News

University of Sydney replicates Mars Rover for Powerhouse Museum


31 March 2011

The Powerhouse Museum's Mars Yard, part of the new Pathways to Space project, with two experimental Mars Rovers developed by the Australian Centre for Field Robotics. [Image: Geoff Friend, Powerhouse Museum]
The Powerhouse Museum's Mars Yard, part of the new Pathways to Space project, with two experimental Mars Rovers developed by the Australian Centre for Field Robotics. [Image: Geoff Friend, Powerhouse Museum]

An operational model of NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers built at the University of Sydney will give high school students firsthand experience of robots that have provided invaluable data on the red planet.

The robot will also provide University researchers with an opportunity to develop and test new algorithms in autonomous perception, control and machine learning.

Built at the University's Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR), the robot will reside at the Mars Yard, a new exhibition opening at the Powerhouse Museum today. The ACFR's Associate Professor Salah Sukkarieh says the battery operated, six-wheeled, all terrain vehicle is the same size and style as NASA's Mars Rovers. Visitors to the Mars Yard will be able to see it traverse simulated Martian terrain and run experiments similar to those undertaken on the red planet and also observe students and academics conducting planetary robotics research.

"The Rovers have been pivotal to telling us the story of Mars," he says. "These autonomous systems sample different types of rocks and provide information on the possibility of past or present life on the planet."

"The Mars Yard contains ancient fossils of microbial life obtained from the Pilbara and South Australia, demonstrating paleontological evidence of the early stages of life here on Earth. NASA uses sites like the Pilbara to study potential landing sites for the Rovers on Mars."

The project goes beyond the current Mars Rover technologies with University of Sydney researchers implementing novel algorithms that may potentially find their way to the red planet in the near future. Such techniques would give the Rover more autonomy and allow it to conduct experiments such as rock sampling, analysis and classification on its own.

The Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Kim Carr opened the project at the Powerhouse Museum this morning.


Media enquiries: Jocelyn Prasad, 9114 1382, jocelyn.prasad@sydney.edu.au