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Paula Cleggett-Haleim

Headquarters, Washington, D.C.


October 4, 1993
(Phone: 202/358-0883)

Michael Mewhinney
Ames Research Center, Mountain View, Calif.
(Phone: 415/604-9000)

RELEASE: 93-178

ANTARCTIC TO BECOME LABORATORY FOR FUTURE MARS MISSIONS

NASA scientists will spend October and November in Antarctica


testing "telepresence technology" which may be used in the future
to explore Mars.

Antarctica, like Mars, has remote and hostile locations that


are difficult for humans to explore, but can be reached by
sophisticated robots. "We will be able to catalog a previously
unexplored ecology at a depth nobody has seen before," said Dr.
Carol Stoker, a scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain
View, Calif., who is the expedition leader.

The research expedition is sponsored by the a joint


NASA-National Science Foundation (NSF) Antarctic Space Analog
Program (ASAP) and funded for NASA by the Offices of Space Science
and Advanced Concepts and Technology.

"Both NASA and NSF have an interest in conducting scientific


research in remote and hostile environments," said Dr. John
Rummel, NASA's ASAP co-chairman. "This project will enhance the
capabilities of both agencies."

Scientists will use a modified mini-submarine called a


Telepresence-Controlled Remotely Operated Vehicle (TROV), to
explore 800 feet below the surface of McMurdo Sound near Ross
Island.

Telepresence technology allows scientists on land to use head


movements to point the cameras on the underwater vehicle. They
will steer the TROV by remote control. This year's expedition
will concentrate on steering the TROV, not from the icy shore, but
from California.

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A second team of scientists will be able to control the TROV


from an Ames laboratory. Scientists at Ames will steer the TROV
by computer, both directly and by linking the TROV to a "virtual
reality" underwater terrain model of Antarctica, which will be
much like steering an aircraft in a video game. Ames laboratory
scientists will help insure that useful scientific samples are
being retrieved.

Virtual reality lets people react with a 3-D


computer-generated "world" as if it were real. In virtual
reality, people move and act naturally within the computer
environment as if they were actually there.

The expedition's research will yield scientific data on


Antarctic aquatic life while demonstrating the capabilities of
virtual reality in controlling remote vehicles. The TROV is
attached to a 1,000-foot tether. The tether consists of
integrated electrical and fiber optic cables. The electrical
cable sends power down to the TROV.

The fiber optic cable sends digital data and video signals to
the surface, where they are combined into stereo imagery
scientists can see wearing special stereo glasses similar to
sunglasses.

"This works by alternately displaying the left and right


frame and shuttering the liquid crystal glasses in sync at a high
enough speed so that your brain integrates the left and right
images together to perceive stereo," Stoker said.
To produce stereo imagery, two cameras are mounted on a "pan
and tilt platform" on the front of the TROV. Motors on the
platform allow the cameras to pan left or right or tilt up and
down.

Stereo video images will be transmitted to Ames via satellite


along with position information from the TROV's navigation system.
Computers will process this information to create a
three-dimensional virtual reality model of the sea bottom.

NSF-sponsored scientist James Barry, a researcher for the


Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, will use the TROV to
plot how the dominant bottom-dwelling lifeforms change from
shallow to deep water in McMurdo Sound, giving a picture of the
underwater community. Barry is the Chief Scientist for the
expedition.

In addition to the stereo camera system, the TROV also has a


manipulator arm to collect biological samples from the icy depths
of the Antarctic Sea. "This will enable samples to be collected
in Antarctica by scientists who never leave California," said
Rummel.

James McClintock of the University of Alabama will use the


arm to collect bottom-dwellers such as bryozoans (small colonial
animals) and deepwater sponges to use in studies of how these
organisms use chemical defenses. Using the manipulator arm in an
actual study will help test its practicality for use in Antarctic
science. His work also is supported by NSF.

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The improved depth perception afforded by stereo vision will


enable scientists to effectively manipulate the TROV's robotic
arm. Extending from the front of the TROV, the two-foot-long
metal robotic arm has a claw to grip with. Although the arm has
no lateral movement, it can flex, rotate and grasp small objects.

"It's unbelievable how much difference depth perception makes


when you try to pick things up," Stoker said. "Without stereo
vision, you just don't have a sense of where things are."

In addition to Stoker, the NASA Ames Antarctic expedition


team includes exobiologist Dale Andersen and engineers Don Barch,
Jay Steele and Roxanne Streeter. Team members remaining at Ames
are Butler Hine, Terry Fong and Darryl Rasmussen. NASA team
members will work closely with the two scientists sponsored by the
NSF.

Last October, NASA and NSF conducted their first ASAP joint
research project in ice-covered Lake Hoare, Antarctica. There
they studied telepresence, exobiology and tested a solar power
system built by NASA's Lewis Research Center, Cleveland. NSF's
Office of Polar Programs is now using the solar power system in an
Antarctic field camp.

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EDITORS NOTE: A video news release on the Ames telepresence


technology is available by calling NASA Headquarters Broadcast and
Imaging Branch at 202/358-1734.