MOFFET FIELD, Calif. – 01 June 11
USRP Intern's Vision of NASA Exploration
By: Heather L. Ogletree
Vision lights our paths and paves the way for the future. At NASA’s Ames Research Facility, the Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) has a vision for the future of space exploration involving autonomous planetary rovers, which can guide themselves through the advent of vision software for robot navigation.
According to IRG Director Terry Fong, “The NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group uses computer vision on its mobile robots to detect obstacles, to determine location, and to build 3 D models of the environment.”
This spring, Luis Bill, a junior at San Francisco State University, joined NASA Mentor Fong and the IRG team as an Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) intern for 15 weeks. While at Ames, Bill continued the IRG vision by developing algorithms to improve autonomous robot driving in natural terrain.
Bill noted, “My current project will be of great help for future robotics missions.” The robots that IRG design enable maximum efficiency on future missions to the Moon and productivity of human explorers by performing tasks that are highly repetitive, long duration, or tedious. In particular, these autonomous robots will be able to perform tasks such as advance scouting of planets which, in turn, will help prepare crews for exploration activities.
“Seeing math and physics in action to compute the [continuous] path the robot has to follow to get a goal is...like magic to me,” said Bill. He also made sure to point out the positive impact of algorithms in reducing traversability costs. He indicated that these algorithms allow the robots to collect more precise data with more efficiency — the robot is less likely to get stuck or damaged.
Bill, himself, is a man on a mission. From the start, his vision included being part of USRP. “It took me three years to get accepted into USRP. To accomplish this I had to work even harder on my personal statement, robotics projects, and I also took classes from other majors that I knew would help me get more prepared for this internship,” said the electrical engineering major.
Before joining the ranks of USRP, Bill had completed two NASA internships (NASA Robotics Academy in 2008 and Robotics Boot Camp in 2010), tutored fellow students in math and physics through the MESA program while at Skyline College (a 2 year institution), served as the president of SPHE, and spent time mentoring middle school students with Youth Adelante and Science Corps programs. Bill, who is originally from Panama City, Panama, serves as an example of a student that started his way at a community college, worked hard, and found a spot at NASA through his USRP internship.
Now that he has completed his time with USRP Bill said, “This project taught me that discipline and hard work can do wonders.” Next, Bill plans to go “directly into graduate school and earn a master’s degree in controls after completing my undergraduate degree. Once I complete my masters, I will be working on my Ph.D. in robotics. After that, NASA will be the place to be.”