Engineers watch the progress of one of the test rovers in Morocco. Image via ESA.
Despite the fact that landing on Mars is hard, robotic rovers and landers have now become a regular feature of Mars exploration. These advanced exploratory machines are sending back unprecedented information about this fascinating red world. One limitation, however, has been that rovers and landers are still, for the most part, controlled by human operators back on Earth. On December 18, 2018, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced the testing of software for new Mars rovers that’ll help make their future exploration more autonomous – “smarter” and more capable of making their own decisions, such as deciding where to go and how to get there – i.e. self-driving.
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Three different rovers – Sherpa, Mana and Minnie – were tested at five locations at the Ibn Battuta Test Centre in Morocco, near Erfoud on the northern edge of the Sahara Desert, in December 2018. With more than 40 engineers involved, this was the end of the first phase of the Strategic Research Cluster on space robotics technologies, a scheme funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 ...