Robot rehearses for interactive space duty
'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.
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
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,
That first mission, though, is about three years away.
Correspondent Ann Kellan contributed to this report.