The VIPER Atacama Mission - 12 July 97

Carlos Ernesto Guestrin, from the desert

This morning I went into the Salar de Atacama to take images. It's absolutely amazing!!! On approaching, the Salar looks like an immense plane covered with snow. On a closer look, the large rocks of salt look like weird sculptures.

Today, the data acquisition went very smoothly. I was able to take five panoramas, on my way from "la Peninsula" in the southern part of the Salar back to the camp site.

When I was about to take the sixth panorama, the wind picked up. I had a hard time opening my truck door, so I decided not to risk the equipment. The wind can get very strong here, around 50 miles an hour. Although we don't get the sand storms we are used to see in the movies, there is a lot of dust in the air. It's very common to see tornado-like formations.

This morning, Mike had left his sleeping bag on the tent to get some air. Around 4pm he radioed the ops-box asking about his sleeping bag, Sib checked and it wasn't there! He looked all over and didn't find it. About an hour latter, Mike found it about about 1km from the camp site. He also found a funnel that had been lost for 2 days.

It seems that my Levi's don't like battery acid. The other day, some battery acid got spilt on my trousers. Today, I couldn't wear them anymore. At first, they had large holes in the front, so I didn't care. Then, they had small holes in the back, I still didn't care. Now, it has enormous holes on both sides. Too bad, I liked those trousers.

Once I got back to the ops-box, I was able to process part of the data, being able to estimate the position within 300 meters of the GPS value. The results of this mission have been excellent! With today's data, I am very happy to say that we are declaring the mission successful! We have accomplished the mission's objectives: to demonstrate visual position estimation technology and acquire data to extend and improve the system.

The Viper system has demonstrated position estimation, reaching accuracy of up to 180 meters of GPS position in a map of 90 meters resolution. The multiple panorama algorithm has also been demonstrated, being able to improve accuracy from 560 meters to 190 meters in one example.

I am beginning to enjoy the desert. At first, it looks very arid, but it's beautiful in it's own way!

Tonight, I am going to San Pedro, which is to the North of the Atacama. Tomorrow, I would like to get closer to the Andes and take some panoramas of the area.

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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.