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Atacama Desert Trek Overview:

In June and July of 1997, a four year program to develop technologies for space exploration will culminate in the Atacama Desert Trek. The robot Nomad, supervised via satellite from thousands of miles away, will attempt to traverse the Atacama desert while acquiring various forms of geological data. The command center will be at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA, and Nomad's onboard sensors and intelligence will allow it to be operated by the general public.

For the foreseeable future, our explorers to other worlds will be robots. Many questions about controlling robotic explorers, communicating with them over vast distances, and how well they will survive long duration treks and harsh condition, are currently unanswered. Funded by NASA, the Atacama Desert Trek will break new ground in the areas of robotic communication and imagery. Innovative precision pointing of Nomad's antenna to a satellite relay station will provide data rates much greater than previously attainable from a moving platform. With this bandwidth the robot can deliver live 360° panoramic imagery of its surroundings. This imagery will be displayed live on a 10 foot high, 35 foot wide projection screen at the ElectricHorizon theatre in the Science Center.

In the Atacama desert, Nomad will traverse harsh terrain analogous to that found on the Moon and planets. The robot's four wheel drive/four wheel steering locomotion and innovative suspension system will provide effective traction, mobility, and propulsion across loose sands, rocks and soils typical of the Atacama landscape. Unique to Nomad, the chassis expands, increasing the wheel base and track for improved stability over rugged terrain. Nomad also has a visual guidance system that calculates the robot's location by tracking landmarks on the skyline. During periods of lost or degraded communications, Nomad will use its onboard navigation sensors to continue its mission, choosing its own path until communications are reestablished.

The Atacama Desert Trek is moving high performance robotic technologies out of the laboratory and toward space. Beyond its technical objectives, the Atacama Desert Trek will set new standards of public involvement and educational outreach. With capabilities forged in the desert, Nomad will serve as the precursor to robotic explorers destined for other worlds.

Atacama Trek Objectives
Primary Objective:
  • travel 200 km under transcontinental supervision
Secondary Objectives:
  • demonstrate precision antenna pointing
  • perform remote geological investigations
  • test skyline landmark navigation
  • involve the public
  • demonstrate onboard obstacle detection/avoidance
  • demonstrate all wheel steering and locomotion
  • test utility of panospheric (360° field of view) camera
Atacama Desert Facts
location Salar de Atacama, Republic of Chile
precipitation 1 cm/year from fog
rainfall once every 100 years
vegetation none
temperature 0°C to 25°C each day (avg)
average elevation 2400 m
time zone Eastern Daylight Savings Time (EDT)
State Side Operations
Control Centers Carnegie Science Center (Pittsburgh PA)
NASA Ames Research Center
Display 6m diameter panoramic screen
User Interface nomad motion feedback chair
joystick control
heads-up overlay of instruments
Trek Schedule
June 1-14 pre-mission operations in Chile
June 15-22 remote operations evaluation
June 18 public driving begins
June 23-30 remote geological investigations
July 1-15 nomad systems evaluation
July 16-29 performance limits evaluation
July 31 remote operations end

Look for more info on the project:

Nomad Specifications

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