Douglas Isbell Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1753


June 17, 1997

Michael Mewhinney Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA (Phone: 415/604-3937) Anne Watzman Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA (Phone: 412/268-3830) RELEASE: 97-136 NASA, CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY TO TEST ADAPTABLE MOBILE ROBOT IN SOUTH AMERICAN DESERT From laboratories and a science center in North America, a group of NASA and Carnegie Mellon University scientists will control a robotic rover this summer as it explores a desert in South America to learn more about driving automated vehicles on Mars and the Moon. During the 45-day field experiment from June 15 to July 31, scientists from NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, and Carnegie MellonÕs Robotics Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, will conduct an unprecedented 120-mile robotic trek in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The scientists will test the ability of the robot, nicknamed Nomad, to navigate, explore and perform science tasks remotely. "The primary objective of the Atacama Desert trek is to develop, evaluate and demonstrate a robot capable of long distance and long duration planetary exploration," said David Wettergreen, NASA Ames project manager. "During different phases of this test, we will configure the robot to simulate wide-area exploration of the Moon, the search for signs of past life on Mars and the gathering of meteorite samples in the Antarctic, which makes for a really unique and challenging experiment," said Dave Lavery, Telerobotics Program Manager at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

Chile's Atacama Desert, a cold, arid region located above 7,000 feet, was chosen for the field experiment because its harsh terrain is analogous to that found on Mars and the Moon. The desert's barren landscape features craters, rocks and loose sand without any vegetation due to the lack of rain. "This site is pretty much what we expect to find on Mars," said Nathalie Cabrol, the expedition's NASA science team leader. "Our goal is to simulate several NASA planetary exploration missions, and this will provide some good training for future missions," Cabrol added. The desert trek also will test and validate tools and techniques that NASA has been developing for future planetary missions. Nomad was designed and built by researchers at Carnegie MellonÕs Robotics Institute. About the size of a small car, the robot weighs 1,600 pounds and features four-wheel drive/four-wheel steering with a chassis that expands to improve stability and travel over various terrain conditions. Four aluminum wheels with cleats provide traction in soft sand. Power is supplied by a gasoline generator and enables the robot to travel at speeds up to 20 inches per second. Nomad also contains onboard navigation sensors and computers to enable it to avoid obstacles without relying on a human operator. Nomad's unique onboard panospheric camera provides live 360-degree, video-based still images of the robot's surroundings. The images will be displayed on large screens at Ames and Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, where the public will have an opportunity to control the rover every day throughout the trek. The rover carries additional color video cameras to provide stereo vision for detecting obstacles and high-resolution color video cameras for experiments in remote geology to be conducted by NASA. The total cost of developing Nomad and conducting the desert trek is $1.6 million. The project is funded by NASA with in-kind support from corporate sponsors and educational foundations. Information about the desert trek and live images and data from Nomad will be available on the Internet at URL: Carnegie Mellon also will maintain a website at URL: A website in Spanish has been established at URL: -end-