The Perseverance rover, NASA's self-driving six-wheeled robot on Mars, is getting ready to embark on a journey across a crater floor in search of ancient life, the US space agency revealed on Friday.
The rover will travel over the landscape at the peak speed of 120 metres per second, thanks to a much improved auto-navigation system. AutoNav is an enhanced technology that builds 3D representations of the environment ahead, recognises hazards, and calculates a path around any barriers without the need for further instructions from Earth-based controllers.
"We have a capability called ‘thinking while driving'. The rover is thinking about the autonomous drive while its wheels are turning,” said Vandi Verma, a senior engineer, rover planner, and driver at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, according to media reports.
The inaugural research mission of the Perseverance rover on the bottom of Jezero Crater was assisted by AutoNav, which is believed to be the most essential feature of the rover.
The team members are excited to let AutoNav drive, although they will intervene if required.
The mission's goal is to seek for signs of life on early Mars, assuming it ever existed. According to NASA, the rover will collect samples across a 15-kilometer stretch before preparing them for future missions that will bring them to Earth for examination.
To keep track of how far it has travelled from one point to another, the rover employs a technique known as "visual odometry." Perseverance takes photographs as it moves about, comparing one location to the next to check if it has progressed as far as it should.
Perseverance's predecessor, Curiosity, had an earlier version of AutoNav that allowed it to ascend Mount Sharp to the southeast at a speed of about 66 feet or 20 metres per hour. Perseverance, on the other hand, may reach speeds of 393 feet per second (120 metres per hour).