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With the help of Java technology, Earthlings can now explore Mars with the program that NASA scientists use to operate the Spirit rover! The Maestro project, from JPL, allows you to navigate the 3D world of Mars from your desktop computer using advanced Java technologies including Java 3D and Java Advanced Imaging. Eight cameras aboard the rover provide a 360 degree view of the terrain - join NASA to uncover the mystery of Mars!
The places where NASA scientists have used Java for this mission mainly to manipulate and process the digital images transmitted from Mars. They have created this collaborative command and control system called Maestro, which does this combination of data visualization, collaboration, command and control. It lets them look at images and create 3-D reconstructions of terrain. It allows various experimenters to look at the scenes and topography, browse the image databases and take part in all the participation they need to do. And to do it in a remote, distributed and collaborative kind of way - so they could actually have scientists at institutions all over the world who are not only looking at the data, but also collaboratively deciding on the way the mission should proceed. One of the nice things that the JPL guys have done is that they've made a "cleaned up for civilians" version of this application available that's called Maestro.
There's a Java API called Java Advanced Imaging, that's used for the images captured by the panoramic camera - the one that producing images with excruciating detail. Those panoramas are being created by combining images from two different cameras onboard the Rover, so with the two lenses they get two images - just like you've got two eyes - so you can do a stereoscopic mapping where your brain is able to figure out how far away things are. Because they've got these stereoscopic images, they can go through a process that's called stereo-image correlation, so they can calculate for each pixel in the image how far away that picture element really is
With this information, the JPL scientists can calculate how far away each rock is, each picture element, for all of the millions of pixels in one of these large images. So you can get the depth of the image at every point. That's what a stereo camera gives you. When you've got the depth information, you can then actually build a 3-D model, the actual model of the terrain. And then you can actually map the image back onto the 3-D model. So then what you've got is a coloured, three-dimensional model of the world around you.
For the command and control system, big parts of it are this rather large Java application. There are a lot of parts involved in this. The Rover itself has a computer onboard. There's no Java in that computer now. But on the ground-side, there are a number of parts of the whole command and control chain that goes out to the Rover that's done in Java. It's not like every last piece of every subsystem is based on the Java code. Great big pieces of it are. In particular, all the data visualization, user interface front-end stuff and I believe a whole lot of the database stuff is.
If you go to the Maestro website you will find that they've got two sets of downloads. One is the Maestro application itself, and the other is a first teaser set of data from Mars. There are different versions for different platforms. There's one for Solaris, a version for Linux, there's a version for Windows and more. The fact that they've got all those versions just shows you how portable Java is, how cross-platform it is. It's exactly the same program in all of those, they are just packaged differently.
Using the 3-D model and using your mouse, you can actually manipulate the 3-D model and you can get a view as if you're standing off to the side of the landing looking back at it. You can actually wander around the landing site. You can see the rocks. You can see one of the places where one of the air bags didn't deflate completely. All of this 3-D, walk-through visualization is using standard Java APIs like Java 3-D API, Java Advanced Imaging API, Java networking APIs and the user interface APIs.
Using the Maestro version they are distributing, not only do you see a 3-D model of the terrain, you see a 3-D model of the Rover. You can actually drive the Rover on this simulated terrain. It has this "video game" aspect to it. Except that you're actually driving it on a terrain model that's real. It's real Mars data that's constructing this terrain
In terms of talent density, IQ points per square meter, it's just an amazing place. Plus, they are doing things that most people would think of as science fiction. Most people read science fiction stories about driving dune buggies on Mars. These guys actually build them. They actually know how to fly between the planets.
One of the aspects of Java that was really important to them is that it runs on a lot of platforms. If you look at JPL, they've got Solaris boxes, Linux boxes, Windows boxes, Apple boxes - it works on all of them. If you look at the standard available API libraries available for Sun, there's a huge toolkit of things that you bring to bear. There are things like the 3-D modelling APIs, the Advanced Imaging APIs, and all the user interface APIs and networking APIs. The JPL guys used all of them. They were able to leverage all of these standard tools.