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How NASA Built Its Mars Rovers

Planetary rovers are one of the most amazing exploration tools humanity has ever seen

8 min read
Illustration by Frank Chimero
Illustration: Frank Chimero

Pete Theisinger stands at the back of the mission control room, his round, mustachioed face frozen in a nervous grin. Hunkered down at long rows of computer consoles, his engineers sit on the edges of their chairs. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is hanging on the brink of a jubilant victory—or a devastating failure.

Then the black-and-white images appear on a big projection screen, and the room explodes in cheers. Some 200 million kilometers from Earth, a little robotic rover called Spirit, built here in Pasadena, Calif., has awakened and called home, sending images of what it is seeing. And what it is seeing is the rocky plain of Gusev Crater, in the southern highlands of Mars.

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Paying Tribute to 1997 IEEE President Charles K. Alexander

The Life Fellow was a professor at Cleveland State University

4 min read
portrait of man smiling against a light background
The Alexander Family

Charles K. Alexander, 1997 IEEE president, died on 17 October at the age of 79.

The active volunteer held many high-level positions throughout the organization, including 1991–1992 IEEE Region 2 director. He was also the 1993 vice president of the IEEE United States Activities Board (now IEEE-USA).

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Robot Learns Human Trick for Not Falling Over

Humanoid limbs are useful for more than just manipulation

3 min read
A black and white humanoid robot with a malfunctioning leg supports itself with one arm against a wall

This article is part of our exclusive IEEE Journal Watch series in partnership with IEEE Xplore.

Humanoid robots are a lot more capable than they used to be, but for most of them, falling over is still borderline catastrophic. Understandably, the focus has been on getting humanoid robots to succeed at things as opposed to getting robots to tolerate (or recover from) failing at things, but sometimes, failure is inevitable because stuff happens that’s outside your control. Earthquakes, accidentally clumsy grad students, tornadoes, deliberately malicious grad students—the list goes on.

When humans lose their balance, the go-to strategy is a highly effective one: use whatever happens to be nearby to keep from falling over. While for humans this approach is instinctive, it’s a hard problem for robots, involving perception, semantic understanding, motion planning, and careful force control, all executed under aggressive time constraints. In a paper published earlier this year in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, researchers at Inria in France show some early work getting a TALOS humanoid robot to use a nearby wall to successfully keep itself from taking a tumble.

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FAST Labs’ Cutting-Edge R&D Gets Ideas to the Field Faster

BAE Systems’ FAST Labs engineers turn breakthrough innovations into real-life impact

1 min read

FAST Labs is an R&D organization where research teams can invent and see their work come to life.

BAE Systems

This is a sponsored article brought to you by BAE Systems.

No one sets out to put together half a puzzle. Similarly, researchers and engineers in the defense industry want to see the whole picture – seeing their innovations make it into the hands of warfighters and commercial customers.

That desire is fueling growth at BAE Systems’ FAST Labs research and development (R&D) organization.

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