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Neil Abcouwer


4800 Oak Grove Drive

Pasadena, CA 91109

Neil Abcouwer

Robotics Systems Engineer


Neil Abcouwer is a Robotics Systems Engineer in the Robotic Mobility Group. He is interested in robotic mobility, manipulation, and perception and has contributed to flight software and research in each area.


M.S. Robotics, Carnegie Mellon University, 2014
B.S. Electrical and Computer Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, 2013

Professional Experience

Robotics Systems Engineer, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, 2014 - Present

Neil is currently working on:

  • Flight software for the COLDArm lunar technology demonstration, focusing on arm motor control, thermal management, and parameter and flash management
  • Integration of the COLDArm manipulator into a simulator for reinforcement learning, in collaboration with Lockheed Martin
  • On-going support for Mars2020 mission

Neil has previously worked on:

  • Flight Software:
    • Flight software for the Mars2020 Perseverance Rover
      • Developed software modules for upgraded driving, frame management, rover pose estimation, remote sensing mast backlash and torque compensation, and image and general-purpose data compression
      • Code reviews; unit, simulation, and regression testing
    • Flight-safe compression code targeted toward Astrobotic's CubeRover, in collaboration with Astrobotic Inc.
  • Research:
    • Integration of machine learning heuristics into Mars2020 navigation software for increased performance
    • Planning and mobility for the LEMUR3 robot, which uses limb and microspines to climb cliffs and lava tubes
    • Software and perception for the Mars Orbital Sample Transfer Technologies (MOSTT), for capture and processing of orbiting sample cache for Mars Sample Return
    • Avionics for the Athena rover upgrade
    • Gecko-gripper mobility for structured space environments
    • Electronics for Robosimian's CamHand
    • Kinematic mobility for the Small Body Surface Sampler and Explorer (SmalBoSSE) robot
Student Researcher, The Robotics Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, 2012 - 2014
  • Constructed, programmed and operated four omnidirectional co-planar manufacturing research robots
  • Developed algorithms for localization, multi-robot coordination, and distributed visual servoing of large assemblies
  • Designed electronics and firmware for hybrid passive-active linear manipulator tool and other mechatronic devices
Teaching Assistant, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, 2012 - 2014
  • Taught class and lab sessions, evaluated projects, tests, and team progress for classes in robotics and engineering

Research Interests

  • Robotic Mobility
  • Robotic Manipulation
  • Perception
  • Motor Control
  • Software Development
  • Software Frameworks
  • Software Testing
  • Safety-Critical Systems


  1. Mark Maimone, Neil Abcouwer, PJ Rollins, Evan Hilgemann, Freddy Wang, Nikunj Patel, Alexandra Holloway, "These Wheels Are Made for Arc-ing: Two New Mobility Commands to Improve Wheel Wear Outcomes," 2023 IEEE Aerospace Conference, 10 March 2023, 07 March 2023.
  2. A. Brinkman, J. Karras, D. Zhu, N. Abcouwer, T. Brown, G. Kubiak, A. Umali, L. Tse, J. Zitkus, R. Mccormick, "Leveraging Ingenuity Software and Avionics to Enable Robotic Arm Sampling for COLDArm," 2023 IEEE Aerospace Conference, Big Sky, MT, USA, pp. 1-9, 04 March 2023.
  1. Shreyansh Daftry, Neil Abcouwer, Tyler Del Sesto, Siddarth Venkatraman, Jialin Song, Lucas Igel, Amos Byon, Ugo Rosolia, Yisong Yue, Masahiro Ono, "MLNav: Learning to Safely Navigate on Martian Terrains," IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters (RA-L), 07 March 2022.
  2. S. Brooks, T. Litwin, J. Biesiadecki, N. Abcouwer, T. Del Sesto, M. McHenry, S. Myint, P. Twu, D. Wai, "Testing Mars 2020 Flight Software and Hardware in the Surface System Development Environment," IEEE Aerospace Conference, 01 March 2022.
  3. Neil Abcouwer, Mark Maimone, Freddy Wang, Evan Hilgemann, Alexandra Holloway, Anna Sabel, Nik Patel, "These Wheels Are Made For Arc-ing: Two New Mobility Commands To Improve Wheel Wear Outcomes," Flight Software Workshop, Laurel, MD, USA, 07 February 2022.
  1. R. Mukherjee, B. Chamberlain Simon, K. Wehage, J. Mayo, P. Ohta, A. Brinkman, J. Gross, W. Ubellacker, R. Smith, M. Dolci, N. Abcouwer, K. Junggon, "Testbeds and Technologies for Potential Mars Orbital Sample Capture and Manipulation," 2018 IEEE, 10 March 2018.