Today was a good day for the Science Center team and visitors. Not only did five novices get to drive Nomad directly (including the father of Red Whittaker, the Principal Investigator of the Atacama Desert Trek project), but we also had a successful test of a new user interface for remote driving; the telephone. On 18 and 25 July this month, viewers of Pittsburgh cable channel PCTV will be able to drive Nomad from the comfort of their homes by watching a small part of the panospheric image on their TV screen, and steering Nomad by pressing buttons on their phones.
Today was also the first day we have been able to see Nomad from the Operations Truck since the beginning. Until now Nomad had been travelling in areas obscured from our view by the terrain (hence the need for our hilltop stations), but today we were treated to the sight of a small, sharp white dot in the desert about 5 kilometers away. As well as making it easier to keep track of Nomad, this also makes verbal radio communications much easier, as we have found we do not need to relay messages via a person on the hilltop now.
Nomad has been moving more slowly than we had hoped. We noticed some time ago that even with a commanded velocity of 50 cm/s, it only seemed to be travelling 32 cm/s (as indicated by the position estimation sensors like d-GPS). But we have been kept rather busy by daily operations and requirements, so it was only today that our Real Time Computing expert worked out the likely cause of the problem (missed interrupts caused the system to believe it had covered more ground in less time; so it slowed itself down). We are hopeful that changing the sampling rate will alleviate this problem and speed things up.
Our new team member Carlos has now acquired five panoramas from various locations in the desert. He has a rough job out here; drive yourself through the desert, stopping now and then to take pictures of the most interesting and beautiful panoramas. You can see what kinds of imagery he has to put up with at: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~viper/AtacamaMission/
I will not be giving total odometry logs any more; folks in Pittsburgh have implemented a real-time odometry counter on our web page at http://www.ri.cmu.edu/atacama-trek/, so I'll leave it to them to report the latest times. I will continue to include autonomy updates though: today nomad drove for at least 1461 meters autonomously, 588 meters safeguarded from NASA Ames, and 438 meters safeguarded from the Carnegie Science Center.