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Published May 3, 2007 | Published
Book Section - Chapter Open

A low-cost test-bed for real-time landmark tracking


A low-cost vehicle test-bed system was developed to iteratively test, refine and demonstrate navigation algorithms before attempting to transfer the algorithms to more advanced rover prototypes. The platform used here was a modified radio controlled (RC) car. A microcontroller board and onboard laptop computer allow for either autonomous or remote operation via a computer workstation. The sensors onboard the vehicle represent the types currently used on NASA-JPL rover prototypes. For dead-reckoning navigation, optical wheel encoders, a single axis gyroscope, and 2-axis accelerometer were used. An ultrasound ranger is available to calculate distance as a substitute for the stereo vision systems presently used on rovers. The prototype also carries a small laptop computer with a USB camera and wireless transmitter to send real time video to an off-board computer. A real-time user interface was implemented that combines an automatic image feature selector, tracking parameter controls, streaming video viewer, and user generated or autonomous driving commands. Using the test-bed, real-time landmark tracking was demonstrated by autonomously driving the vehicle through the JPL Mars yard. The algorithms tracked rocks as waypoints. This generated coordinates calculating relative motion and visually servoing to science targets. A limitation for the current system is serial computing−each additional landmark is tracked in order−but since each landmark is tracked independently, if transferred to appropriate parallel hardware, adding targets would not significantly diminish system speed.

Additional Information

© 2007 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Pavan Kayathi at Oklahoma State University provided support for waypoint tracking analysis (see also [5]). Casey L. Hughlett of Zion Labs, Inc. was instrumental in providing software development support. The SURF program at Caltech and the NASA Space Grant program provided student opportunities for building the low-cost rover hardware and collecting data for the experiments. The following students participated: Salomon Trujillo, Matthew King, and Ambrus Csaszar. The authors would also like to thank Pietro Perona at the California Institute of Technology and Tien-Hsin Chao of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for their support. A portion of this research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and funded through the Director's Research and Development Fund program.

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