NASA’s Perseverance rover is set to begin its journey across a crater in search of ancient life on the red planet. The crater that the Mars rover is going to explore was once a big lake, when billions of years ago, the red planet was wetter than it is today. During its journey, Perseverance will take the command of navigation itself using AutoNav, which means that the rover will not be getting any additional directions while it is driving. AutoNav is an intelligent algorithm that helps the rover in 3D-mapping the surroundings and finding the best navigation route, during its drive.
“We have a capability called ‘thinking while driving’,” says Vandi Verma, a senior engineer in the rover’s planning team, in a NASA statement. According to her, Perseveration is constantly “thinking” about the automatic drive while its wheels are running. The rover dedicates one of its computers just for this task.
However, just AutoNav is not enough for Perseverance to get by. The rover team does a critical job by planning navigation routes and drafting instructions for the rover to follow. AutoNav comes in handy because scientists cannot control the rover with a joystick, thanks to the radio signal delay between Mars and Earth.
Perseverance, being able to travel at speed of 120 metres per hour, is faster than its predecessor Curiosity, which was able to reach about 20 metres per hour. Curiosity too is equipped with AutoNav, though with an earlier version. Perseverance’s navigation is more advanced than Curiosity, not just in speed, but also in terms of walking on tougher terrain. It also manages to avoid getting damaged at sharp pointy rocks, something Curiosity’s AutoNav was not equipped to do.
The rover will walk through the crater and gather samples for potential evidence of ancient life on Mars. Scientists think that the crater was a lake some billions of years ago, and they could find signs of ancient life at the spot if it existed on Mars.