Computing KS3/4: The Mars Rover and autonomous navigation

ExoMars Rover Engineer Abbie Hutty, from Airbus Defence and Space explains how the Mars Rover uses 3D cameras to create a map of the Mars landscape, and onboard software allows it to plot its own route across the surface to avoid craters or large obstacles.

Abbie explains that the Mars Rover needs to autonomously navigate because remote controlling it from Earth would not be practical.

Signals take up to 22 minutes to travel to Mars and so if the controller on Earth pressed the stop button, the Mars Rover would not receive the instruction until it was too late!

Abbie also explains that the Rover has metal wheels because rubber wheels are not allowed to be taken to Mars - the Rover’s mission is to search for life, and rubber is made from trees so could contaminate the samples.

This clip is from The Royal Institute Christmas Lectures 2014.

Teacher Notes

Students could be asked to design an algorithm to navigate obstacles in their classroom to find the shortest route to a destination, eg. the door.

Students could be asked to discuss how the algorithm in a robot vacuum cleaner would be different from that in the Mars Rover. Discuss – why is the Mars Rover not controlled by remote control from Earth all the time?

Curriculum Notes

This topic appears in OCR, Edexcel, AQA, WJEC GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 5 in Scotland.

More from The Royal Institute Christmas Lectures 2014:

Feedback loops
How does a digital camera work?
How LED screens work
How robots can work together in a swarm
Solving a Rubik's cube by smartphone
What can 3D printing be used for?
Touching virtual objects