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Spencer Backus


4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91101

Member of:

347B - Robotic Vehicles and Manipulators

Spencer Backus

Member of Technical Staff


Spencer Backus joined the Robotic Vehicles and Manipulators Group in 2017 and is working on projects related to grasping underwater and in space. Prior to Joining JPL he worked in the GRAB Lab at Yale University where he designed and built end effectors for aerial vehicles, a vibration based contact sensor, and modeled the biomechanics of grasping in birds. Also, during various internships he worked on projects in oceanography and aerospace at the University of Washington, Technical University of Berlin, Blue Origin, and Woods Hole Oceanographic institute.


2017 PhD Mech. Eng. Yale University
2013 MPhil Mech. Eng. Yale University
2012 MS Mech. Eng. Yale University
2010 BS Mech. Eng. F.W. Olin College of Engineering.

Research Interests

Robotic grasping and manipulation, robotic assembly and servicing, mechanism design


  1. R. Mukherjee S. Backus T. Setterfield A. Brinkman G. Agnes E. Sunada J. Kim B. Emanuel R. Smith J. Hyon L. Chappell J. Lymer A. Tadros, "A Robotically Assembled and Serviced Science Station for Earth Observations," 020 IEEE Aerospace Conference, Big Sky, MT, USA, 2020, pp. 1-15, 14 September 2020.
  2. S. Backus W. Walsh T. P. Setterfield B. Wylie J. S. Hilaire B. C. Simon R. Mukherjee, "Concept for a Distributed, Modular, In-space Robotically Assembled, RF Communication Payload in GEO," 2020 IEEE Aerospace Conference, Big Sky, MT, USA, 2020, pp. 1-17, 14 September 2020.
  3. S. Backus, R. Onishi, A. Bocklund, A. Berg, E. Contreras, A. Parness, "Design and Testing of the JPL-Nautilus Gripper for deep-ocean geological sampling," Journal of Field Robotics, 1-15, 09 February 2020.
  4. S. Backus, J. S. Izraelevitz, J. Quan, R. Jitosho, E. Slavick, & A. Kalantari, "Design and Testing of an Ultra-Light Weight Perching System for Sloped or Vertical Rough Surfaces on Mars," IEEE Aerospace Conference, 01 January 2020.
  1. S. Backus, A. Dollar, "A prismatic-revolute-revolute joint hand for grasping from unmanned aerial vehicles and other minimally Constrained Vehicles," Journal of Mechanisms Robotics, 01 April 2018.