The RoverBug algorithm plans the motion of a robotic vehicle (rover) equipped with a CCD (charge-coupled device) camera or comparable sensor that has a limited field of view. The algorithm produces locally optimal (shortest-distance) paths across unbounded, previously unknown terrain; utilizes gaze control to minimize the amount of sensing; and avoids unnecessary robot motion. Because this algorithm is based on a local and simple mathematical model of terrain, it does not entail the bookkeeping of a global model (with all of the attendant issues of registration of local maps with global ones and with each other), and does not require the large memory that would be required by a global model. The algorithm is amenable to varying levels of autonomy, ranging from single- subpath execution under tight operator guidance to completely autonomous traverses to distant goals. In addition to being useful for exploration of distant planets via rovers, the algorithm could be applied in such terrestrial scenarios as cleanup of environmental hazards or military surveillance. A version of the algorithm has been implemented on NASA’s Rocky 7 prototype microrover.

This work was done by Sharon Laubach of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This software is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Don Hart of the California Institute of Technology at (818) 393- 3425. Refer to NPO-30241.