Curiosity Rover Gets Practice Time Before Mars Landing

A body double and software simulations help get the Mars rover team ready for the August landing

2 min read
Curiosity Rover Gets Practice Time Before Mars Landing

We've still got a little over a hundred days before Mars Science Laboratory tries not to smash itself into a million bits while landing on Mars, but the rover's stunt double (and its human slaves) are hard at work practicing their moves in preparation for August 6th, when Curiosity will make its thrilling touchdown at Gale Crater.

The crazy (seriously, crazy) sky-crane landing seems like it has to be by far the most dangerous part of the entire mission. While it's more or less up to the rover itself to do all the tricky bits (since, among other reasons, there's a time delay that precludes direct control by human operators), that doesn't mean that all of the engineers at JPL will be sitting back eating peanuts. Even if everything does perfectly, they'll still be very busy (and very stressed) as you can see in this practice run-through:

Meanwhile, before buttoning Curiosity up and sending it on its way, JPL "xeroxed" the rover to provide itself with a copy to mess with while they're waiting for the real thing to get where it's going. Specifically, they're practicing things like arm targeting, where the rover's vision system generates a 3D terrain map that it then uses to select a spot to send the arm. Getting this to work properly means a great deal of careful calibration between the cameras, modeling software, and the motors on the arm itself, and it's definitely a good idea to get all your tweaking on Earth first, since there won't be anyone on Mars to buff out dents from accidental collisions:

Vids like these give a hint, but just a hint, about the amount of work being put into making sure that this robot arrives on Mars in good health and then accomplishes a lot of science while it's there. And despite the size difference between Curiosity and its predecessors, this new rover has some rather large wheels to fill, considering that Opportunity is, eight years on, preparing for another season of Martian science. Will Curiosity perform this well? Thanks to a whole bunch of smart people testing everything that's possible to test in preparation for Curiosity's arrival, we're optimistic.But let's get this bot landed first.

[ MSL ]

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How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page
Blue

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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