December 18, 2002
"Turn right. Now climb. Easy does it." Just like a computer game player, Robert Hogg lurks over the controls, commanding a robot to travel and avoid obstacles. But Hogg's robot is not part of a virtual game. The JPL engineer and other researchers are testing "Urbie," an urban robot designed for mobile military reconnaissance in city terrain, to travel up several flights of stairs. Urbie's features may assist police, emergency and rescue personnel in hazardous and hostile situations.
Hogg's boyhood passion for robots led him to an internship and then a career at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. In just five years at JPL, Hogg has already worked on some of the latest robotic vehicles to explore our own planet and beyond.
Ideas with Lots of Legs
Recently, Hogg and a team of students created the "spider-bot," a miniature robot resembling the "itsy bitsy spider" in the popular nursery rhyme. But instead of crawling "up the water spout" as the rhyme goes, the spider-bot has greater ambitions, as does its creator.
The micro robot is designed to be part of a network of autonomous robots that one day may chart terrain on Mars, or crawl into tight spaces to make repairs on the International Space Station.
Hogg's interest in robots began when he was 11 and won a local programming contest based on the computer game 'Robot War.' In this game, he designed his own computer program that developed and mobilized an on-screen robot without joysticks or mouse controls. As a result, Robert wanted to learn more about robots. He wanted to know how to build and program them to be autonomous, independent entities, designed to help humans in a variety of tasks.
Thus, it's not surprising that among his many responsibilities, he still finds time to mentor young kids in building their own robots. Last year, his team went on to win a regional competition and participate in a national competition that took them to Epcot, in Walt Disney World, Orlando, Fla.
"Hogg's Hollow" to "Hogg Heaven"
Hogg credits his dad, a technologist and educator, with sparking his interest in computers at the early age of 5, when he brought home a used computer for $5,500. The huge system is archaic now, but at the time it was revolutionary.
In exchange for helping his dad lug the monstrosity to school and back, Hogg was able to play computer games and test brand-new programs.
Hogg's parents were so interested in educating their only son that they established their own preschool called Hogg's Hollow, at which Hogg was the first attendee. The school grew and branched off to form a comprehensive elementary, middle and high school, called Pinewood Academy, located right around the corner from JPL in La Canada. Hogg attended Pinewood Academy for more than 14 years, often visiting JPL as a child, listening to engineers and scientists discuss various missions and programs.
Hogg is grateful for how his parents ran Pinewood Academy.
"The school was excellent because of its extracurricular activities," he said. "Students learned by doing, instead of just learning theories that they could not imagine ever using. So when I headed off to college, I knew exactly what I was after and studied with the purpose of actually using the data in the future. This was very different from a lot of students who first get to college, then figure out what to do with themselves a few years into it."
After high school, Hogg went on to Pasadena City College and then to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he graduated with honors in 1998 with a degree in Computer Science and Engineering.
While still at UCLA, Hogg began his exciting career at JPL as an intern in the summer of 1997, on the Deep Space I Flight Software Team. It is here where he worked with JPL researchers to develop the onboard flight software the mission used to adequately test its 12 advanced, high-risk technologies in space.
"I am very lucky," he says. "Through their efforts in education, my parents gave me a great start. Nowhere else compares to JPL. It's amazing that I get to do what I love to do every day."
Media Contact: JPL/Carolina Martinez (818) 354-9382