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NASA’s Opportunity Rover Has Developed Robot Dementia

A problem with Opportunity’s hardware means it only has short-term memory

Scientists crouch with mock-ups of three generations of Mars rovers. Curiosity is the big one. Opportunity and Spirit were based on the medium-sized one on the left. The small one is front was the Sojourner rover. (Ron Sachs/CNP/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

If NASA's Curiosity rover is the plucky new kid who is just super excited to be on Mars, the now 11-year-old Opportunity rover is the grandparent struggling as it copes with the harsh reality of its golden years.

Opportunity has a problem with its memory hardware, says the BBC, which has caused the rover to develop what sounds an awful lot like robot dementia.

Opportunity keeps getting lost, says the BBC, and getting hit with bouts of what project scientists are calling “amnesia.” The robot can only hold information in its temporary memory, similar to RAM, rather than saving it to long-term storage. This means that every time Opportunity goes to sleep, it forgets where it is. Sometimes, Opportunity stops talking to NASA scientists back on Earth. Sometimes it just puts itself to sleep.

According to Discovery News, NASA scientists think they might be about to implement a work around.

Either way, Opportunity was only originally supposed to spend 3 months on Mars. It's been there for more than 10 years, so one way or another it's had a good run.

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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