Science Report – February 17th

Sol 17: Focus on: 3D mapping with drones – Usefulness of drones for the human exploration of Mars

Author: Pierre Fabre

Hi everyone, welcome back for this new report! Today is the last episode of “Focus on” and we are going to talk about my drone mapping experiment with Marion, our crew scientist.

But before, as always, let’s talk about what happened during this Sol 17 on Mars.

This was our last full day on Mars. Tomorrow in the afternoon we will go back to Earth. We will have the end of the afternoon to send messages to our families and friends and discover what happened on Earth during our mission on Mars. We will then eat the burger we’ve been waiting for since the first week of the mission with Atila, the Assistant Director of the MDRS. We are all very excited to come back to Earth but we are starting to realise that we will miss Mars. But we will talk about that in more detail in tomorrow’s report.

This afternoon we kept on filming a lot of videos of our experiments for the videos we will upload on our YouTube channel. This takes a lot of time but this is our last chance to take shots on Mars so we have to be efficient!

The mission is not over yet and some of us went on TELEOP and on the University of Lorraine’s experiment. It was a pleasure, as always. This was not even the last time; we will do those experiments after the mission too just as we did before the mission. Data collected before and after the mission are really important to compare the results.

This morning we performed the EVA for my drone mapping experiment. We went to the Northern part of the Hab Ridge that we had already mapped during a previous EVA. Marion and François tried to follow the itinerary they had prepared before. Tomorrow the rest of the crew will do the same for our last EVA on Mars.

Talking about this experiment, it is time for today’s “Focus on” episode. This time it will be Marion, our crew scientist, who will ask the questions.

“-Hi Pierre! So firstly, why drones? What intrigued you about them and their use?

-Hi Marion! Recently, NASA sent Ingenuity, a helicopter, to Mars and managed to make it fly. This was was not an easy task at all because the atmosphere on Mars is around a thousand times less dense than on Earth which makes it really hard for a helicopter to fight the gravity which is around a third of the Earth’s gravity. Thanks to this tremendous success, we now know that drones can fly on Mars and I thought it would be interesting to investigate their usefulness and explore their potential use cases.

-Alright and so these drones were made by the company Parrot. Can you tell us a bit more about them and what they do?

-Yes sure! Parrot is a French drone manufacturer. They accepted to sponsor us for the mission and in addition to that they lent us two ANAFI drones. I personally love their drones; they are really easy to use and their stability amazes me every time I make them fly.

-What is the general idea behind your experiment? What do you hope to show and what are your hypotheses?

-The general idea is to investigate the potential usefulness of drones for the human exploration of Mars.

The ANAFI drone offers the possibility of creating a 3D map of an area really easily. You first create a double grid mission above the area you want to map with the application Pix4DMapper that generates a flight plan for the drone and instructions on where to take photos. You then upload those photos on the Pix4D software and it generates a very accurate 3D map.

I thought that this possibility could be very useful for marsonauts to better plan their EVAs. I think it is important for marsonauts to take as few risks as possible and to avoid wasting energy during EVAs and maybe drones can help them find the path that best meets those requirements.

I hope to show that using a 3D map during the preparation of the EVA and the drawing of the itinerary makes the EVA less dangerous, stressful and/or physically demanding for my crewmates.

-So, let’s dive deeper here; what is the protocol? How do you carry out this experiment to verify your hypotheses?

-Ok so first we perform an EVA to 3D map an area previously chosen.

Then, I generate the 3D map on my computer with the Pix4D software. Thanks to this map, I define a course with different checkpoints across the area.

After that, I randomly assign my crew mates to two groups: the treatment group and the control group. Every crew member has 15 minutes to draw their itinerary on a map. This itinerary has to check all the checkpoints defined. The difference between the groups is that the treatment group will be able to use the 3D map generated on my computer to help them draw their itinerary. The control group will have access only to the classic 2D map.

Then, every crew member has to come with me during an EVA and do the course for real. The objective for them is to follow as precisely as possible the itinerary they drew without putting them at risk. I follow them from a distance and I don’t talk to them so as not to influence their choices. The others can’t look at the path taken to avoid bias.

After the EVA, they will answer a form to evaluate their level of confidence in their itinerary, their level of stress and how tired they feel. In addition to this data, I will also collect data from their connected watch to have access to their heart beats per minute (BPM) and GPS position during the EVA. Their BPM will give me an idea of how stressed they were and how much efforts they put into reaching the checkpoints.

The GPS position will allow me to see if they followed their drawn itinerary well.

Thanks to the data collected, I hope we will be able to show that those who had the 3D map during the preparation were less stressed during the EVA and less tired after.

For now, we have repeated this protocol on two different areas: the North Ridge and the Hab Ridge. I will analyse the data collected when we will be back on Earth and we will see if drones could be potentially useful for the human exploration of Mars!

-Thank you for this insight into your drone experiment! I am personally very interested in the results; it is definitely relevant for future human exploration missions on Mars.”

That’s it for that “Focus on” I hope you enjoyed it and that you learned things! It was the last episode; I hope you enjoyed the format. As I was mentioning it in yesterday’s report, we will upload on YouTube a series of “Focus on” videos when we will be back on Earth! These videos will be accessible from our website too. Stay tuned if you want to see our “Focus on” videos!