Jet Propulsion Laboratory
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Richard Volpe is the acting Chief Technologist of the Engineering and Science Directorate. The directorate is home to the large majority of engineers and scientists at JPL. The technology community of this directorate develops new capabilities in response to mission needs and science objectives for investigation of the earth, the planets, and the cosmos.
Richard Volpe was Manager of the Mobility and Robotic Systems Section (347) of the Autonomous Systems Division from 2004 - 2021. The section was doubled in size to a team of over 150 robotics engineers doing research and spaceflight implementation of robotic systems for Roving, Digging, Ballooning, Drilling, and other modes of in-situ planetary exploration. Key capabilities have included vision sensor processing, advanced controls man-machine interfaces, simulation, and system design. Richard’s research interests include: natural terrain mobile robots, real-time sensor-based control, manipulation, robot design, software architectures, and path planning.
Also, from 2007-2008, Richard joined the Phoenix Mars Mission Robotic Arm operations team, as additional duty. In this role he was one of a small team of engineers controlling the motion of the robotic arm to enable science activities including digging soil and ice samples and delivering them to onboard instruments.
From 2001 through 2004, Richard served as the manager of Mars Regional Mobility and Subsurface Access in JPLs Space Exploration Technology Program Office. In addition to guiding technology development for future robotic exploration of Mars and the Moon, he has been actively involved in 2003 & 2011 rover mission development, and 2007 lander mission operations. This has included managing internal JPL rover technology development, as well as external university research funded by the Mars Technology Program .
Richard received his M.S. (1986) and Ph.D. (1990) in Applied Physics from Carnegie Mellon University, where he was a US Air Force Laboratory Graduate Fellow. His thesis research concentrated on real-time force and impact control of robotic manipulators. In December 1990, he became a Member of the Technical Staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. Until 1994, he was a member of the Remote Surface Inspection Project, investigating sensor-based control technology for telerobotic inspection of the International Space Station. Starting in 1994, he led the development of Rocky 7, a next generation mobile robot prototype for extended-traverse sampling missions on Mars. In 1997, he received a NASA Exceptional Achievement Award for this work, which led to the design concepts for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers mission. In 1999 and 2000, he served as the System Technologist for the Athena-Rover, then part of a 2003 Mars Sample Return Project. Until mid 2001, he was the Principal Investigator for the CLARAty and Long Range Science Rover Research Projects.
Ph.D. in Applied Physics (1990) from Carnegie Mellon University
Research Area: Robot arm force control and obstacle avoidance.
Research Advisor: Prof. Pradeep Khosla
M.S. in Physics (1986) from Carnegie Mellon University
B.S. in Physics (1984) from Loyola College Maryland
Senior Thesis: Computer Control of a Robot Arm.
Chief Technologist (acting), Engineering & Science Directorate
Section Manager, Mobility and Robotics Systems (2004-present)
Corresponding Co-Chair, IEEE RAS Space Robotics Technical Committee (2010-present)
Robotics Program Manager, Mars Technology Program (2001-2004)
System Engineer, Athena Rover Project (1998-2001)
CLARAty PI, Coupled Layer Architecture for Robotic Autonomy (12/99-8/01)
Long Range Science Rover
Task manager (3/99-8/01)
Cognizant Eng. (3/95-3/99)
Manipulation Lead (10/93-3/95)
Remote Surface Inspection sensor-based controls lead (12/90-10/93)
Natural terrain mobile robots, real-time sensor-based control, manipulation, robot design, software architecture, and path planning.
JPL Level-A Bonus Award 2003
US Patent 1997
Ten time NASA Class 1 New Technology Innovator 1995-1998.
NASA Exception Achievement Medal, 1997.
JPL Notable Organizational Value-Added Team Award, 1997.
Best Video Award, IEEE International Conference on Robotics
and Automation 1994. (video)
US Air Force Laboratory Graduate Fellowship, 1987-1990.
Research Assistantship, Carnegie Mellon University, 1986-1987.
Teaching Assistantship, Carnegie Mellon University, 1984-1986.
Summer Research Assistantship, The Hubble Space Telescope
Science Institute, 1984.
Loyola College Physics Medal, 1984.
Induction into Sigma Pi Sigma the Physics Honor Society, 1984.