Putting Perseverance Rover’s View Into Satellite View Context

It’s always fun to look over aerial and satellite maps of places we know, seeing a perspective different from our usual ground level view. We lose that context when it’s a place we don’t know by heart. Such as, say, Mars. So [Matthew Earl] sought to give Perseverance rover’s landing video some context by projecting onto orbital imagery from ESA’s Mars Express. The resulting video (embedded below the break) is a fun watch alongside the technical writeup Reprojecting the Perseverance landing footage onto satellite imagery.

Some telemetry of rover position and orientation were transmitted live during the landing process, with the rest recorded and downloaded later. Surprisingly, none of that information was used for this project, which was based entirely on video pixels. This makes the results even more impressive and the techniques more widely applicable to other projects. The foundational piece is SIFT (Scale Invariant Feature Transform), which is one of many tools in the OpenCV toolbox. SIFT found correlations between Perseverance’s video frames and Mars Express orbital image, feeding into a processing pipeline written in Python for results rendered in Blender.

While many elements of this project sound enticing for applications in robot vision, there are a few challenges touched upon in the “Final Touches” section of the writeup. The falling heatshield interfered with automated tracking, implying this process will need help to properly understand dynamically changing environments. Furthermore, it does not seem to run fast enough for a robot’s real-time needs. But at first glance, these problems are not fundamental. They merely await some motivated people to tackle in the future.

This process bears some superficial similarities to projection mapping, which is a category of projects we’ve featured on these pages. Except everything is reversed (camera instead of video projector, etc.) making the math an entirely different can of worms. But if projection mapping sounds more to your interest, here is a starting point.

[via Dr. Tanya Harrison @TanyaOfMars]

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A Technical (But Not Too Technical) Explanation Of Landing Perseverance Rover On Mars

There was a lot of enthusiasm surrounding Mars arrival of Perseverance rover, our latest robotic interplanetary explorer. Eager to capitalize on this excitement, NASA JPL released a lot of information to satisfy curiosity of the general public. But making that material widely accessible also meant leaving out many technical details. People who crave just a little more can head over to How NASA’s Perseverance Landed On Mars: An Aerospace Engineer Breaks It Down In Fascinating Detail published by Jalopnik.

NASA JPL’s public materials mostly explained the mission in general terms. Even parts with scientific detail were largely constrained for a target audience of students K-12. Anyone craving more details can certainly find them online, but they would quickly find themselves mired in highly technical papers written by aerospace engineers and planetary geologists for their peers. There is a gap in between those extremes, and this write-up slots neatly in that gap. Author [Brian Kirby] is our helpful aerospace engineer who compiled many technical references into a single narrative of the landing, explained at a level roughly equivalent to undergraduate level math and science courses.

We get more details on why the target landing site is both geologically interesting and technically treacherous, requiring development of new landing smarts that will undoubtedly help future explorers both robotic and human. The complex multi-step transition from orbit to surface is explained in terms of managing kinetic energy. Condensing a wide range of problems to a list of numbers that helps us understand why, for example, a parachute was necessary yet not enough to take a rover all the way to the surface.

Much of this information is known to longtime enthusiasts, but we all had to get our start somewhere. This is a good on-ramp for a new generation of space fans, and together we look forward to Perseverance running down its long and exciting to-do list. Including flying a helicopter, packing up surface samples of Mars, and seeing if we can extract usable oxygen from Martian atmosphere.

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Makes Its First Martian Tracks

There’s a special kind of anxiety that comes from trying out a robotic project for the first time. No matter the size, complexity, or how much design and planning has gone into it, the first time a creation moves under its own power can put butterflies in anyone’s stomach. So we can imagine that many people at NASA are breathing a sigh of relief now that the Perseverance rover has completed its first successful test drive on Mars.

To be fair, Perseverance was tested here on Earth before launch. However, this is the first drive since the roving scientific platform was packed into a capsule, set on top of a rocket, and flung hundreds of millions of miles (or kilometers, take your pick) to the surface of another planet. As such, and true to NASA form, the operators are taking things slow.

This joyride certainly won’t be setting speed records. The atomic-powered vehicle traveled a total of just 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) in 33 minutes, including forward, reverse, and a 150 degree turn in-between. That’s enough for the mobility team to check out the drive systems and deem the vehicle worthy of excursions that could range 656 feet (200 meters) or more. Perseverance is packed with new technology, including an autonomous navigation system for avoiding hazards without waiting for round-trip communication with Earth, and everything must be tested before being put into full use.

A couple weeks have passed since the world was captivated by actual video of the rover’s entry, descent, and landing, and milestones like this mark the end of that flashy, rocket-powered skycrane period and the beginning of a more settled-in period, where the team works day-to-day in pursuit of the mission’s science goals. The robotic arm and several on-board sensors and experiments have already completed their initial checks. In the coming months, we can look forward to tons of data coming back from the red planet, along with breathtaking pictures of its alien surface and what will hopefully be the first aircraft flown on another world.

Hackaday Links: March 8, 2020

A lot of annoying little hacks are needed to keep our integer-based calendar in sync with a floating-point universe, and the big one, leap day, passed us by this week. Aside from the ignominy of adding a day to what’s already the worst month of the year, leap day has a tendency to call out programmers who take shortcuts with their code. Matt Johnson-Pint has compiled a list of 2020 leap day bugs that cropped up, ranging from cell phones showing the wrong date on February 29 to an automated streetlight system in Denmark going wonky for the day. The highest-profile issue may have been system crashes of Robinhood, the online stock trading platform. Robinhood disagrees that the issues were caused by leap day code issues, saying that it was a simple case of too many users and not enough servers. That seems likely given last week’s coronavirus-fueled trading frenzy, but let’s see what happens in 2024.

Speaking of annoying time hacks, by the time US readers see this, we will have switched to Daylight Saving Time. Aside from costing everyone a precious hour of sleep, the semiannual clock switch always seems to set off debates about the need for Daylight Saving Time. Psychologists think it’s bad for us, and it has elicited a few bugs over the years. What will this year’s switch hold? Given the way 2020 has been going so far, you’d better buckle up.
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