AEGIS doesn’t cover general operations, which are still directed by humans. Instead it lets Curiosity pick its own targets on which to focus its ChemCam, an instrument that first vaporizes Martian rocks with a laser and then studies the resulting gases. AEGIS does so after analysing images captured by Curiosity’s NavCam, which snaps stereo images, and also using ChemCam’s own Remote Micro-Imager context camera. Once it detects a worthy target, ChemCam puts the nuclear-powered space tank’s laser to work eliminating Martian pebbles.
The paper says AEGIS now goes to work after most of Curiosity’s short drives across Mars, and “has proven useful in rapidly gathering geochemical measurements and making use of otherwise idle time between the end of the drive and the next planning cycle.” 54 slices of idle time to be precise, as that’s the number of occasions on which Curiosity’s had enough juice to run it.
The software is making good assessments of what to zap and sniff: the paper says “in a number of cases [AEGIS] has chosen rock targets which were among the same ones that were independently ranked highly by the science team for study.” The result is better-targeted work, as Curiosity was previously set to do blind targeting “at pre-selected angles with respect to the rover, without knowing what it would find at that position post-drive.” Now it’s focussing in on outcrops, a desirable target.