New software is enabling ChemCam, the laser spectrometer on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, to select rock targets autonomously.
Developed jointly at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse, France, the ChemCam (chemistry and camera) instrument aboard Curiosity "zaps" rocks on Mars and analyzes their chemical make-up.
While most ChemCam targets are still selected by scientists, the rover itself now chooses multiple targets per week.
"This new capability will give us a chance to analyze even more rock and soil samples on Mars," said Roger Wiens, principal investigator for ChemCam at Los Alamos. "The science team is not always available to pick samples for analysis. Having a smarter rover that can pick its own samples is completely in line with self-driving cars and other smart technologies being implemented on Earth."
To select a target autonomously, the software uses adjustable criteria specified by scientists, such as identifying rocks based on their size or brightness. The criteria can be changed depending on the rover's surroundings and the scientific goals of the measurements.