There and Back Again: The Migration of Robotic Arm Technology from Mars to Earth


The Lunar Orbiting Laser Altimeter (LOLA) on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) launched in 2009 was NASA's first multi-beam lidar. LOLA has produced unprecedented topographic maps of the Lunar surface. LOLA used a Diffractive Optical Element (DOE) to produce five beams from a single laser for enhanced topographic spatial resolution.

We have filed a patent application for a simple and flexible imaging device to produce large arrays of beams for topographic mapping and 3D robotic vision. Recently, our imaging device was deployed in a 16-beam airborne swath mapping lidar. We will describe this system called the Airborne Lidar Surface Topography mission Simulator (ALISTS) and results.

altWhile robotic arm applications on Earth have existed for decades, it’s only in the last few years that manipulation jobs have moved far outside the factory walls. We now look for arms capable of tasks such as ordinance disposal, underwater operations, and disaster response. It is in this last area that JPL will immediately apply all its lessons learned from the Mars surface missions to a terrestrial application, DARPA’s Robotic Challenge.

This Webinar will provide an overview of the challenges of the design and use of Curiosity’s Robotic Arm and will be followed by a description of those same challenges faced by JPL’s RoboSimian robot, which will compete in the Robotic Challenge. In particular, we’ll look at what makes those robotic systems kissing cousins as well as worlds apart.

Also, Debora Wolfenbarger, Technology Transfer Specialist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will discuss the exciting technologies being developed at JPL.

Brett Kennedy, Supervisor, Robotic Vehicles and Manipulators Group, Cognizant Engineer, MSL Robotic Arm, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Debbie Wolfenbarger, Technology Transfer Specialist, Innovative Partnerships Program, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Click here to view the webinar.