PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: John G. Watson
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEJune 19, 1997
"HOT WHEELS" TOY:
ANOTHER SUCCESS FROM JPL'S TECHNOLOGY AFFILIATES PROGRAM
It rocks, it rolls, it boogies. Mattel Inc.'s Hot Wheels JPL
Sojourner Mars Rover Action Pack Set, a toy version of Sojourner,
a mini-rover destined to traverse the Martian soil starting July
4, recreates the real robot's distinctive, six-wheeled, "rocker-
bogie" locomotion system. The toy, now available nationwide, is
but one example of how the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Technology
Affiliates Program works cooperatively with industry.
Through this program, corporations form strategic alliances
with JPL either to license intellectual property, as was the case
with Mattel, or to gain access to JPL's engineers and scientists
to help solve a range of technological problems. To date, more
than 120 companies, large and small, have utilized the program to
solve upwards of 200 specific technology challenges.
In short, the program provides a streamlined way for JPL,
one of 10 NASA centers around the country, to do business with
the private sector. The payoff: technologies developed for the
space program prove beneficial back on Earth and, in the case of
the Mattel toy, help educate and enthuse the public about the
"We are pleased to have forged an alliance with Mattel
through our Technology Affiliates Program," says Merle McKenzie,
manager of JPL's Commercial Technology Office. "Who could help
but become intrigued by the Mars Pathfinder mission, scheduled to
land on Mars on July 4 and set Sojourner free to explore the red
planet, after seeing this intricately accurate mini-version of
the mission's mini-rover?"
She adds, "When Mattel first approached us in 1995 with the
idea of creating a toy based on Sojourner, the Technology
Affiliates Program significantly streamlined the process of
licensing this technology. The program is designed precisely to
cut red tape and get things moving along swiftly."
JPL is managed by the California Institute of Technology,
which serves as the party of record on all patents developed at
JPL and works closely with JPL on Technology Affiliates Program
Mars Pathfinder is one of the first missions in a new,
decade-long NASA program of robotic exploration to expand
scientists' knowledge of Mars. The unifying theme throughout the
decade is the search for water, which is a key requirement for
life. Sojourner, the first rover ever to explore the Martian
surface, will not only take close-up images of the Martian
terrain but also will measure the composition of the rocks and
surface soil, determining their mineralogy.
Sojourner's many innovations include miniature electronics
and the ability to decide on its own whether to climb over rocks
up to its own height of 0.3 meters (one foot) or to
circumnavigate larger ones. Its "rocker-bogie" suspension is
unique in that it does not use springs. Rather, its joints bend
and conform to the contour of the ground, providing the greatest
degree of stability for traversing rocky, uneven surfaces. A six-
wheeled chassis was chosen over a four-wheeled design because it
provides greater stability.
Many of these fascinating features have been captured in the
Mattel toy. "We hope this does indeed turn out to be a big hit,"
says McKenzie. "After all, what better way to inform the public
about the space program and get everyone enthused about the
marvelous technology it has inspired?"
For further information about JPL's Technology Affiliates
Program, visit their web site at