Cagri Kilic, postdoctoral fellow, WVU Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. Credit: WVU.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — Scientists at West Virginia University have discovered a way to help NASA scientists navigate Mars rovers even when they can’t see. Using only algorithms and existing sensors, scientists will be able to operate the rover in extreme darkness or brightness, or through difficult physical terrain that compromises the rovers’ visual sensors.

Space roboticist and Statler College of Engineering Postdoctoral Research Fellow Cagri Kilic led the research, which aims to prevent losses like that of the Martian exploration rover Spirit in 2010 after its wheels became trapped in invisibly shifting sands and it ceased communications, WVU said in a press release Wednesday.

Kilic’s team tested its software on WVU’s Pathfinder rover in burnt-coal ash piles in Point Marion, Pennsylvania.

The algorithms allow rovers to adjust the rovers’ course and speed based on the readings from the rovers’ instruments that measure their orientation, velocity and position rather than on what they can detect through their camera lenses.

WVU postdoctoral fellow Cagri Kilic tests his proprioceptive slip detection software on the Pathfinder testbed platform at the Jet Propulsion System’s Mars Yard in California. Courtesy: Nicholas Ohi.

WVU said Kilic’s method has a slip detection accuracy of more than 92% for distances of around 150 meters and uses fewer resources than visually-based navigation.

The research was supported by funding from NASA’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research and Kilic’s paper was co-authored by aerospace engineering associate professors Yu Gu and Jason Gross.