Smarter Instruments, Smarter Archives: Machine Learning for Tactical Science

Friday, 19 December 2014
David R Thompson, Ravi Kiran, Abigail Allwood, Alphan Altinok, Tara Estlin and David Flannery, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States
There has been a growing interest by Earth and Planetary Sciences in machine learning, visualization and cyberinfrastructure to interpret ever-increasing volumes of instrument data. Such tools are commonly used to analyze archival datasets, but they can also play a valuable real-time role during missions. Here we discuss ways that machine learning can benefit tactical science decisions during Earth and Planetary Exploration.

Machine learning’s potential begins at the instrument itself. Smart instruments endowed with pattern recognition can immediately recognize science features of interest. This allows robotic explorers to optimize their limited communications bandwidth, triaging science products and prioritizing the most relevant data. Smart instruments can also target their data collection on the fly, using principles of experimental design to reduce redundancy and generally improve sampling efficiency for time-limited operations. Moreover, smart instruments can respond immediately to transient or unexpected phenomena. Examples include detections of cometary plumes, terrestrial floods, or volcanism. We show recent examples of smart instruments from 2014 tests including: aircraft and spacecraft remote sensing instruments that recognize cloud contamination, field tests of a “smart camera” for robotic surface geology, and adaptive data collection by X-Ray fluorescence spectrometers.

Machine learning can also assist human operators when tactical decision making is required. Terrestrial scenarios include airborne remote sensing, where the decision to re-fly a transect must be made immediately. Planetary scenarios include deep space encounters or planetary surface exploration, where the number of command cycles is limited and operators make rapid daily decisions about where next to collect measurements. Visualization and modeling can reveal trends, clusters, and outliers in new data. This can help operators recognize instrument artifacts or spot anomalies in real time. We show recent examples from science data pipelines deployed onboard aircraft as well as tactical visualizations for non-image instrument data.