Science Report by Elaine Walker (EPO, Mars Institute)
|copyright 2008 Mars Institute|
At the moment, the only tool that is consistently used as a standard for traverse planning is the paper map. There are various tools and software programs used, but none is considered the standard. Nick Wilkinson, HMP Project Manager, has programmed his own traverse planning software from scratch that offers a wide range of features. He presented the software to the HMP participants during an evening lecture, explaining each feature in detail and also giving an idea of how the overall package can work for a group, perhaps even over a network, planning a traverse with a wide range of possible conditions.
Any data set can be shown as a layer over a map of the area of interest. One data set might be a geological map, one might show distances, taking bumpy terrain into account, one might be landsat data, etc. There might be a data set showing degrees of slope, offering a threshold cutoff for traficability. For instance, if one of the traversers will be towing a trailer, the slope threshold might need to be set to a lower degree than would normally be acceptable. Data sets can be used in conjunction with each other. Using a combination of a roughness map, slope data, a trafficability data set can be generated. The map itself, with the layers, can be zoomed and rotated, much like Google Earth.
There are three modes in which the data can be displayed: Traverse Planning, Traverse Coordination, and Incident Command.
The Traverse Planning tool displays things like where a traverse is headed, who is going on the traverse, how long they plan to take, start and end times, and a general checklist that is generated such as the number of ATVs needed (an easy algorithm), and how many radios and shotguns the team should have. This could be expanded into a much more complex scenario, such as on Mars where the items needed could be a wide variety of tools and robotics, medical supplies, food rations, oxygen, etc.
Traverse Coordination mode is used during the traverse to track where the team is located and keep a record of their GPS coordinates that would be taken each time they radio in. Currently, scientists most likely rely on photos and their memory to keep track of where they traversed. As well, if they are planning a traverse to take core samples, for instance, it would be very helpful to see a data set that shows where past core samples have already been taken, and who has taken them. Using Traverse Coordination will be helpful in continuously adding to these data sets to help researchers in the future.
Incident Command is used for dealing with any unplanned incidents and emergencies, and planning rescue missions. It is also a way to store data from past incidents that could be helpful for future traverses to be aware of, such as frequency of ATVs getting stuck in the mud in similar locations, or the outcome of rescue missions, what they consisted of, etc., for different emergency scenarios.
Interfacing is an interesting problem for traverse software since some of the researchers are very technically inclined and comfortable with different types of computer and hand held interfaces, and some would not be using a computer if they didn't have to. Hand helds are used often in the field, for instance, and GPS coordinates and other relevant information can be downloaded to each handheld after the traverse is planned.
The Traverse Planning Software, above all, is meant to be a platform for implementing new tools and strategies for traverse management. During this HMP field season, Nick Wilkinson hopes to get a lot of feedback from the researchers on what their needs are, what they wish their current tools could do, and what types of interfacing they would like to use for the software.
When an HMP participant suggests an improvement or new feature, Nick can easily implement it and have it tested in the field. The HMP is a perfect setting for this since participants are doing real science on substantial traverses with a wide variety of terrain and scientific goals.