Take a Virtual Drive on the Rover

If you’ve ever aspired to be the real Mark Watney – collecting rock and dirt samples on Mars – now is your chance. With NASA’s AI4Mars project , you can take a virtual trip across the red planet on the Curiosity rover.

In a simulator developed by a team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, users are asked to help classify the Martian landscape . You will tag images taken by Curiosity from the surface of Mars (for example, with sand or bedrock), and scientists will use the resulting crowdsourced data to teach the future rover to better avoid dangerous obstacles.

Mars rovers tend to get stuck in the sand and sometimes can’t get out of it, so the project aims to make the rovers look like self-driving cars. To explore space without human intervention, vehicles must know “where it is safe to drive, land, sleep and hibernate.”

When you open the classification tool, you will be prompted to select different surface types (rocks or soil) and mark areas of the surface image with a drawing tool that includes the terrain type you selected. Once you’ve identified everything in the image, select “Done” to move on to the next photo.

There is a helpful tutorial popup (click Tutorial) and a discussion board where you can ask questions or troubleshoot the tool.

The same concept of crowdsourcing has been used to train neural networks for cityscapes and house numbers on Earth.

To be clear, you will not actually be piloting Curiosity across the surface of Mars, even virtually – this is not a video game. But you can get up close and personal with the surface of Mars and at the same time contribute to scientific discoveries.

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