NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a quiet place now. The engineers and scientists who normally work there are telecommuting a very, very long distance.
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All the way to Mars.
The Curiosity Rover team has adapted to control the robot from home. NASA reports that it took a lot of ingenuity during early March:
The team began to anticipate the need to go fully remote a couple weeks before, leading them to rethink how they would operate. Headsets, monitors and other equipment were distributed (picked up curbside, with all employees following proper social-distancing measures).
Not everything they’re used to working with at JPL could be sent home, however: Planners rely on 3D images from Mars and usually study them through special goggles that rapidly shift between left- and right-eye views to better reveal the contours of the landscape. That helps them figure out where to drive Curiosity and how far they can extend its robotic arm.
But those goggles require the advanced graphics cards in high-performance computers at JPL (they’re actually gaming computers repurposed for driving on Mars). In order for rover operators to view 3D images on ordinary laptops, they’ve switched to simple red-blue 3D glasses. Although not as immersive or comfortable as the goggles, they work just as well for planning drives and arm movements.
-via Marilyn Terrell | Image: NASA