Phonecams may help scientists hunt for Martians

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London, June 3 (ANI): Using phone cameras, scientists can one day hunt for Martian life, by looking for organic matter that could indicate life.

According to a report in New Scientist, research with this type of technology is already underway at the Mars Society's Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah, US.

A pair of astronauts at the station is testing out an imaging algorithm designed to automatically pinpoint areas of geological interest on future crewed or robotic missions to the Red Planet.

These might include unusual rock formations or signs of organic matter that could indicate life.

The algorithm should give astronauts the eyes of a trained human geologist - though, for now, it is fed its pictures via a regular Nokia camera-phone.

To test the algorithm, a team led by Patrick McGuire from the University of Chicago used the phones to take a series of pictures of the Utah desert, an area often used to stand in for Mars's dusty environment.

The photos were then transferred via a Bluetooth wireless link to a nearby laptop running the vision algorithm.

The software picks out unfamiliar areas in the photo by classifying the image according to its hue, intensity and brightness.

It needs about five images for the system to "learn" the basic lie of the land and its normal colours - and after that it only highlights new, unexpected colours as interesting.

According to McGuire, in a future mission, this algorithm could be embedded into a rover's on-board computer to let it select targets for exploration and analysis.

Currently, the algorithm works at a "child-like" level of accuracy and takes about 2 minutes to process an image, but McGuire promises later versions will be "superhuman".

The software classifies unfamiliar areas in the photo according to hue, intensity and brightness.

McGuire said that the algorithm will soon be able to detect novel textures, porosities and rock strata formations.

"They had a little bit of a 'big-finger' problem with the mobile phonecams when they were suited up, but they could still complete some useful tests," he added. (ANI)

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