Rovers drive through Tenerife darkness

A pair of ESA rovers trundled around a Moon-like area of Tenerife by both day and night during a nine-day test campaign, gathering terabytes of data for follow-up analysis.

“You can imagine the stress of operating a multi-million euro rover with a joystick in near-total darkness. With Lucid, we’re seeking to find out the best ways of navigating the lunar surface in varied illumination and terrain, analysing different sensors and software tools.

“So the RAT operators have been trying out different sensor options incrementally. Meanwhile we used the full sensor suite of the faster-moving HDPR to gather additional data for enhanced follow-up analysis, and perform some bonus test activities as well.”

The sensors in question include stereo cameras with associated night lamps, ‘time of flight’ ranging cameras, ‘laser-radar’ lidar sensors, inertial measurement units and wheel sensors.

“The Moon is close enough for direct remote control, albeit with a slight time delay,” explains robotics engineer Levin Gerdes. “But for Mars, the distance involved makes that impossible. Instead martian rovers are periodically uploaded with sets of telecommands to follow.

“This is a slow process however. A faster, self-navigating rover is seen as a necessary technology for future missions, like self-driving cars on Earth. But with no roads, the rover will have to work out its own route – first by taking images, then using these to map the surrounding area, followed by identifying obstacles and planning a path to safely reach its assigned goal.

Read more!