LITTLE ROCK — A $750,000 NASA grant to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock will support research and development on robot vision systems for vehicles on the moon or Mars, UALR announced Thursday.
The three-year grant is part of the space agency’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research – EPSCoR. Most of the funds will support the work of Cang Ye, an applied science professor.
UALR is one of 17 research colleges and universities sharing in a $12.6 million grant project for research and technology development in areas important to NASA’s mission and that support higher education students. UALR is the only institution in Arkansas to receive an award.
Ye and his research team will develop new computer vision methods based on a 3-D time-of-flight camera – Flash LIDAR Camera – 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 news 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 stereovision system that can cause failure of the rover’s visual odometry, a rover egomotion estimation method that assumes a static rover operation environment, he 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.”
In 2010, Ye co-authored an internationally acclaimed paper on computer vision for robotic exploration. UALR undergraduate student Chris Robinson and Ph.D. candidate Prasad M. Hegde worked with Ye and engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory on the problem of keeping rovers on the moon and Mars from getting stuck.
Their research was named “Best Paper” at the 2010 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering International Conference on Mechantronics and Automation in Xi’An, China.