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Mobile Agents Used by Geologists in Volcanic Setting
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Mobile Agents Used by Geologists in Volcanic Setting

The Mobile Agents team supported a series of simulated lunar mission EVAs on the Kilauea, HI volcanic shield in August 2008. Two experiments replicated Apollo 12 EVA #2 in the layout of workstations and number of observations (photographs, samples). A baseline using a conventional notebook for data collection was compared to a traverse on similar terrain using the individual Mobile Agents System (iMAS). iMAS was packaged as a lightweight laptop in a backpack integrated with a camera, GPS device, headset, and spoken dialogue system. Each geologist received navigation and timing advice from the computer system and used iMAS to log and associate photographs and sample bags with workstation locations. Voice annotations replaced conventional note taking and were transcribed automatically for later editing. Other experiments used iMAS when surveying a site with differential GPS and a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) remote sensing system for mapping topography, enabling photographs and voice notes to be integrated with location data.

The NASA/Ames Mobile Agents team collaborated with geologists at the Smithsonian Institution and NASA/Goddard in developing the experimental methodology, carrying out the protocols in the field, and documenting the scientists’ exploration practices.

BACKGROUND: NASA’s Moon and Mars Analogue Mission Activities (MMAMA) program aims to develop operation concepts for surface science scenarios relevant to the preparation of planned human missions to the Moon and Mars. The current project “Computer-Assisted Surface Science Scenarios to Develop Operational Procedures for Manned Lunar and Martian Missions Using the Individual Mobile Agents System” (PI: Brent Garry, Smithsonian) collects science data related to geologic research on lunar and Martian lava analog flows and establishes training scenarios using technology to assist Astronauts on an EVA.

Using the method of empirical requirements analysis, this investigation has three overarching questions:

  • How can geology be documented efficiently and effectively using computer technology?
  • What science-based field exercises can be developed to train Constellation Astronauts?
  • How do simulated EVAs at three analog field sites compare to actual Lunar EVAs?

The iMAS system tracks the geologist’s progress through an EVA, makes predictions about ability to complete an EVA on schedule, provides spoken alerts when parameters exceed nominal thresholds, answers spoken queries about status, and records data for off-line analysis. iMAS is designed to increase astronaut self-sufficiency during an EVA, while improving safety and efficiency through context-sensitive monitoring, advising, and logging.

The Mobile Agents team has been developing agent-based systems for surface exploration since 2000 and has been testing these systems in authentic field conditions involving a variety of instruments and robots. iMAS is currently used in POGO experiments at Johnson Space Center (JSC). The full networked version of Mobile Agents is used in spaceflight operations at JSC for automating routine aspects of file transfers between the International Space Station and ground support.

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: This project was funded in part by NASA’s MMAMA Program and an Intercenter Task Agreement provided by The Biomedical Research & Countermeasures Projects Branch of the Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Division (HACD) at JSC.

COLLABORATORS: Brent Garry and Jim Zimbelman (Smithsonian Institution); Jake Bleacher (NASA/Goddard); John Dowding (NASA Ames/UC Santa Cruz); Ron van Hoof (NASA Ames/Perot Systems)

Contact: Bill Clancey; Maarten Sierhuis


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