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Nasa's Mars Curiosity Rover Drives Itself With Autonomous Navigation System

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Trundling along the red planet all on its own, Nasa's Mars Curiosity rover seems to be developing a personality all of its own.

Not content with conducting experiments, taking selfies and even singing 'Happy Birthday' to itself, now the martian bot has taken another step towards autonomy and has started driving on its own.

Up until now, Curiosity has been at the whim of its Earth-bound Nasa controllers who have decided the best route for it as it heads towards its primary mission destination of Mount Sharp.

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On Tuesday all this changed when its autonomous navigation system took over, a move that should allow it to cover ground much quicker.

The 'autonav' system means Curiosity can analyse routes quicker than operators on the ground.

Mark Maimone, rover mobility engineer and rover driver at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said: "Curiosity takes several sets of stereo pairs of images, and the rover's computer processes that information to map any geometric hazard or rough terrain.

"The rover considers all the paths it could take to get to the designated endpoint for the drive and chooses the best one."

The drive on Tuesday, the mission's 376th Martian day, or "sol," took Curiosity across a depression where ground-surface details had not been visible from the location where the previous drive ended.

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The drive included about 10 meters of autonomous navigation across hidden ground as part of a day's total drive of about 141 feet 43 meters.

Driver, John Wright, said: "We could see the area before the dip, and we told the rover where to drive on that part.

"We could see the ground on the other side, where we designated a point for the rover to end the drive, but Curiosity figured out for herself how to drive the uncharted part in between.

The latest drive brought the distance traveled since leaving Glenelg to 0.86 miles.

The remaining distance to the Mount Sharp entry point is about 4.46 miles along a "rapid transit route."

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