MEDIA RELATIONS 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 RELEASESeptember 8, 1998
JPL TABBED TO DEVELOP MINIATURE ROBOTS FOR TOMORROW'S SOLDIERS
The day when tactical mobile robots will serve as military
"point men," surveying enemy terrain during combat operations, is
one step closer to reality with the selection of NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, by the U.S. Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to lead a consortium to create a
miniature tactical mobile robot for urban operations.
JPL was selected from among 50 finalists to receive the 18-
Drawing on robotics technologies developed for the space
program, the "backpackable" microrover will break new ground in
small robot size (under 40 centimeters or 16 inches in length),
light weight, maneuverability and real-time perception for
navigation and reconnaissance.
"We are pleased to have this opportunity to contribute to
U.S. defense technologies and to exploit valuable synergy between
space and military robotic applications in unstructured terrain,"
said Charles Weisbin, manager of the Robotics and Mars
Exploration Technology unit in JPL's Technology and Applications
Programs Directorate. "The vehicle developed by this effort will
be the vanguard of a new generation of miniature, mobile,
intelligent sensor systems."
The microrover will be small enough to be easily carried and
deployed by a single soldier, yet rugged enough to survive
impacts when tossed over fences, window sills and other barriers.
It will be able to climb stairs and other obstacles quickly, and
be capable of conducting detailed surveying and mapping of indoor
and outdoor environments, and detection and localization of
"We have spent a lot of time and energy analyzing
employment concepts for portable robotic platforms over the last
few years and are convinced of their revolutionary impact on
dismounted warfare," said Lieutenant Colonel John Blitch, former
chief of unmanned systems at U.S. Special Operations Command and
current program manager for DARPA's Tactical Mobile Robotics
In support of building-clearance operations, a tactical
mobile robot could be tossed in a doorway, pointed down a hall
and commanded to scurry along the wall or climb multiple flights
of stairs until side-looking laser sensors detected a doorway or
branching hallway. It could detect hostile entities, deactivate
booby traps, deliver payloads or simply stop and listen with its
acoustic/vibration system before continuing reconnaissance of the
Outdoors, the robot could drive and hide along the curb of a
street to look around the next intersection. It could drive in a
ditch, pausing occasionally to listen, or be deployed to use the
video motion detection capability, acting as a wing-man to cover
the soldier's flank.
Consortium members and their contributing areas of expertise
include IS Robotics, Somerville, MA (robotic platforms);
Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh (perception); the Oak
Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN (map-making), and the
University of Southern California, Los Angeles (operator
Building on designs created during a six-month
first-phase contract completed last year, the consortium is now
contributing to DARPA's Tactile Mobile Robotics Program during a
second phase by developing the miniature rover prototype.
Completion of this second-phase project is scheduled for the end
More information on JPL's robotics activities is available
on the Internet at http://RMET.jpl.nasa.gov/RMET/index.html .