KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter successfully launched and landed on Mars early Monday morning, engineers at Garmin had lots of reasons to celebrate.
“Never in a million years, I don’t think that anyone of us ever thought that NASA would pick one of our pieces of equipment and slap it on the side of a rocket and shoot it to Mars and to use it up there,” said Jon Seitz, an engineer with Garmin. “So that’ll be a thrill that’s tough to beat.”
Seitz is describing Garmin’s LIDAR sensor technology, which uses pulses of laser beams to measure distance. On the Ingenuity aircraft, the LIDAR tech is being used as an altimeter.
“It’s a laser rangefinder. They point it at the ground, and it tells the helicopter how far it is off the ground,” Seitz said.
Seitz watched the live NASA feed Monday when mission control analysts crunched the data sent back from Ingenuity’s maiden Mars voyage.
“The loudest cheers that they got were when they announced confirmation of the altimeter data (Garmin’s LIDAR) from the drone,” Seitz explained.
Seitz said everyone on the payroll at Garmin takes pride in all of their high-tech products, but accomplishments like Monday’s are in a different category.
“There’s a piece of Garmin, there’s a piece of our design team that’s sitting on Mars and operating right now,” Seitz said. “But not only right now, but will probably sit there for 1 million years undisturbed. It just kind of blows you away.”