If the NASA rover Curiosity runs into any obstacles on its trek to a mountain in the middle of an ancient crater on Mars, a new navigation system should steer it to safety.
Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge have turned on a technology that allows the rover to drive itself. The rover used the system for the first time on Tuesday.
The 1-ton rover, which landed on Mars in August 2012, won’t be able to take a joy ride on the Red Planet. Rover drivers and scientists who work at JPL will continue to plan its schedule and decide its destination. But the navigation technology, which was also used on its predecessor, Opportunity, allows the rover to analyze images while driving to determine possible hazards.
“It can measure the shape of the world in front of it,” said Mark Maimone, rover mobility engineer and rover driver at JPL.