How we might navigate on Mars

October 9, 2018  - By
Images: NASA

Images: NASA

Researchers from NASA’s Frontier Development Lab (FDL) and Intel are proposing a way to navigate on a new planet using artificial intelligence (AI).

The researchers presented their planetary navigation research during an Intel event on Aug. 16.

The immense challenge of building GPS-similar constellations around every planet or moon could be avoided by using imagery, according to researchers Andrew Chung, Philippe Ludivig, Ross Potter and Benjamin Wu.
The team developed a system for simulating the Moon’s surface so that AI could be used for navigation on the surface.

How It Works. The researchers created a highly detailed digital model of a virtual moon using 2.4 million images of its surface. The images represent ones that might be taken by a rover.

The AI learned what this moon looks like by being fed the millions of images, and then used its neural network to create a model of the virtual moon.

According to the team’s presentation, this was enough to effectively enable navigation on the virtual moon’s surface.

With the model in place, a person merely needs to take a photo of their surroundings on the surface. Based on the photo, the AI determines the person’s location and shows how to navigate to a destination. The AI would even understand the distortions of known features from the point of view of the camera.

The team wants to try to do the same thing with a real celestial body: Mars. They think they have enough satellite images to make it work.

If they’re right, the first Martian visitors could navigate the Red Planet by photo.

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.