JPL TABBED TO DEVELOP MINIATURE ROBOTS FOR TOMORROW'S SOLDIERS

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
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 8, 1998
     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-
month, $4-million contract. 
     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 
hostile forces.
      "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 
Program.
     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 
new area.
     
     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 
interface). 
     Building on designs created during a six-month, $400,000 
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 
of 1999. 
     More information on JPL's robotics activities is available 
on the Internet at http://RMET.jpl.nasa.gov/RMET/index.html .
                              #####

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