Open Source Ingenuity

Doghouse – NASA

Article from Issue 246/2021
Author(s):

Watching the Mars rover, maddog is delighted to observe that the small helicopter it carries named Ingenuity has many off-the-shelf components and runs under Linux using free and open source software.

In the middle of the night a friend sent me a message about NASA designing a heavier-than-air drone named Ingenuity to fly on the planet Mars. Even though I had finished my article for this month I knew I had to scrap it and write about Ingenuity, built mostly with off-the-shelf components and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) which has several real-world (and even Mars-world) ramifications.

The Mars rovers are machines that "have to work." The cost of designing them, launching them, and managing them is tremendous. Not working after all of that expense and time is something that needs to be avoided at all costs.

Plus the operating environment on Mars is so unlike anything on Earth that extra care has to be taken with every component. The air is very thin, only 1/100 of the density of the Earth. The gravity is only 63 percent of the Earth, and the sunlight (needed to charge the solar panels) is much weaker due to the greater distance from the Sun. Not the least of the issues are dust storms and shadows of overhanging rocks that could block the light to the solar panels and keep them from charging.

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