Astrobotic Leads NASA Study to Keep Planetary Rovers Driving

PITTSBURGH, PA – FEB 11, 2013 (Astrobotic PR) — 
William “Red” Whittaker, CEO, and Kevin Peterson, Director of Guidance, Navigation, and Control will lead a NASA-funded study to figure out how robots, such as the Mars rover Curiosity, can avoid becoming stuck by sinking in loose sand or similarly hard to distinguish terrain hazards.

The study is one of eight advanced robotics projects funded by NASA as part of the Obama administration’s National Robotics Initiative.  Astrobotic is partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to develop this technology over three years.

“Robots are increasingly effective at modeling terrain and navigating from A to B, but robots remain blind to mission-ending sinkage, slippage and buried hazards,” Whittaker said, noting one Mars rover has been entrapped by sinking in terrain and the Apollo astronauts once had to push their moon buggy out of trouble.

“Current terrain modeling is geometric, considering shape, slope and appearance of the surface,” he added. “This research embarks to sense, model and avoid non-geometric hazards such as sinkage and slippage before a robot is inextricably immobilized.”

“Today’s robots have the ability to ‘drive-by-feel’. They determine that they are slipping by feeling the ground moving under them.” Peterson said. “The challenge is to sense ahead and predict terrain properties like cohesion and internal friction angle before getting into trouble.”

More information on the award is available from NASA here.

About Astrobotic

Astrobotic Technology Inc. is a Pittsburgh based company that delivers affordable space robotics technology and planetary missions. More information is available at