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MAPGEN: Autonomy and Decision Support

Autonomy and Decision Support is a key technology area for NASA, and USRA's Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science (RIACS) is leading the way in the development of advanced automation capabilities. Research efforts in this area seek to develop computer software and algorithms to enable progressively more independent decision-making to be made by spacecraft and robots, instead of always relying on human ground controllers for guidance. Over time, this will lead to robots, spacecraft and remote crews that can accomplish more with less communication with ground control, reducing mission costs and increasing scientific return.

Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Mission MAPGEN Software, developed by researchers at USRA in collaboration with NASA's Ames Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is a mixed-initiative activity plan generation tool that is used to develop detailed, highly efficient activity plans for controlling spacecraft. As a mixed-initiative planning tool, MAPGEN puts the user in control of guiding, monitoring, and overriding if necessary, the automated decision making that is being performed. This allows users to interactively create activity plans based on ever changing mission requirements.

Since the beginning of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission in 2004, MAPGEN has been used every day to create high quality activity plans for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers allowing mission commanders to pack more science in each day of operations. Over the course of the mission, this has resulted in an estimated increase in scientific return on investment of between 20% and 30%.

While advances in artificial intelligence for autonomy and decision support will enable new capabilities for the nation's space program, the technology also has practical application on Earth. Any complex, human guided system can benefit from the implementation of intelligent operations and planning tools. Air traffic control; satellite communications and operations systems; and aircraft flight operations management are just a few areas where such technology can be applied.


Mars exploration rover

Artist's rendering of a Mars exploration rover.