U.Dundee scientists reach for the moon

Larry Klaes (lklaes@bbn.com)
Mon, 26 Jul 1999 16:01:18 -0400

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>Subject: U.Dundee scientists reach for the moon
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>Subject: U.Dundee scientists reach for the moon (Forwarded)
>Date: Sun, 25 Jul 1999 13:22:43 -0500
>From: Andrew Yee <ayee@nova.astro.utoronto.ca>
>Organization: via Internet Direct
>To: SEDSNEWS@listserv.tamu.edu
>University of Dundee
>Dundee, Scotland
>Dr Steve Parkes, 01382 345194
>20 July 1999
>Dundee scientists reach for the moon
>Thirty years since the "small step for man" from the Apollo 11 spacecraft
>onto the surface of the moon advanced computing technology is allowing
>the development of a new breed of interplanetary explorers -- not humans,
>but machines.
>With support from the European Space Agency (ESA) a team of computer
>scientists and electronics engineers in the Applied Computing Department
>at the University of Dundee are working on self-guided planetary landing
>craft. Computer vision and artificial intelligence techniques are being
>developed to guide a lander down to a landing site, automatically avoiding
>any obstacles on the surface. The spacecraft's pilot is being replaced by a
>system with cameras for eyes and a computer for a brain.
>Said computer scientist Dr Steve Parkes: "Using humans for scientific
>exploration in space is extremely expensive. Semi-independent robotic
>probes can be much more effective and do not need costly life-support
>systems. Nor do they have to be returned to earth at the end of the mission.
>Almost everything that can be done by a human can be done by machine.
>Machines can go places that are too inhospitable for humans."
>Safe landing of spacecraft is a critical part of a mission. To assist, Dr
>Parkes and Iain Martin of the University of Dundee have produced LunarSim,
>a realistic simulation of the moon's surface to help evaluate and test
>different vision-based navigation and piloting techniques. Dr. Parkes
>explained, "We have a computer system which simulates the moon's surface
>and the camera on the spacecraft. It can take images of the simulated
>surface from any position and orientation. These images can then be used
>to test various vision techniques for navigation and piloting. Navigation
>determines where the spacecraft is, relative to the target landing spot
>and piloting finds a place to land which is free from obstacles close to
>the required landing spot."
>Computer graphics techniques have been borrowed from computer games
>and virtual reality to make the lunar simulation as realistic as possible.
>Crater models have been developed with characteristics which closely
>match those of real lunar craters. Mountainous and flat lunar landscapes
>can be synthesised. Users of the LunarSim system can produce their
>own simulated lunar surface in a matter of a few minutes. Iain Martin
>commented, "This tool will, we hope, help to make it possible to develop
>robotic spacecraft that can land successfully on the moon and beyond."
>Andrew Yee