The VIPER Atacama Mission - 13 July 97

Carlos Ernesto Guestrin, from the desert

The plan was to spend last night in San Pedro, which is a small town to the North of the camp site; today, drive close to the Andes and take some cool panoramas. The Andes is a very tall mountain range that divides South America. I am very happy to say that everything went as planned!

Last night all the team had decided to go to San Pedro to a bar that plays live music. They would return on the same night (!) and I would spend the night there. In the last minute, Mark, Eric and Jim changed their minds, so it was up to Mike, Sib and I to represent Nomad's away-team in San Pedro.

We went a bar called "Tambo" that played live Andes music. Although the band was not very talented, the dancing and the sound of the Andinian musical instruments made up for it! It was really fun!!

After the music was over, I went to the Kimal Hotel. In San Pedro, at 10pm the town's electric power is turned off!!! Everything is dark, except for places, like the Tambo, that have their own generator. I was surprised to go to a candle-light hotel room and have a candle-light shower.

In the morning, I went for gas for the truck. There is only one gas station in the town and it is just a gas pump in the "Hosteria de San Pedro". Once I had breakfast and gas, I hit the road.

I estimate I drove about 500km today, between going to the Andes, back to San Pedro and back here. I took the 22 Highway, which runs South alongside the Andes. I was amazed to see the smoke coming off the volcanos and all the mountains I had only seen from far away. The "Volcan Simbad" is shaped like an almost perfect cone and the "Volcan Lascar" is continuously giving off smoke.

I drove conservatively today, because the region is very sparsely populated and it would be difficult to get help if I got stuck. On driving along this road, it is amazing to find small villages in the middle of the mountains, like Socaire which probably has less than 100 people and a church.

I was able to take four panoramas great panoramas before I had lunch in Toconao, a town of 550 people between the Salar de Atacama and the Andes. Although Toconao is a tourist town, I only found one restaurant open at 4pm. The menu was composed of chicken, rice and tomatoes for 1700 pesos, about 4 dollars which is very cheap for Chilean standards.

Even though the chicken tasted like fish, it gave me energy to get another panorama before going back to San Pedro for fuel and then back to camp-site.

Going to the Andes made me feel great. I enjoy the cooler mountain breeze and views, today's was breathtaking! It is incredible that on the plane there is almost no vegetation, but as you go up the amount of vegetation increases. I have been taking a lot of photographs, I will put them in the web-site when they are developed.

On driving back from San Pedro, I went past the "Valle de la Luna". The only question is if it gets its name from the moon-like appearance of the terrain or from the craters on the road.

Today's total of five panoramas was wonderful, now we have a large amount of data to test out the system. I was not able to test today's data, because we didn't render this region of the map, getting this data was not planned. Nevertheless, I was able to create two of the panoramas today.

I am very excited about the results of this mission. Tomorrow, I want to take data to test the image stabilization algorithms. This is another part of the project that seeks to create an augmented reality interface for tele-operated robots. This interface will help decrease the strain on operators and help to prevent them from getting lost.

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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.