Robot finds four meteorites

With four days left to explore a remote area in eastern Antarctica, a robot using artificial intelligence software has identified four meteorites.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute on Jan. 17 deployed a robot named Nomad to try to identify and classify meteorites in Antarctica. The project, funded by NASA's Cross Enterprise Technology Development Program and aided by National Science Foundation researchers, had set out to see if a computer could autonomously find, sort and classify materials as meteorites.

On Jan. 22, Nomad identified the first meteorite. Just a few days later, Nomad had found three more, said Anne Watzman, university spokeswoman. Nomad's computers have the ability to learn from experience. Each time Nomad examines a rock, more information is added to the robot's database, she said.

The technology tested on Nomad could be used to enhance robots and spacecraft used by NASA for planetary exploration.

In addition to the scientific success of Nomad, Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute recently was awarded a three-year, $500,000 grant from NASA to enhance the Big Signal (www.bigsignal.net), an interactive World Wide Web site that features the daily activities of Nomad. The grant will be used to create EventScope, which will allow Internet users to feel as if they are conducting their own scientific explorations when NASA sends rovers to other planets.

For more information about Nomad, check out www.ri.cmu.edu/~meteorobot2000/.

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