On Tuesday, JPL gave Curiosity her head, letting the rover decide where to drive itself.
By “decide,” we mean that JPL can now tell Curiosity, “we want you to go over that way and end up at a specific place, but you can figure out for yourself how to get there.” To do this, the rover analyzes images from its cameras as its driving to determine which potential routes are safe, and which aren’t:
“Curiosity takes several sets of stereo pairs of images, and the rover’s computer processes that information to map any geometric hazard or rough terrain,” said Mark Maimone, rover mobility engineer and rover driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “The rover considers all the paths it could take to get to the designated endpoint for the drive and chooses the best one.”
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"The capability uses software that engineers adapted to this larger and more complex vehicle from a similar capability used by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which is also currently active on Mars."