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Charter of the Mobility and Robotic Systems Section


The Mobility & Robotic Systems Section (347) reports through the Autonomous Systems Division (340) to the Engineering and Science Directorate (300). Section 347 is chartered to develop, mature, and bring to flight, robotics technology for in-situ exploration of the solar system. The Section also provides robotics expertise for flight hardware and software implementation, and mission operations support. Work is performed by five Technical Groups: Robotic Hardware Systems, Robotic Software Systems, Mobility and Manipulation, Computer Vision, and Advanced Robotic Controls.

Organizational Objectives

Section 347 strives to:

  • Develop and demonstrate new robotic concepts for in-situ planetary exploration.
  • Mature technologies which enable and enhance robotic system capabilities.
  • Capture matured technologies as a supported product line which is leveraged internally and externally to advance the state-of-the-art.
  • Team with internal and external partners to facilitate bi-lateral technology transfer and outreach.
  • Infuse robotic technologies into JPL missions through transfer and direct participation in spacecraft development and mission operations.

These processes will be applied to advancing robotics in areas of strategic importance to NASA. Specifically, the section endeavors to build autonomous systems which enable:

  • Driving: long-range, continuous mobility over rough terrain, with wheeled and legged vehicles.
  • Flying: aerial mobility in planetary atmospheres for regional access and observation below obscuring cloud layers.
  • Landing: accurate and safe touchdown using descent imagery for determination of position and velocity of the spacecraft, and quality of the local terrain.
  • Subsurface Access: penetration through regolith and ice using controlled methods of drilling and melting.
  • Instrument Placement: single-command approach & instrument placement on designated science targets.
  • Sampling: sample acquisition and handling through digging, grasping, transfer, and processing of environmental materials.
  • Assembly: construction of in-space and surface structures which enable science operations and support human activities.

General Responsibilities

Section 347 is the home of robotics development and implementation at JPL. As such, it is responsible for maintaining and advancing institutional capabilities in the following key technical areas:

  • Robot systems' software architecture and implementation
  • Machine vision and sensor processing algorithms
  • Mobility and manipulation control algorithms
  • Advanced electro-mechanical systems development
  • Integrated simulation of landing and mobility
  • Human to robot interfaces
  • Robot design, integration, test, and operation

To support these endeavors, Section 347 pursues partnering with both internal and external teams to obtain funding from NASA and non-NASA sponsors. Within NASA, this includes flight projects as well as technology development programs. Outside of NASA, DoD funding is invaluable as a source of synergistic development support. As both a cause and result of successful funding and partnering, and in support of the key technical areas, Section 347 maintains core infrastructure and products necessary to its work:

  • MarsYard: an outdoor test area simulating the surface of Mars.
  • Research Robots: a fleet of research rovers, many manipulators, and several airships.
  • Laboratories: several large, and numerous small laboratory spaces distributed through buildings 198, 316, 251, 107, and 82.
  • Software: several mature software systems, including two that have been awarded NASA Software of the Year.
  • Drone Yard: an outdoor test area dedicated to safely flying drones.

Planning and coordination of the use of infrastructure and technical expertise to meet funding and partnering obligations is the work of the Section Manager, as is overall personnel safety and compliance with NASA/JPL business practices. A Business Operations Group within the Section provides administrative support. Work execution and personnel development are the responsibility of Technical Group Supervisors who report to the Section Manager. Strategic planning, proposals, and project/program interactions are further supported by Section Staff members who also report directly to the Section Manager.