The researchers, who are part of a team that includes scientists from NASA's Ames Research Center (Mountain View, Calif.), the University of Tennessee and Universidad Catolica del Norte (Antofagasta, Chile), will soon be accompanying Zoë to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, where it will perform experiments focused on seeking and identifying forms of life.
The team will spend nearly two months in the Atacama, described as the most arid region on earth, working on the second phase of a three-year program whose results may ultimately enable robots to look for life on Mars. The project is part of NASA's Astrobiology Science and Technology Program for Exploring Planets, or ASTEP, which concentrates on pushing the limits of technology in harsh environments.
The first phase of the project began in 2003 when a solar-powered robot named Hyperion, also developed at Carnegie Mellon, was taken to the Atacama as a research test bed. Scientists conducted experiments with Hyperion to determine the optimum design, software and instrumentation for a robot that would be used in more extensive experiments conducted this fall and in 2005. Zoë is the result of that work. In the final year of the project, plans call for Zoë, equipped with a full array of instruments, to operate autonomously as it travels 50 kilometers over a two-month period.
David Wettergreen, associate research professor in Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute and project leader for Life in the Atacama, will be in the desert with his colleagues from the end of August to mid-October conducting experiments in rover perception, mobility and autonomy du
Contact: Amy Pavlak
Carnegie Mellon University