We had a rather late start today, as we were a bit short-handed. Four of eight team members were away, leaving the rest of us to handle the deployment and communications issues as they arose throughout the day.
It was an especially shaky start because our two low-level (aka Real Time) computer experts were away, and until now one of them had always been responsible for remotely bringing Nomad's many systems online. Today that pleasure fell to the overall Software Lead of the team, yours truly. Everything was going smoothly right up to the point when I realized I'd forgotten the password to the Real Time computers. Several frantic phone calls and email messages later my sanity returned, I remembered the password, and things got under way.
Although the general public has been enjoying the view through Nomad's "eyes" since 18 June, until today the only folks driving it have been members of the Nomad team; robotics researchers from Carnegie Mellon University or NASA Ames Research Center, and staff at the Carnegie Science Center. The public still controls the view at the science center though; everyone votes which way to look by pressing a button, and the majority wins. So everyone gets to be a passenger on a leisurely stroll through the Atacama, spinning their head from side to side, often driven by an expert or by Nomad itself. But today we had our first truly "novice" driver; a photojournalist from Car and Driver magazine. I suppose it's not often one has to travel thousands of miles to photograph both car and driver at the same time.
Driving today was especially tricky because Nomad is still in a 3-wheel drive configuration. It took the remote drivers some time to get accustomed to its new behavior. At one point a member of the field team had to engage the emergency stop because the remote driver was about to send Nomad over a ridge from which it could not back out, in its 3-wheel drive mode. And in general, the drivers found that Nomad could not easily climb hills and mounds in the very loose soil and hilly terrain of the region, at least not as well as when all 4 wheel motors are engaged. By the end of the day though, folks had mostly learned to adapt to the new driving style.
Finally, we welcomed aboard two new members of the Chilean Infantry from the Esmeralda Regiment in Antofagasta. The army was kind enough to loan us a 4 wheel drive flatbed truck to place under our operations box, and each week two new soldiers arrive to guard it. They also help us out by delivering gasoline, parts and supplies to folks working in the field.