Robot gets eye test

Idris, the roving robot

Idris, the roving robot

05 September 2012

Aberystwyth University’s Department of Computer Science will be taking a robot called Idris to the Canaries this week. 
The Planetary Robotics Vision Scout (PRoViScout) project will be undertaking field trials at the El Teide National Park, Tenerife, between the 13th  and 17th September 2012.

PRoViScout is collaborative EU Framework-7 funded project which brings together major European groups currently working on robotic vision for planetary and space exploration.

Aberystwyth University is a major participant in this project.

The PRoViScout project aims to demonstrate computer vision based techniques for identifying navigation hazards in the terrain, spotting likely science targets, and selecting the “most interesting” targets for further study - all without human intervention. These are abilities which will be crucial to future long range scouting and exploration missions on other planets.

El Tiede National Park is favoured as a field trials venue, having good weather and a rich tapestry of image textures and features. 

These characteristics are important in providing a wide range of conditions under which to test the imaging systems. 

Its flat landscape with fine textures of volcanic sand, pebbles and occasional rocky outcrops are similar to those encountered on the surface of Mars.

Most robotic planetary space missions performing in situ exploration of the surface and atmosphere for any planetary object outside the Earth involve a means of mobility provided by either a surface vehicle (rover) or by aerial vehicles (balloons, aerobots etc.).

Mobile systems are among the most critical of all space missions in requiring a rapid and robust on-site processing and preparation of scientific data to allow efficient operations for a maximum use of their limited lifetime.

Professor Dave Barnes, of the Space and Planetary Robotics Group at the University’s Department of Computer Science said: “Last year there was a Tenerife field trial as part of the PRoViSG project, using the EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space) Astrium Bridget rover.

“This time, it will be an Aberystwyth rover, and our rover will autonomously identify science targets and navigate to these targets using new sophisticated software developed during the PRoViScout project.”

As future robotic space missions become more numerous, more ambitious and of longer duration, they will need to be more self-reliant than is feasible today. They will need to make some of their own decisions about navigation, selecting important science samples and possibly even collecting them for return to Earth.

ProViScout will provide the robotic vision building blocks for such future autonomous exploration systems.

Idris, will leave Aberystwyth on Wednesday, 5th September and be driven and ferried to Tenerife arriving on September 9th ready for the trials on the 13th.