Automotive DesignLine Blog
Last Wednesday (January 24) marked three years of investigation on the Martian surface for NASA's rover Opportunity. January 3rd was the same milestone for its sister probe, Spirit. Both rovers have exceeded their months-long design lives by a wide margin, credited to a conservative design and power conserving operations management. But the craft are not just exploration vehicles and are now serving as software testbeds for future systems and spacecraft.
New programs are being uploaded to both rovers that will test image processing algorithms to provide more autonomy for future planetary exploration craft. These capabilities include obstacle avoidance and on-board processing for extensive route planning to prevent "dead-end" situations. Other code would recognize terrain features or allow tracking a target feature while moving.
Now it's just possible that this kind of autonomous vehicle development (coupled with programs such as DARPA's Grand Challenge) could see use in automobiles some time down the roadleading to driverless autos.