The Autonomous Systems group, part of RAL Space since August 2009, was formed to exploit existing in-house expertise in electro-mechanical systems, sensors and autonomous systems.
The first large scale project the group led has been the 2011-2012 ESA Startiger SEEKER project investigating long range autonomous navigation for planetary surface exploration with rovers; SEEKER included a 4 week long field trial campaign in the Atacama desert in Chile, which has demonstrated successfully an autonomous long range traverse or more than 5km. During the SEEKER project the Autonomous Systems group developed ground field trial vehicle expertise and UAV operation expertise.
The Group has a very active Outreach programme, providing hands-on experience of operating rover platforms for youngsters, supporting school visits on-site at RAL, visiting local schools and youth groups such as the Cub-Scouts, and demonstrating the rovers at external events such as at the Science Museum, London in August 2011, during their "Spend your Summer in Space" exhibition, the Big Bang Fair at the NEC in March 2012 and at the UK space conference in July 2013.
The Autonomous Systems group supports industry and academia to enable quicker and more cost efficient research and development of sensors, robot components and software. The group aims to support field trial based activities and promote development and testing of hardware and software. Through benchmarking sensors and other equipment on uniform platforms and rapid and cheap platform development it aspires to help companies, academia and research institutes to turn their ideas into deployable market ready products.
Since January 2013, the group is leading the ESA SAFER project (Sample Acquisition Field Experiment with a Rover) a unique project demonstrating the use of a remotely commanded rover platform equipped with three ExoMars instruments breadboards. SAFER will provide the European rover operators and the ExoMars science team with first-hand experience of remotely operating a representative mobile platform, and acquiring field data from all 3 instruments, during field trials. SAFER will assess the effectiveness of outcrop search instrumentation using the ExoMars reference mission scenario, and will elaborate the strategy and procedures to implement search and acquisition.
As part of these efforts, the SAFER project aims at providing a blueprint for the planning, implementation and execution of future field trials by setting up and running a representative mission scenario with both a representative platform and payload suite. The SAFER field trials campaign will start in October 2013, in the Atacama desert in Chile.