There's an app for that!

Purdue sophomore creates iPhone app to maneuver Mars rover test double.

A sophomore in electrical engineering at Purdue, Riley Avron coded nearly 8,000 lines in 10 weeks to develop an iPhone app to accomplish the goal. Previously the test rover was controlled using a low-level but rather obtuse command-line interface.

"The app wraps this interface in a user-friendly graphical manner," he explains. "I wasn't clear on what exactly the interface should look like, so before coding a single line, I drew out a number of possible interface designs and solicited feedback from various employees."

When engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California sought an answer to the problem of maneuvering one of the Mars rover test doubles — dubbed Scarecrow — across the Mars Yard at the agency's headquarters, they turned to one of their 450 interns: Riley Avron.

It allows rover drivers to focus more on the behavior of Scarecrow — a full-scale engineering model of the Mars Science Laboratory mobility system — instead of on the mostly irrelevant methods of commanding it, Avron says.

Scarecrow includes duplicates or near-duplicates of all relevant parts from the flight version of MSL. It was tested in the Mars Yard, a Martian terrain simulation area on JPL's campus, to predict drive system response on various terrains on Mars.

JPL staff, including the team tasked with driving Curiosity on Mars, is using the app. Scarecrow's mobility system performance continues to be verified and validated.

This wasn't Avron's first internship at JPL. He started interning there after his junior year at North Hollywood (Calif.) High School. Because of his interest in the Mars project, JPL staff will keep him up-to-date on the latest news about the rover and the mission.

This project has served as an incredible learning tool, Avron says. "I did have some experience with iPhone and iPad platforms prior to the internship, but each new challenge has forced me to research and learn new ways to code on these devices."

What's in his future? Avron says he doesn't have solid plans. "I'm only entering my sophomore year so I have some time to decide. I expect to work on startup ideas, both in software and hardware fields. I figure there's no better time than in college to gamble on a crazy idea."