Atacama Field Trial 2014 Blog

Welcome to the Atacama Field Trip Blog

Welcome to the Atacama Field Trip 2014 Blog. On this page you will find interesting news and facts all around the field trial in the Chilean desert. For more information about the Chameleon project and the objectives of the field trial, please click here.

+++ successful circumnavigation of the main valley site +++

The Chameleon team: Dr. Mark Woods (SCISYS), Dr. Andy Shaw (SCISYS), SOLO (Rover, SCISYS), Dr. Iain Wallace (SCISYS), Dr. Chi Hay Tong (Uni. of Oxford) and Prof. (In-field promotion!) Mateusz Malinowski (SCISYS).


The team wrapped up the final day’s trials with successful circumnavigation of the main valley site.

Over the course of the past few days we have completed large navigation runs using all sensors with both the UAV and SOLO robot; Built 3D models of the local environment using the UAV data; Carried out initial terrain recognition tests; characterised sensors and navigation system performance in a range of environmental conditions.

More info to follow in the days ahead once the team begin to process data and return to the UK.

+++ New Video: Autonomous Rover Navigation +++

+++ Autonomous Rover Navigation +++


At the heart of the Chameleon system is the autonomous navigation system. The system has been designed to use a number of different sensor types depending on the terrain it finds itself in.

Currently it can build 3D maps and generate various types of pose information from two pairs of stereo cameras, a LIDAR, an RGB-D sensor and other standard platform sensors such as wheel odometry and an IMU sensor.

Throughout the week the team have been testing the system’s ability to switch between different navigation modes over different terrain types.

+++ Atacama Expert and local mining industry joined the team today +++


Today the team were joined by Emeritus Prof. Guillermo Chong from the Uni. Católica del Norte and colleagues from the local mining industry.

Prof. Chong is a renowned expert of the geology of the Atacama Region and beyond. His assistance has been invaluable in helping the team to select sites since 2012. Although Chameleon is targeted at specific space engineering challenges we are also aware that the data we collect may be of interest to the wider engineering and perhaps science community. Prof. Chong and his team provided a characterisation of the terrain types which are being used to evaluate sensor and platform performance.

Our guest was accompanied by a film crew who are making a documentary of his life’s work including collaboration with projects such as Chameleon. As part of this Mark was interviewed by the documentary crew.

Representatives of the global mining community in the region also came along to view the technology first hand.

+++ Footprints from 2012 in the desert terrain +++

The rover tracks and human footprints


The prime reason for using the Atacama region is it's similarity to Mars. For testing long-range autonomy this is essential as it replicates many of the terrain and visual features that we can expect to encounter on Mars.

The terrain is devoid of vegetation and any signs of human influence for over large areas. As the driest place on Earth, wind or Aeolian processes are a dominant source of erosion. The terrain is therefore extremely static, so much so that many rocks in the desert remain undisturbed for many years. An interesting side-effect of this lack of aqueous erosion is that the desert terrain will “remember” any external disturbances our perturbations. 

This image was taken today - over two years after our first visit to this site. The rover tracks and indeed our human footprints can clearly be seen in this overhead UAV image taken just recently.

+++ New Video: UAV Flight at prime site +++

+++ UAV flights to map the prime site +++

SCISYS UAV during terrain mapping


The team left Paranal today to commence UAV flights today in order to map the prime site. By flying specific patterns over the terrain ensuring sufficient overlap – high-resolution 3D maps can be constructed. These maps are used for offline planning and research in collaborative UAV/UGV exploration. Of course flying the UAV in close proximity to the rover also afforded a unique view of its progress.

+++ Shakedown and Calibration Tests +++


Shakedown tests and calibration were carried out onsite taking advantage of the benign and stable terrain - although there have been local tremors overnight which is common for this highly active tectonic zone. The rover supports a range of drive modes using several active and passive navigation sensors including stereo cameras, RGB-D and lidar and other platform instrumentation. The shakedown tests were carried out to ensure stable system performance after the shipment and reassembly of the base kit.

+++ First visit of the prime test site +++

Test site at the Atacama desert


On Monday the team travelled to the prime site selected during the reconnaissance carried out by Mark and Andy in July. Basic infrastructure and limited platform tests were carried out in preparation for the main trials later in the week.

+++ SOLO is already waiting for the team +++

Cameras on the SOLO Rover


The team were pleased to see their Field Kit and robot ready and waiting at Paranal on arrival on Sat evening.

+++ Welcome to Paranal +++

Incredible night sky in Chile


Three team members- Mark Woods, Andy Shaw and Iain Wallace from the SCISYS and a collegue from the University of Oxford have made it to Paranal to begin the trials on schedule. The final team member Mateusz Malinowski will join the team on Wed evening. As with previous trips the team were greeted with an incredible night sky which is a constant feature of the Paranal location.

+++ Alternative Route to Chile +++


Following the recent strike of a French airline the team were in danger of missing their start deadline for the field trials but thankfully alternate flights were found although a little long!

+++ Interview with Mark about the Field Trip +++


Mark Woods, Head of Autonomy and Robotics Group at SCISYS, explains the main objectives of the Atacama field trial 2014 [Read more]