Tech

Rover’s new Mars tricks

Danylo Hawaleshka June 4 2001
Tech

Rover’s new Mars tricks

Danylo Hawaleshka June 4 2001

Rover’s new Mars tricks

Tech

Explorer

It’s a quintessentially Canadian way of getting into space. One of the first computer simulations produced by Critical Mass Labs of Montreal involved a heavy-duty tractor equipped with powerful claws and a chain saw for felling trees. The company’s Vortex software proved so good at recreating real-life situations, says chief executive Robert Weldon, that NASA is now using it to develop a prototype for a next-generation Martian rover. “Our stuff works almost like a video game,” says Weldon. “You have full interactivity with the objects in the environment.” Vortex’s strength lies in its ability to simulate the actual physics associated

with movement.

With it, NASA

engineers can

construct complex, computerized environ-

ments to assess how a rovers suspension will perform when sub-

jected to the jarring forces caused by rocks and dips in its path. The simulations, conducted by the Autonomy and Robotics Group at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., allow Earth-bound scientists to plot the course of Martian rovers like 1997 s Sojourner. Human operators can then transmit safe driving instructions to the little vehicle. The hope is to one day load a rover with its own simulation software so it can decide for itself which route is best. “It will then be,” says Weldon,

“more of a thinking machine.”

Look out, Spider-Man

Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man, would be proud, even if Gerald Winkler’s device for scaling walls is named after a lizard. The Gekkomat is a startling, 25-kg contraption that allows users to ascend a wide variety of flat surfaces. The climber

wears vacuum pads on each limb, and Scuba-like air tanks, good for about two hours, on the back to create suction. Winkler, based in the Bavarian city of Herzogenaurach, hopes emergency service workers will one day use the Gekkomat for rescues in high-rise buildings. For safety, only one suction pad can be moved at a time. And like underwater divers, users must keep an eye on how much air is left in the tanks so they don’t run empty. “You must never,” says Winkler, “let this happen.” His device, it seems, lacks Spideys web shooter for handling sudden free-falls.

Danylo Hawaleshka

Lights, camera, broadband

Eveo Inc. is in the business of making videos for Web sites, but the San Francisco content provider also hosts an impressive showcase for short videos submitted by independent filmmakers. By going to www.eveo.com, and clicking on “Fun,” visitors can view a wide variety of imaginative shorts, including one about the experiences of a female police officer, and an eyepopping animation with the devil in Bowlin Fer Souls.