Washington: Scientists have developed a hybrid part-human, part-machine visual system, which uses a mobile phone camera, to search for evidence of past or present life in planetary analogue sites on Earth.
Patrick McGuire from the Freie Universitat, Berlin, and other researchers from the Freie Universitat, West Virginia University, the Centro de Astrobiologia in Madrid and the University of Malta have been working for over a decade towards giving more scientific autonomy to robotic rovers in choosing the most promising sites for geological and astrobiological investigation.
In the Cyborg Astrobiologist system, initially the human astrobiologist takes images of his/her surroundings using a mobile phone camera.
These images are sent to via Bluetooth to a laptop, which processes the images to detect novel colours and textures and communicates back to the astrobiologist the degree of similarity to previous images stored in the database.
Tests of the Cyborg Astrobiologist system have been conducted at field sites with similarities to landscapes that are found on Mars, imaging gypsum cliffs, red-bed sandstones, limestones, mudstones and coal beds.
Some rocks have been partly covered with lichen, a life-form that can possibly spread to/from other planets. Matching images with similar features in images from the database has been very successful.
The results are currently under review for publication by the International Journal of Astrobiology.