Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
How new technologies are modifying our way of life

vendredi 25 juin 2004

Currently, satellites take pictures of whatever is in front of their cameras. But hydrologists from the University of Arizona (UA), working with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are creating spacecrafts that think for themselves. Their smart software, which is tested on NASA's EO-1 satellite, can be used on all kinds of spacecrafts. This software has three components: an image formation module, a science algorithm module, and a continuous planning module. This onboard planner reschedules what to film in conjunction with what the scientific algorithms have detected. This software has already detected floods in Australia and will be adapted to also detect volcano eruptions and changes in ice fields. In a next stage, it will be used in space, for instance to watch Jupiter's moons.

Here is a description of the project and of its early successes.

Scientists currently are developing this kind of software for NASA's EO-1 satellite. The smart software allows the satellite to organize data so it sends back the most timely news first, while holding back less-timely data for later transmission.
Although the project, called the Autonomous Sciencecraft Experiment (ASE), is still in the test and development stage, software created by UA hydrologists has already detected flooding on Australia’s Diamantina River.
"We had ordered some images from the satellite to test our software in the lab," said Felipe Ip, a Ph.D. student in UA's Hydrology and Water Resources (HWR) Department. "We didn't know the Diamantina River was flooding, but when we started running the images through our software, it told us, 'Hey, we've got a flood here.' We were delighted because that's just what it's supposed to do."
Diamantina River: flood starts receding Diamantina River: flood receding a week after These two images show the receding flood of the Diamantina River. For each image, you can see "the image taken by the EO-1 satellite on the left and the simplified image created by flood-detection software on the right." These images are extracted from this animated GIF file (7 frames) (Credit: UA).

Here is the current status of the project.

While Ip, under the direction of HWR researchers James Dohm and Victor Baker, is developing the flood-detection software for EO-1, JPL team members are creating similar software to detect volcanic activity and ASU researchers are working on software to find changes in ice fields.
The flood-detection software compares images from the satellite's cameras with images stored in its computer memory. If the rivers are not flooding and images come close to matching, the satellite remains silent. But if the satellite's computer finds significant differences, it takes more photos and notifies scientists.

And here what we can expect in a near future.

The next stage of testing comes in July, when the flood-detection software will fly aboard EO-1 in nearly full autonomous mode.
While the short-term goal is to record transient events, such as volcanic eruptions, floods and changes in ice fields on Earth, ASE software will eventually allow scientists to detect, map out, and study similar events throughout the solar system.

And here is the conclusion, drawn by the software developer.

"By using smart spacecraft, we won't miss short-term events such as floods, dust storms, and volcanic eruptions," Ip said. "Finally, instead of sifting through thousands of images, I can actually get some sleep at night, knowing that a smart robot is on alert twenty-four-seven."

For more information, you can visit the Autonomous Sciencecraft Experiment site at JPL.

Sources: University of Arizona news release, June 23, 2004; JPL website

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