Autonomous Planetary Mobility technologies enable rovers to make decisions and avoid hazards on their own. Below are examples of the way in which the Mars Science Laboratory mission benefits from past technological development and contributes new capabilities.
- a six-wheel drive
- a rocker-bogie suspension system
- scene-scanning instruments mounted to a mast that assist in selecting exploration targets and driving routes
- autonomous navigation software innovations that enable rovers to drive without human intervention to a desired location
The mobility system is essentially the same; the primary difference is that Mars Science Laboratory is the size of a miniature compact car - quite a bit larger than the golf-cart-sized Mars Exploration Rovers.
In terms of autonomy, Mars Science Laboratory benefits from major improvements uploaded and tested on the Mars Exploration Rovers, including global path planning and visual target tracking. Those capabilities were originally validated through the Mars Technology Program's Focused Technology work before Spirit and Opportunity tested and proved them successful on Mars. This software represents a leap forward for rover "smarts"--before, rovers could only plan one or two moves on their own; now, current and future rovers can look ahead and plan a path to a spot 164 feet (50 meters) away, evading surface features like large rocks that they determine to be obstacles along the way.
Mars Science Laboratory's large size gives the rover advantages in mobility. For instance, it has a ground clearance of slightly more than 24 inches (60 centimeters), which enables it to climb over larger rocks than ever before. This capability is further enhanced by the rocker-bogie system, which keeps the rover in balance. It is able to withstand a tilt of 45 degrees in any direction, but is prevented from tilting more than 30 degrees by its on-board fault protection system.