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S P E C I A L D E S T I N A T I O N   M A R S

Robot rehearses for interactive space duty

Nomad robot

'Nomad' gets lunar workout in northern Chilean desert

September 4, 1997
Web posted at: 10:01 a.m. EDT (1401 GMT)

(CNN) -- NASA's Sojourner rover has captured the public's imagination as it wanders the Martian landscape, but there's another "Nomad" in the wings, waiting to give earthlings an interactive space adventure.

The Nomad is a prototype of the interplanetary robots that will explore the surface of the moon and the planets of our solar system in the near future.

Watch Ann Kellan's entire report
icon 2 min. VXtreme video

Nomad robot
video icon 352K/9 sec. QuickTime movie

Project scientists talk about Nomad's capabilities

Alex Foessel
(voice of translator)
145K/12 sec. AIFF or WAV sound icon

Mark Maimone
1.5M/19 sec. AIFF or WAV sound icon

Eric Rollins
146K/11 sec. AIFF or WAV sound icon

photo of Nomad screen

So far, the wheeled vehicle has been practicing its moves in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, a landscape chosen because of its resemblance to the moon. The robot carries state-of-the art equipment for mobility, imaging and space communications.

The four-wheel, four-wheel-drive vehicle is controlled from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, more than 5,000 miles away.

Engineers guide it with the help of a 360-degree panoramic view taken by Nomad's camera, CMU's Alex Foessel says.

Foessel is one of nine CMU specialists who went to the Atacama Desert to test Nomad's ability to create an interactive experience. Meanwhile, their colleagues at "mission control" in Pittsburgh can have the sensation of being in the Chilean desert.

Another specialist, Mark Maimone, designed the multi-camera technology Nomad uses to spot trouble and take care of itself in hostile environments, even if that means ignoring commands that threaten its safety.

Besides being smart, Nomad is heavy-duty. CMU's Eric Rollins, who designed the mechanical systems, expects the robot eventually sent to the moon will last at least a year, maybe two.

That first mission, though, is about three years away.


Correspondent Ann Kellan contributed to this report.
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