UALR Receives NASA Grant to Work on Moon, Mars Rovers

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock will receive a three-year, $750,000 grant from NASA to develop robot vision systems for rovers to be used on the moon or Mars.

The research is the work of UALR applied science professor Cang Ye. The grant comes from the space agency's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR.

UALR is one of the 17 research colleges and universities across the country and the only one in Arkansas sharing more than $12 million in grants for research and technology development in areas important to NASA’s mission.

According to UALR, Ye and his research team will develop new computer vision methods based on a 3-D time-of-flight camera – Flash LIDAR Camera (FLC) – and a prototype of an autonomous navigation system using a single FLC for a planetary rover.

"The system will estimate the rover’s position and orientation along the path, mapping its surrounding into a large scale 3-D map, analyze the map, and make navigational decisions," Ye said in a Friday press release. "The FLC-based system may achieve better accuracy and repeatability of position and orientation estimates and produce more accurate and reliable 3-D map than the current stereovision approach used in the Mars rovers."

The new navigation system reduces shadowing problems with the current sterovision system that can cause failure of the rover’s visual odometry, a rover egomotion estimation method that assumes a static rover operation environment, Ye said.

"Another advantage of using an active imaging sensor is that it will allow night driving for the rover," Ye said. "The new system is expected to provide a much higher level of rover autonomy and has potential in changing the way a rover operates in an alien environment."