The VIPER Atacama Mission - 8 July 97

Carlos Ernesto Guestrin, from the desert

Today was my first day in the desert... it's absolutely amazing!!!!

I arrived last night, one day late due to problems shipping the equipment from the US. I flew from the US to Santiago (Chile) then to Antofagasta, which is about 250km from the camp site in the Atacama desert. My flight was lightened by an incredible sight: the view of the Andes piercing the clouds, like islands on the sea.

I was met in Antofagasta by Alex and Mike from the Nomad team, and was just able to say good bye to Liam who was returning to the US. The ride to the camp site was very bumpy, there are no paved roads here. I had to rent a four wheel drive pick-up truck, it is impossible for a car to get anywhere around here!

This morning I woke up to a breathtaking view of the desert. I could see the whole "Salar de Atacama", a white salty plane which once was covered by the sea. I could also see the Andes with snow covered peaks and venting volcanos.

We are sleeping on tents next to the ops-box (South 23.51793 degrees; West 68.64244 degrees). The ops-box is the truck were the computers and communications equipment for the Nomad mission are kept. This is also were I have installed the computer where I am running the Viper experiments.

The weather here fits the normal description of desert weather, hot during the day, cold at night with 50 mile per hour winds around sunset.

Today, I was able to set up and test all the equipment brought from the US. Everything seems to be in working order, which is a great relief after such a long trip. I was also able to calibrate the camera and prepare for data acquisition runs.

In this mission, the panoramas are captured by rotating the camera around its optical axis and using registration algorithms to automatically stitch the images together.

After calibrating the cameras, I went to acquire data for the Viper system. In this run I was able to take two panoramas. What was to be just a test run turned out to be a great success, obtaining position accuracy of 186 meters, on a search area of 1600 square kilometers. It is very rewarding to obtain such great results on the first day!!!

Tomorrow, the plan is to do more runs in different points of the desert.

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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.