Mary L. Sandy Headquarters, Washington D.C.

(Phone: 202/453-2754) Anne Watzman Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh (Phone: 412/268-2900) RELEASE: 90-69

May 17, 1990 10 a.m. EDT

CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY DEVELOPS PLANETARY ROBOT FOR NASA The "Ambler," a six-legged, 12-foot-tall, prototype, autonomous robot with the "brains" and motor skills to explore rugged terrain, is being developed for NASA by Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, Pittsburgh. NASA officials and university researchers say the Ambler's technology could bring an important new dimension to solar system exploration. Because the robot literally walks, it can traverse rough terrain by stepping over crevices and large boulders. Future operational rovers, based on the Ambler design, could reach areas on the Moon and Mars inaccessible to wheeled vehicles or too dangerous for humans. Since October 1987, three teams of researchers including Carnegie Mellon graduate and undergraduate students have been developing the algorithms, hardware and software necessary for the Ambler's locomotion, perception and planning capabilities. The Ambler represents an integrated, self-sufficient system that will be used to provide NASA mission managers with the confidence that legged vehicles are a realistic alternative to wheeled rovers for lunar and martian exploration. The aluminum Ambler has two sets of stacked legs, with three

legs per stack. These legs separately lift, advance and circulate to their original positions, much like an egg beater. "The body is propelled in a motion similar to cross-country skiing," said Carnegie Mellon's William L. "Red" Whittaker, one of three Ambler project principal investigators. "A single leg reaches out in front of the others, places itself firmly on the ground like a ski pole and then pulls the machine forward." - more -2Because the drive motors that support the Ambler's body are separate from those that propel it, the robot remains level whether it's walking on flat or rugged ground. The design provides a stable platform for sensors, scientific equipment and sample acquisition tools. Above the legs, on the stacks, are boxes containing the machine's electronics. Above that, a cross bar connects the two sections. The electrically-powered Ambler will be energy efficient and can retain its ability to walk even if it loses mobility in two legs. The Ambler requires a set of sensors for its vision system. With input from this system, the robot creates three-dimensional maps of the surrounding topography and objects it might be interested in sampling. After studying the maps, it decides in which direction to move and where to place its feet. Future versions deployed on Mars could combine the current laser sensing system with cameras, sonar and other sensors to provide the full spectrum of information needed for sampling and navigation. "These machines will have to contend with rugged and soft terrain, low temperatures, high winds, dust and equipment failure," said principal investigator Takeo Kanade. "For autonomous operation under such conditions, a good vision system is critical." The Ambler's unique software control system, called Task Control Architecture, enables the Ambler to plan for the selection of stable and safe steps. "The system is designed for robots that operate in dynamic and uncertain environments," explained principal investigator Thomas Mitchell. "It uses a variety of sensors with different ranges and resolutions to know where it is and see where it's going."

The Ambler recently took its first steps at the Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute. The next step is integration of its perception, planning and control capabilities. The Ambler represents a new generation of robots to explore and work in natural terrains. The technology also has implications for Earth-bound activities such as construction, mining, timbering, hazardous waste management and emergency response. The Ambler is one of the concepts being evaluated under NASA's Planetary Rover program, which is developing robotic and manned technology to explore lunar and planetary surfaces. The program initially is focused on unmanned rover technology with both legged and wheeled options being studied. - more -3Planetary rovers must be able to make autonomous decisions because of the long transmission times for commands between Earth and planetary surfaces -- about 45 minutes one way to Mars. "The intent for the vehicles being designed is for them to be capable of operating on their own with just a very general set of directions," notes David B. Lavery, manager of NASA's Planetary Rover Program. "Robots are not susceptible to temperature changes or radiation exposure on the long flights required to reach the planets," added Whittaker. "They can spend protracted time on a mission that would be impossible for an astronaut who requires close proximity to his or her space ship." - end -

A video clip and still photographs are available to media organizations to support this release and can be requested from NASA Headquarters by calling 202/453-8375.

Photo numbers are: color 90-HC-305 B/W 90-H-320

The 8-minute video clip will be broadcast on NASA Select television at noon EDT, Thursday, May 17. NASA Select may be accessed via Satcom F2R, transponder 13, frequency 3960 MHz, position 72 degrees West longitude, polarization vertical, audio monaural 6.8 MHz.

TO: MDS/PRA Group 1615 L Street, N.W. - Suite 100 Washington, D.C. 20036 DATE & TIME: THURSDAY, MAY 17, 1990 ORDERED BY: Edward Campion NASA Headquarters/LMD 400 Maryland Avenue, SW Washington, DC 20546 PHONE: 202/453-8400 PROJECT TITLE: Release No: 90-69 PRINT ORDER: 2256 PRINTING: Camera Ready, lst pg on NASA logo, other pages plain ENCLOSE & MAIL: Release of 3 pages MAIL DATE: FRIDAY, MAY 18, 1990 EXTRA COPIES: Deliver specified quanities to locations below:

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