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J. (Bob)  Balaram's Picture
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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Member of:
3471 Section Staff
J. (Bob) Balaram
Principal Member of Technical Staff
(Short description>>)

Bob Balaram is a Principal Member of Staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. in Computer & Systems Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1985 where his doctoral thesis addressed the control of highly non-linear systems. He has been at JPL ever since and works in the area of Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL), Modeling & Simulation, Telerobotics Technology, and Mobility Concept Development.

Currently Bob is researching precision landing methods for Mars as well as advanced simulation techniques for planetary EDL. He led the team that developed a high-fidelity EDL simulator that recently received a NASA Group Achievement Award and has been adopted for use by the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory mission. He is also the co-developer of a simulator used for planetary rover simulation. Bob has led design teams for developing Mars aerobot (aerial robot) perception systems, a deep-diving Venus balloon gondola concept, and balloon-carried imaging sondes for deployment at Venus. He was also a co-developer of the Rocky-7 rover platform  a prototype and precursor to the new generation of rovers such as those on the MER mission.

His work in rovers spans machine vision for rover hazard detection, improved methods for rover position determination, rover system re-configuration, and software system architectures for rover development. Previously Bob was the lead engineer for machine intelligence on the JPL Telerobot Testbed where he led a team responsible for coordinating multiple robotic manipulators and vision-based sensing to achieve automation of servicing operations such as module change-out and assembly. He subsequently worked on the Remote Surface Inspection for the Space Station in the area of real-time, vision-based flaw detection of damage caused to the Space Station over its lifetime in orbit.

Dr. Balaram is the recipient of 2 NASA Awards and 8 New Technology awards. He is a member of the IEEE and Sigma Xi.

Ph.D Computer & Systems Engineering. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1985.
Thesis: Suboptimal Control of Nonlinear Systems
M.S. Computer & Systems Engineering. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1982.
Thesis: Analysis of Boiling Water Nuclear Reactor Stability Margins
B.Tech. Mechanical Engineering. Indian Institute of Technology, 1980.


  • Principal Member Technical Staff. Mobility & Robotics Section. JPL. Current.
  • Technical Group Leader. Tele/Autonomous Systems Group, JPL. 1988-1991.
  • Instructor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, 1985.

Research & Systems Development Experience

  • Beyond Monte-Carlo - Statistical Verification and Validation of Space Systems. Principal Investigator, DRDF, JPL. Current. Developing methods using the Perron-Frobenius operator to determine the probability distribution functions arising from parametric uncertainty.
  • Lunar Navigation Study Lead. Sept 2008-Feb 2009. Led a team investigating new technologies required for Lunar navigation, especially as related to global surface operations.
  • Sherpa System Principal Investigator, Mars Base Technology Program NRA, JPL, May 2004 - July 2008. Developed novel concept for precision delivery of Scout-class payloads to Mars.
  • EDL Modeling & Simulation Task Lead, Mars Technology Development Program, JPL, September 2000-June 2008. Led a team of engineers to develop a real-time spacecraft simulator for use in Phoenix and Mars Science Laboratory mission operations, and for technology related to precision landing.
  • Dynamics Simulation Task Lead, Develop New Products (DNP) Process, JPL, 2000-2003} Led a team of engineers to develop a generic planetary Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) simulator for use by various JPL planetary missions.
  • Simulation System Engineer, Spacecraft Simulation, JPL, 1999 - Present Implementing real-time, high-fidelity simulation algorithms for rovers and spacecraft, including configuration kinematics of rover in contact with terrain; distributed spacecraft system simulations architectures; and aerodynamics/systems modeling for spacecraft entry, descent and landing.
  • Perception System Engineer}, Rover Technology Program, JPL. 1995-2000 Designed and implemented real-time perception system for Long Range Science Rover (Rocky-7) including novel state estimation method for improved rover odometry, real-time stereo-vision for obstacle detection, goal/landmark verification, range map analysis for manipulation hazard avoidance, and soil/rock detection for science instrument placement. Developed predictive state, constraint estimation methods, and a traction/stability metric for reconfigurable robots used in all-terrain exploration.
  • Study Lead, Venus Geoscience Aerobot Study (VEGAS). JPL, 1997-1998. Led development by a multi-disciplinary team of a gondola concept for a Venus Geoscience Aerobot.
  • Study Lead, Gondola and Science Instruments System, Mars 2001 Aerobot/Balloon Study (MABS), JPL, 1996. Led development by a multi-disciplinary team of a 2001 Mars aerobot mission gondola concept.
  • Cognizant Engineer, Planetary Aerobot Sensing/Perception System, JPL, 1996-1998. Led team to build on-board navigation and perception system for the Planetary Aerobot Testbed. Designed aerobot localization methods involving combination of inertial, imaging, celestial, ranging and radio-metric sensors, and corresponding sensing strategies to operate on Venus and Mars. Designed and led team in implementation of inertial sensor suite for aerobot platform tilt and inertial motion estimation, image-based ground-track motion estimation algorithms and software.
  • Cognizant Engineer, Remote Surface Inspection System, JPL, 1991-1995} Led development of robotic system for supervised inspection of space structures using a sensor rich package mounted on a multi-arm robotic platform. Overall cognizance of design, integration and test of system, operator tele-presence workstation, automated inspection system, and multi-arm controller. Designed sensor system, machine-vision algorithms and software, and VME Pipelined Processor hardware system for robotic inspection using imaging cameras, active lighting, and differencing/registration methods for change detection. Integrated eddy current sensing for surface crack detection.
  • Cognizant Engineer, Run-Time Control Subsystem, Telerobot Testbed, JPL, 1985-1991. Led a team that designed and implemented the run-time sequence planning and control subsystem for a multi-arm robotic system targeted for space platform servicing applications. Subsystem capabilities included 3-D world-modeling of objects, fast collision checking, multi-arm path-planning using hypercube multi-processor, sensor-based force/motion trajectory parameter synthesis, coordination of machine-vision and motion control, and interfaces to AI task planners and diagnosticians.

Flight Project and Research Task Involvement

Flight Projects:
2011 - Mars Science Laboratory
2007 - Phoenix Mars Lander

Research Tasks:
Cluster-Based MSL Simulation Data Manager For Design & Performance Space Exploration
Combined EDL-Mobility Analysis Trade Study Tool (CEMAT)
DSENDS Enhancement
DSENDS for AutoNav IPP
DSENDS Validation
High-Resolution Terrain Database for DSENDS
Telerobot Testbed

  • high-fidelity physics-based modeling & simulation
  • advanced Monte-Carlo and related methods for verification and validation of space systems
  • entry, descent and landing
  • applying simulation technology for EDL, rovers, autonomy validation and advanced design environments
  • methods for rover and aerobot (aerial robot) navigation
  • telerobotic systems

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