The VIPER Atacama Mission - 11 July 97

Carlos Ernesto Guestrin, from the desert

This morning I left the camp site at around 7:30am to go for my panorama hunt. The plan was first to go to the mining camp where the Nomad team stores some of the equipment and get images of Mark Maimone's huge calibration cube; then go out and take lots of panoramas.

When I got to the mining camp, I couldn't resist the temptation to take a shower (we have no showers at our camp site).

Once I had the images of the cube and my hair was wet, I went panorama hunting as planned. I drove West, in the direction of the Salar de Atacama, and spotted a beautiful site for a panorama. As usual, I went off road towards the "perfect location". This time, however, my pick-up truck decided it really liked the location and got stuck in the sand!

I tried by all means I had and was unable to get the truck out. I decided to walk back to the road. I knew that at about 2:30pm the two army men, who are staying with the Nomad team, would be coming from the mining camp to take lunch to the Nomad team's camp site. It was midday.

Once I got to the road, the best thing was to walk along it towards the "main road", where I would have more chance of meeting someone. I walked about 5km and reached the main road. It was another 25km to the camp site, so I decided to wait.

Around 2:30pm, the army men came by in one of the team's pick-up trucks. We rode back to the site where my truck was stuck. It was stuck in the middle of a small slope. Juan (one of the army men) decided to go around and try to pull it from above.

He was taking a long time, so Diaz (the other army fellow) and I went looking for him and found that he was also stuck!!! We spent a long time trying to get his truck loose, with no success. We tried digging and using all the stone we could find, but it wouldn't move. We went back to give my truck a try.

The truck had one wheel in the air and the other half sunk. We managed to put a very large rock under the wheel which was in the air and smaller ones under the others. I was then able to pull my truck out.

I drove to the other truck, we tied them together and I was able to pull it out. I never expected to have to rescue my rescuers, :-).

After a victory picture, they went to the camp site to take the late lunch and I ran to take a panorama. The wind was very strong, this interferes with the stability of the sensor head, introducing another source of error. Nevertheless, I was able to take the panorama and went back for a quick lunch.

We had lunch by the robot, while Jim, Mike and Sib were calibrating the compass. I ran out to get a last panorama before it got dark.

Here it gets dark quite early, about 5:30pm. However, we are rewarded with a beautiful night sky, covered with bright stars and (today) a crescent moon. It is possible to see the Milky-Way bright across the sky. It is a breathtaking sight.

I have processed today's data. I found that the first panorama contains mountains which are not in the map. Nevertheless, I was able to fix a position within 350 meters. I obtained good results on the second panorama, being able to estimate a location within 250 meters of the GPS value.

I am very happy to say that our system has behaved perfectly thus far, no bugs or crashes have been found or experienced. No patches nor debugging has been required and we are obtaining better results than we had expected!

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This work has been conducted at the Robotics Institute at the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University. It has been partially funded by NASA; Fabio Cozman has a scholarship from CNPq (Brazil). We thank these four organizations for all their support.