Who’s the hardest working robot on Mars? That would be the Curiosity rover, an advanced robot that takes photos of the Martian surface, collects important data, and routinely finds itself stuck in piles of sand. NASA is getting pretty sick of Curiosity’s carelessness, and hopes that you can help teach it some safe driving skills.
I know what you’re thinking. Curiosity is similar to a robot car, so why don’t we just beam up some Tesla software and skip the driving lessons? It’s not that simple. Curiosity hasn’t found any roads or bridges on Mars yet. There doesn’t seem to be any trees, lakes, or roadsigns on the planet either. Smart cars like Tesla navigate using environmental cues, and Mars is frankly lacking in the environment department.
It’s a bit of a pickle—Curiosity has to navigate between red rocks, red dirt, red sand, red dust, and little green man. That’s a pretty daunting task for anybody, especially a billion-dollar version of the Roomba.
Okay, I’ll cut to the chase. NASA isn’t willing to pay you for driving lessons, but you know, its just one little favor. You don’t even have to leave your computer. You just open the AI4Mars crowd-sourcing tool, look at high-res photos of the planet’s surface, and outline some rock, sand, and dirt. Eventually, this data will power an AI that helps the Curiosity rover “see” its surroundings and navigate safely.
NASA hopes that the navigation tech will trickle down to its upcoming Mars 2020 rover, the Perseverance. Manually programming navigation commands for these rovers can take days, so NASA has a lot to gain from intelligent driving AI. And one day, when we send people to Mars, the intelligent Curiosity and Perseverance rovers will look up and say “thank you for teaching me how to drive.”