In addition a full set of multi-spectral images was gathered using the filter wheel.  Being the first set of in-the-field data to be gathered for this camera combination, this was a major gain for the team. Also, the team was able to set up the Remote Inspection Mirror (RIM) to gain a view of the underside of the Rover using the High Resolution Camera. The RIM makes the underside of the Rover accessible to the cameras mounted on the top of the rover.  This will be particularly useful for checking damage to parts of the underside and for assessing the risks of ‘hangup’ failures, where the Rover could become stuck on a rock.

All good things must come to an end and sadly the day did for the teams. We were committed to clear the quarry site by 5pm so whilst the camera teams were gathering their last measurements the task of packing up and clearing the site was begun. We achieved our target departure time from the Lafarge Quarry.

On return to Airbus Defence and Space, the Rover was returned to the Rover Development Laboratory where she will undergo an inspection and modification in the light of experience gained during the trials. We expect to be fitting a more detailed instrument panel to allow easier access to the status of the various equipments on-board.  Some issues related to the wheel encoders need examing to improve the robustness of the locomotion system. The recently fitted on-board auxilary power subsystem performed pleasingly well, providing reliable power throughout the week and the new grousers (metal wheel treads) have looked very robust also.

All things considered, today was a highly successful day and the whole PROVISG team were very pleased to have made such good progress. 

Summary of the week’s achievements:

Clearly the most important achievement is that an extremely valuable set of field trial imaging data has been gathered that can now be used to test and validate the algorithms, computer tools and programmes that will form the PROVISG (Planetary RObotic VISion Ground processing) environment. A variety of imaging systems have been exercised and tested in the field and a great deal has been learned about the issues related to operating equipments on rovers in remote environments. Techniques and image types employed include stereo, mono, multispectral, multiview, omni-view, video and stills, wide area, high resolution and reflected using the RIM convex mirror to view the underside of the rover. Although the field trials environment at Sandy Quarry bears a similarity to Mars, the data gathered will support the development of vision systems and tools for missions to other interplanetary environments.

One thing that is noticeable was how many of the participants quite spontaneously mentioned the fact that they had learned a lot about their equipments, about working on field trials and the challenges that are encountered. In my experience this is common and points to one of the huge benefits of such activities.

I would like to thank all the scientists and engineers that participated in the trials for their determination, patient persistence and their sense of good humour in the face of some very challenging and arduous days in the quarry. Thanks also to the Airbus Defence and Space team who supported in not only operating the Rover, but also in the organising and running of the Test Site.

We are all extremely grateful to the staff at the Lafarge Sandy Quarry who so generously allowed us to conduct our testing there.  They have always been so supportive, both this week and in the past, of our Mars work. They’ve been very accommodating, providing personal protection equipment, access to charging points for our Rover and control system batteries and have remained behind to let us out of the quarry beyond their usual hours of work. Thanks again to Vikky, George and Frank for such a valuable opportunity and for all their support and assistance. 

Thanks everyone – now we continue with the rest of the PROVISG programme.



Day 1 of the Mars Rover Field Trials Day 4 of the Mars Rover Field Trials
Day 2 of the Mars Rover Field Trials Day 5 of the Mars Rover Field Trials
Day 3 of the Mars Rover Field Trials
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