Nomad the Robot Finds a Meteorite in Antarctica

By Keith Cowing
January 25, 2000
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[25 Jan 2000] In August 1996, much of the world stopped in its tracks when NASA announced that evidence of fossil life might have been found in a meteorite blasted to Earth from Mars. The meteorite, ALH84001, had been collected years earlier in the Allan Hills region of Antarctica, and had not been identified as having come from Mars until years later. An earlier meteorite find, EET79001, found in the Elephant Moraine region of the East Antarctic Plateau located northwest of the American base at McMurdo Station, was the first sample shown to have come from Mars.

Nomad's view of meteorite Carnegie Mellon University’s robot Nomad is now prowling the Elephant Moraine – on its own – as part of an attempt to demonstrate that a robot can find and analyze meteorites. Nomad has been equipped with high resolution visual sensors coupled with onboard software referred to as its “classifier” that allows Nomad to analyze and differentiate native (terrestrial) rocks from extraterrestrial rocks (meteorites).

On its third day of searching, Nomad came across a rock on the ice that is apparently a meteorite. According to a CMU update “the robot’s autonomous classification system analyzed visual and spectroscopic data and came up with a 22% confidence value that the rock is a meteorite.

According to CMU “this marks the first time that Nomad’s autonomous classifier assigns a relatively high confidence value to its classification of a new sample found in the field. Before yesterday’s search Nomad’s classifier had given a confidence value of 27% to an iron meteorite that we “planted” in the field and used for calibration purposes.”

Nomad has made previous forays into harsh territory including one across Chile’s Atacama Desert in the summer of 1997. Future work will be directed towards the technologies needed for rovers that might one day be used on Mars.

° Carnegie Mellon researchers deploy robot in Antarctica to search autonomously for meteorites and classify them in the field, press release

° Nomad locates a meteorite, 22 January 2000

° Robotic Anatarctic Meteorite Search, Carnegie Mellon University

° NASA Ames Robotic Antarctic Meteorite Search

° Remotely Experience Antarctica

° ANSMET, The Antarctic Search For Meteorites

° The Haughton-Mars Project

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