European Space Agency Tests Rovers with Vicon
August 18, 2009

European Space Agency Tests Rovers with Vicon

Oxford, UK - Vicon, a provider of precision motion-capture systems for the engineering, life science, and entertainment market, has announced its role in the important research being conducted by the European Space Agency's Automation & Robotics Laboratory (ESA ARL).
The ESA ARL is working with an eight camera Vicon motion capture system to track the motion of robotic vehicles aimed for planetary surface exploration, such as Mars and Moon rovers.

The Vicon-based system is installed in an 80m2 planetary terrain simulation ground called the Planetary Utilisation Testbed (PUTB), which mimics some tricky planetary surfaces such as boulder fields, sandy dunes and gravel patches.

Pantelis Poulakis, a robotics systems engineer at the ESA ARL said: "The rovers are either tele-operated or they execute autonomous navigation algorithms onboard. The latter is necessary for a Mars mission scenario due to the long time it takes for signals to travel between Earth and Mars and the limited availability of communication windows. In order to "know" its position on the surface of the planet and to close the loop with the navigation algorithms, the rovers are equipped with a set of sensors called a 'localization' scheme."

Poulakis continued: "It's a continuous learning curve for us. The Vicon system tracks the rover navigation trajectories, thus providing an external localization reference. We then analyze that data, in order to validate the navigation algorithms and test our on-board localization scheme. In a nutshell, our aim is to narrow the difference between how we expect the rover to move and what it actually does."

Douglas Reinke, chief executive officer at Vicon, said: "I am extremely proud Vicon is part of such important research. ESA is an exciting organization and the results it is producing for the engineering and technological development of the rover will be key in the future of unmanned planetary exploration."