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Inside this issue:

Robots study the ocean Unmanned systems on Mars Searching for Genghis Khan Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Promoting and Supporting Unmanned Systems and Robotics Across the Globe



6 – 9 AUGUST

Conference from 6 - 9 August Tradeshow from 7 - 9 August Over 500 Exhibiting Companies 40+ Countries Represented More than 8,000 Attendees


CONTENTS V O L U M E 1 N O . 4 • W I N T E R 2 0 1 1


Sea span

With funding help from the National Science Foundation, ocean communications and monitoring are spanning broader horizons through the Ocean Observatories Initiative

Page 7 14

Cooler than cool

Dartmouth researchers, and their robots, battle the elements to gather data in Greenland

Page 14 4 Essential

12 State of the art

Exploration robots’ work spans not only the globe, but the solar system


The latest in exploration robotics

18 Q & A

28 Timeline

A history of gliders

A leading expert discusses NASA’s research using Global Hawk

On the cover: Dartmouth’s Yeti robot traverses the abominable terrain on a 2010 mission in Antarctica. To see how the university’s team fared in a recent trip to Greenland with Yeti, see the story on Page 14. Photo courtesy Eric M. Trautmann, Laura Ray, Dartmouth University.

Mission Critical

Winter 2011


26 Market Report The market potential of ROVs and AUVs

36 Uncanny valley UAVs face bureaucratic and societal challenges

38 Testing, testing NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory preps robots for outerspace

Page 21 The Martian chronicler NASA’s Curiosity rover is headed to the Red Planet and is set to be the biggest, most capable planet-roving robot to date

40 Pop culture corner Popular media’s take on exploration robots

42 Technology gap Underwater robots communications challenges

44 End users Researching underwater volcanoes with ROVs

Page 30 Search for a lost empire A team of researchers from the University of California San Diego use unmanned aerial vehicles to search for the tomb of Genghis Khan

Mission Critical is published four times a year as an official publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Contents of the articles are the sole opinions of the authors and do not necessarily express the policies or opinion of the publisher, editor, AUVSI or any entity of the U.S. government. Materials may not be reproduced without written permission. All advertising will be subject to publisher’s approval and advertisers will agree to indemnify and relieve publisher of loss or claims resulting from advertising contents. Annual subscription and back issue/reprint requests may be addressed to AUVSI. Mission Critical is provided with AUVSI membership.


Mission Critical

Winter 2011

Editor’s message Editorial Vice President of Communications and Publications, Editor Brett Davis Managing Editor Danielle Lucey Associate Editor Stephanie Levy Contributing Writer Lindsay Voss

Advertising Senior Advertising and Marketing Manager Lisa Fick +1 571 255 7779


elcome to the fourth edition of AUVSI’s new quarterly electronic publication, Mission Critical.

This issue focuses on one area where unmanned systems and robots can really

Foundation that is placing large observa-

show their stuff: exploration. Going where

tion areas at key ocean spots around the

no man has gone before, to paraphrase


from Star Trek, and going to places where — in some cases — no man can go at all.

nauts will no doubt trod the surface of the

as near the tip of South America. The OOI

Red Planet at some point, that event is still

will incorporate unmanned systems, in the

many years away. The distances are too

form of gliders and powered autonomous

long, the conditions too extreme, to allow

underwater vehicles, to make moving mea-

for manned exploration right away. But ro-

surements that will go along with monitor-

bots can make that move now, and NASA

ing from buoys, seafloor moorings and

is sending its largest rover yet to Mars. The

powered water column profilers that move

Curiosity rover is part of the Mars Science

up and down on cables.

says, standing 6 feet tall and weighing almost a ton.

ous stream of data, for up to three decades, against which various short-term experiments can be run. It’s also intended to put data in the hands of anyone who wants it,

early August and performs its mission for

accessible by only the click of a mouse. The

one Martian year, or 768 Earth days. If the

tale of the OOI begins on Page 7.

any guide, its mission should extend well

AUVSI Headquarters 2700 South Quincy Street, Suite 400 Arlington, VA 22206 USA +1 703 845 9671

The OOI is expected to provide a continu-

Curiosity is supposed to land on Mars in

previous Spirit and Opportunity rovers are

Executive Vice President Gretchen West

off the east and west coasts of North America, while smaller stations will extend as far

rover,” as the program’s deputy scientist

President and CEO Michael Toscano

Two of the system’s arrays will be located

Like, for instance, to Mars. While astro-

Laboratory mission. It’s “not your father’s

A publication of

Brett Davis

beyond that. Its story begins on Page 21.

As you’ll see throughout the rest of the issue, robots are also going other places, including searching for the burial place of Geng-

While everyone is familiar with oceans,

his Khan, where a high-tech unmanned he-

much about how they work is still mysteri-

licopter could help solve a millennium-old

ous. Ocean environments and conditions

mystery (see Page 30); Greenland and

move and can cause ecological change

Antarctica (see Page 14); and they’re even

over long distances, such as low-oxygen

trying to set records (see the Liquid Robotics

conditions that form in one area and then

story on Page 4).

kill fish thousands of miles away. Unmanned systems will help chart such changes as part of the ambitious Ocean Observatories Initiative, a government-academia-industry program funded by the National Science

Upcoming issues of Mission Critical will focus on agriculture, commercial robotics, sensors and security. We hope you’re enjoying the journey.

Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Essential Components Liquid Robotics attempts world-record Pacific run Liquid Robotics of Sunnyvale, Calif., has launched four of its Wave Glider ocean robots off the coast of California on what may become a record-setting journey across the Pacific Ocean. This trip, if completed, would be the longest distance ever attempted by an unmanned ocean vessel. The purpose of this voyage, called the PacX for Pacific Crossing, is to “foster new scientific discoveries in ocean science by making available vast amounts of ocean data collected and transmitted globally during the Wave Gliders’ yearlong journey,” according to a company press release. Liquid Robotics and Google Earth’s ocean capability are providing a platform for the world to follow the expedition virtually, while Virgin Oceanic and Liquid Robotics will jointly explore the Mariana Trench. The gliders are expected to take more than 300 days to complete their voyage, all the while transmitting ocean data on salinity, water temperature, waves, weather, fluorescence and dissolved oxygen. If the Wave Gliders reach their destination, it will be recorded as a Guinness World Record for the longest voyage completed by an unmanned ocean vessel. “Imagine the possible applications and discoveries this data will enable for the scientific community,” says Bill Vass, CEO of Liquid Robotics. “Liquid Robotics has made this investment in the PacX Challenge to not only demonstrate the endurance of Wave Gliders, A Wave Glider, outfitted with an acoustic Doppler current profiler, measure currents off the coast of California. Liquid Robotics is sending a fleet of these vessels on the longest ever unmanned ocean journey. Photo courtesy Liquid Robotics.

but more importantly, to ignite everyone’s imagination on what can be discovered and explored when the ocean is networked with sensors. I encourage everyone who has a passion for the ocean to participate in our journey.” To follow the Wave Gliders via Google Earth to or access the Wave Glider data, visit the Liquid Robotics PacX website

NASA challenge mirrors space needs NASA and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts are seeking teams to compete in a robot technology demonstration competition with a potential $1.5 million prize. During the Sample Return Robot Challenge, teams will compete to demonstrate a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples from a wide and varied terrain without human control. The objective of the competition is to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies. Innovations stemming from this challenge may improve NASA’s capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well


Mission Critical

Winter 2011

WPI robotics engineering majors working on their project Photo courtesy Patrick O’Connor, WPI.

Essential Components as enhance the nation’s robotic technology

down chimneys, offset by fixed horizontal

for use in industries and applications on

distances, to obtain overlapping video im-


ages of the structure from a particular heading,” researchers wrote in a report on the

“NASA’s Centennial Challenges competi-

expedition published by PLoS Biology.

tions engage teams from across the country to solve the technology hurdles NASA

Isis has already discovered a new species

faces as we explore new frontiers,” says

of crab. The newly minted yeti crab is a

Mike Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space

tiny, almost translucent white crab with

Technology Program in Washington, D.C.

small hairs covering its chest, as opposed

“We’re looking forward to teams register-

to the hairy claws more commonly found

ing to compete so they can unleash their

on Pacific crabs. Scientists believe these

creative problem-solvers to take on this ro-

hairs act as a self-sustaining food source

botic technology challenge.”

for the animal: The crabs grow bacteria on the hairs and then harvest the microbes

NASA provides the prize money to the win-

for nutrients. The yeti crab finds strength in

ning team as part of the agency’s Centen-

numbers, with up to 55 of them occupying

nial Challenges competitions, which seek

a single square foot around a hypothermal

unconventional solutions to problems of in-


terest to the agency and the nation. While NASA provides the prize purse, the competitions are managed by nonprofit organizations that cover the cost of operations through commercial or private sponsor-

A collection of photos taken by the Isis ROV’s two autonomous cameras shows a vast array of undiscovered wildlife under the sea. Image courtesy PLoS Biology.

ships. The competition will take place from 15-18 June in Worcester, Mass., and the organizations anticipate attracting hundreds of competitors from industry and academia

ROV uncovers deep-sea life Researchers at Oxford University in England are using an ROV to conduct the first

“WPI takes tremendous pride in being

smoke-like plumes of chemical-rich seawa-

partner for a Centennial Challenge,” says WPI President and CEO Dennis D. Berkey. “This university is a hub of expertise and innovation within the area of robotics, and like NASA, we believe strongly in the promise of this industry. Accordingly, we have invested deeply in growing our programs and growing interest in the field among young people. We are looking forward to an exciting competition.” There have been 21 NASA Centennial Challenges




Through this program, NASA has awarded $4.5 million to 13 different challenge-winning teams. Competitors will not be allowed to test their robots once on site at the competition.

ampton commissioned Isis in July 2006 for a series of test dives at depths up to 6,500 meters. Isis has since traveled to Marguerite Bay, Antarctica and the Portuguese coast to


the first university selected by NASA as a

The National Oceanography Centre South-

known exploration of hydrothermal vents, ter reacting to a dramatic change in temperature, in the East Scotia Ridge of the South Atlantic Ocean near Antarctica. Isis, an ROV developed by the U.K.’s National Oceanography Centre that’s the size of a

study everything from mud volcanoes to the Antarctic Circle.

NOAA uses UAS to track black carbon The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with six countries, performed a studied in 2011 on the potential role of black carbon, better known as soot, in the Arctic by using two small

four-wheel-drive car, will search for new

unmanned aerial vehicles.

animal species at unprecedented depths.

“Carbon is dark in color and absorbs solar

Isis conducted video surveys of the ocean

radiation, much like wearing a black shirt

floor with two mechanisms. First, an Atlas three-chip charge video camera filmed horizontal surveys of the seascape. This camera was mounted to view the seafloor with the help of an HMI light, like those used in the film and entertainment industry, and two focal lasers. Then, Isis’s built-in highdefinition pan-and-tilt camera took vertical video surveys. “These features enabled the ROV to undertake vertical lines up and

on a sunny day. If you want to be cooler, you would wear a light-colored shirt that would reflect the sun’s warmth,” says Tim Bates, a research chemist at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash., and co-lead of the U.S. component of the study. “When black carbon covers snow and ice, the radiation is absorbed, much like that black shirt, instead of being reflected back into the atmosphere.”

Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Essential Components — continued from Page 5 The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is looking at a novel way to aid future space and planetary research: by using microbebased fuel cells to power tiny planetary rovers. Robotic exploration in remote regions is often limited by energy requirements, so NRL’s Spacecraft Engineering Department envisions a rover weighing less than one kilogram (2.2 pounds) and powered by an advanced microbial fuel cell, or MFC. “The goal is to demonstrate a more efficient and reliable energy source for use in powering small robotic vehicles in environments where the option for human intervention NOAA used the Manta UAV to track soot in the Arctic atmosphere. Photo courtesy BAE Systems.

is non-existent,” says Gregory P. Scott, a space robotics scientist at NRL. “Microbial fuel cells coupled with extremely low-power electronics and a low energy requirement

The project, called the Climate-Cryosphere

commercial customers around the world,

Interactions, paired NOAA up with Nor-

offering electro-optical/infrared cameras,

way, Russia, Germany, Italy and China to

precision optical components, motion con-

provide a vertical profile of black carbon’s

trol systesm and even Axsys’ Cineflex stabi-

movement throughout the atmosphere, its

lized gimbal cameras, used to image such

deposits on snow and ice, and its effect on

productions as the BBC’s “Planet Earth”

the Arctic.


Runs by the UAVs followed initial observa-

“As we continue to expand on General Dy-

tions taken from ships and land-based tech-

namics Global Imaging Technologies’ pro-


grams, products and solutions, customers

NOAA’s portion of the study, the Soot Transport, Absorption and Deposition Study, use two BAE Systems Manta UAVs with aerosol measuring sensors.

especially planetary robotics.” Part of the energy generated by the MFC would maintain onboard electronics and control systems with the rest slowly charging a battery or capacitor. The lab selected

will benefit from our more fully integrated portfolio of end-to-end imagery offerings,” says Lou Von Thaer, president of General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems.

NRL turns to microbes to power future rovers

Customers needing precision perimeter surveillance systems and even broadcast and film companies could benefit from products from General Dynamics Global Imaging Technologies, a new organization created in the wake of the company’s 2009 acquisition of Axsys Technologies. The new company will target defense, homeland security, law enforcement and

Mission Critical

nology applicable to all robotic systems,

the MFC because of its durability — microorganisms can reproduce and have a high energy densit compared with traditional lithium-ion batteries. Scott was selected as a fellow to the newly reinstated NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, and was awarded a research grant to investigate the initial phase

GD’s buy of Axsys yields new imaging systems


for mobility addresses gaps in power tech-

Winter 2011

Electron microscope image of Geobacter sulfurreducens, the core of the microbial fuel cell-based system being studied by the Naval Research Laboratory. Image courtesy NRL.

of the concept.

Discovery and exploration: Ocean Observatories Initiative takes shape under the oceans By brett davis


ver the past decade, scientists

“It’s a complicated suite of things that hap-

below a threshold, and suddenly you have

and fishermen off the coasts of

pen, but it’s not easy to predict, and so

unusual hypoxic conditions that kill fish and

Oregon and Washington have noted a

what we think we now know is that rela-

crabs, and yet it’s not local. It’s caused by

puzzling influx of oxygen-deficient water,

tively lower oxygen water from the central

something that’s 5,000 kilometers away,”

which can kill fish and crabs and harm the

North Pacific actually is advected through

says Timothy Cowles, the vice president and

livelihoods of those who depend on them.

large-scale ocean processes. [It] gets closer

director for Ocean Observing Programs at

to the coastline, the normal … upwelling

the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

The problem wasn’t local pollution; instead, it involved masses of water moving in from the central North Pacific, losing oxygen along the way due to natural processes.

process brings that slightly lower-than-normal oxygen-containing water, the normal processes on the shelf of upwelling and reduction of organic matter depletes that

The consortium is heading up a new way of studying such issues, which is being created off the coasts of the United States, Greenland, Brazil and Chile. It involves an

Deploying a buoy that will be part of the OOI. All images courtesy the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Maritime Exploration — continued from Page 7 array of sensors, underwater vehicles, in-

and, despite having hundreds of sensors

meters (311 to 1,575 feet) deep. The profil-

strumented moorings and high-data-rate ca-

arrayed throughout its structure, the OOI

ers, each packed with a variety of sensors,

bles feeding information from the bottom of

will take up “only a tiny, tiny piece of that

will travel up and down the mooring lines to

the sea to the top, feeding data from about

volume,” Cowles says.

study the vertical columns of water, measur-

800 instruments to researchers around the world — including you, if you want to see it.

The layout of the system, however, will enable scientists to measure various proper-

ing such things as oxygen content, water velocity and salinity.

ties and processes from the sea-air interface

The Pioneer Array will also include six glid-

It’s the Ocean Observatories Initiative: a

all the way down to the seafloor, and in

ers traveling in a saw-tooth pattern between

National Science Foundation-funded pro-

some cases things that percolate through

the surface and near the seafloor, along the

gram intended to conduct a top-to-bottom

the seafloor, such as volcanoes or hydro-

continental shelf waters. Each will carry

study of ocean activities over the span of up

thermal vents.

five instruments, including ones to measure

to three decades.

temperature, pressure and photosyntheti-

“Every time we can entrain new technology and new tools into our observations of the natural world, it’s as if it opens a new window through which we can view natural processes in a new way,” Cowles tells Mission Critical. “Then you get new insights, and you end up with a whole list of new questions everything you look through a new window. And that’s where we think the Ocean Observatories Initiative is going to be a particularly powerful, because we have never had the opportunity to have so many sustained data streams from so

“Every time we can entrain

cally available radiation. Teledyne Webb, a pioneer in gliders (see Timeline on Page

new technology and new

28), has been tapped to provide Slocum

tools into our observations of

production deliveries scheduled for 2012.

the natural world, it’s as if it opens a new window through

gliders customized to the OOI mission, with

The array will also include three autonomous underwater vehicles that will travel along the shelf break frontal system, also traveling in a saw-tooth pattern and carry

which we can view natural

similar instruments. Hydroid has been

processes in a new way”

that work; OOI has awarded it a $1 mil-

many different locations where the most ad-

tapped to provide its Remus 600 AUVs for lion contract for initial design work for the AUVs, with production contracts to follow.

vanced sensors are being used from the sea

–Timothy Cowles

surface to the seafloor.”

“The interplay in the Pioneer Array between the fixed assets in one box, the AUVs in

Work on the system began in 2009 and

a slightly larger box, and the gliders in a

is expected to take five years, with the first

slightly even larger box, and then cross pat-

data becoming available in 2013. The

The OOI consists of two large arrays of sys-

terns, we start to resolve a spatial pattern

data will be available to “anyone who can

tems, one on the East Coast of the United

of phenomena that previously were really

click a mouse,” Cowles says.

States, about 80 miles south of Martha’s

hard to do, especially in a persistent way,”

Vineyard, Mass., and one on the West

Cowles says. “You could go out and mount


Coast, near Oregon and Washington.

a three-week expedition and have two or

“The OOI is some combination of a discov-

The East Coast array, known as the Pioneer

ery and exploration,” Cowles says. “Obviously in lots of scientific fields you have things that can be called observatories, whether they are telescopes on a mountaintop or a weather station that is a piece of a large observatory. What we are trying to do with the OOI, the concept, is we are really an ocean telescope and the eyes are many distributed elements in the volume of the ocean.” The Atlantic and Pacific oceans are vast 8

Mission Critical

Winter 2011

Array, is located at the continental shelf break, where water depths drop from about 100 meters to more than 500 meters in a distance as short as 40 kilometers. It’s a boundary region between cool coastal waters and warmer offshore and Gulf Stream waters. The Pioneer Array includes three surface moorings and seven profiler moorings mounted in waters from 95 meters to 480

three ships, but you’d be done in two or three weeks, and now what we’re trying to do is extend that through time so we can capture events and capture phenomena that you have to be really lucky to capture if you’re just out on a three-week expedition with two or three ships.” The West Coast array, named the Endurance Array, is based off the coasts of Oregon and Washington and consists of three fixed platform sites, at 25-, 80- and 500-meter depths. It also has something

An illustration of the two underwater cables that are part of the Endurance Array, and which provide a critical high-speed link to land.

unique: two cables that deliver power to

“Not only will the cable be connecting

nodes and instruments under the sea and

things on the seafloor, but it will be connect-

high-speed data back to land.

ed to instrument platforms that are monitor-

The two submarine cables were connected to land networks this summer. The first extends to a study site at Hydrate Ridge, about 75 miles off the coast of Pacific City, Ore., and loops back to the Endurance Array; the second stretches 310 miles west to the Axial Seamount underwater volcano study site on the Juan de Fuca Ridge.

ing the entire water column,” Cowles says. “So we are going to have profilers that are going up and down that are drawing power from the cable, and they’re not going to just rely on batteries or solar power to work. … This is a first. We’re not exactly sure what new windows that will open for

move between them. Another station in the Irminger Sea, southeast of Greenland, will have four moorings, including one with a moving profiler and three gliders moving between them. The same setup is scheduled for the Argentine Basin in the South Atlantic off the coast of Brazil, as well as the Southern Ocean station, southwest of Chile.

us, because we’ll be able to put more hard-

The original plans for the OOI, before the

ware on those profilers. The profilers will be

engineers and accountants got involved,

The use of cables, Cowles says, is “huge.

able to go up and down more frequently,

called for a much more extensive network

The people who are directly involved with

all of those things are going to give us new

of sensors, including a dozen monitoring

that at the University of Washington are

sets of observations that we think are pretty

sites around the globe and moorings “pep-

wonderful evangelists for the use of cables


pering the perimeter of the U.S. coastline.”

and fundamentally, as far as we are concerned in ocean science, it’s almost unlimited power and bandwidth and to imagine that you’ve got basically a T1 line to instruments on the seafloor. It’s pretty cool.”

Budget reality scaled that back to the cur-

Station to station In addition to the arrays, there will be four other stations, each made up of more modest equipment. One is Station Papa, locat-

The coolness stems not just from getting

ed in the north Pacific, farther up the North

data back in a hurry, but providing steady

American coast from the Endurance Array

power to the instruments, which allows

and farther out to sea. It consists of a hybrid

them to do more.

profiler mooring and two moorings without

rent planned setup, but Cowles says the sites remaining “do have a strong scientific justification, in that each of the areas that’s got part of the infrastructure has something oceanographically important that happens in that region, and we’re trying to get an understanding not only of that region, but how it compares spatially to a distant site.”

profilers, as well as three gliders that will Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Maritime Exploration — continued from Page 9

What it means OOI is funded at $386 million, which pays for the construction and installation of the cables, instruments and vehicles, as well as the initial operation. The projected lifetime of the overall system is up to 30 years, although the maintenance cycle for many of the individual components is six to 12 months, given that they will be operating in the harsh windy, salty environment of the oceans.

“I think it’s a reasonable analogy to say it’s

the natural world, it’s as if it opens a new

a little bit like the transition we made 30 or

window through which we can view natu-

40 years ago from aerial photographs to

ral processes in a new way,” Cowles says.

satellite earth system sensing capabilities,

“Then you get new insights, and you end

where you could move from snapshots of

up with a whole list of new questions every

the Earth’s surface to movies of the planet

time you look through a new window. And

surface,” he says.

that’s where we think the Ocean Observa-

Going from “snapshots to movies” under the oceans can lead to a better understanding of how bodies of water — which make up 70 percent of the Earth’s surface — af-

The main value of the system is that it provides a long-term, continuous stream of data against which various experiments can be conducted. Scientists can propose instruments or studies that can be deployed for a short period of time, and then that data can be compared to “this huge array of background context” that the OOI is generating, Cowles says.

fect everything else. It could lead to better storm prediction, greater understanding of phenomena such as volcanoes, or “a major

tories Initiative is going to be a particularly powerful, because we have never had the opportunity to have so many sustained data streams from so many different locations where the most advanced sensors are being used from the sea surface to the seafloor. If we can just get it built.”

water mass incursion that changes coastal dynamics,” such as the low-oxygen water that appears off the West Coast and kills

Brett Davis is editor of Mission Critical.

fish. “Every time we can entrain new technology and new tools into our observations of

Lowering a wire-climbing profiler into the Atlantic.


Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Ocean Observatories Initiative Teledyne preps two kinds of gliders for OOI Glider pioneer Teledyne Webb is devel-

The partners The Ocean Observatories Initiative is being funded by the National Science Foundation, managed and coor-

oping two types of gliders for the Ocean Observatories Initiative, both based on its venerable Slocum glider platform.

face constructs” that would allow them to communicate, he says. “The gliders will act as gateway gliders — they fly to the mooring, download the data acoustically, then relay that information to the control center. They are doing that in addition to getting and making transects

dinated by the Consortium for Ocean

“There are two components to the OOI

between the moorings.” One mooring in

Leadership’s OOI Project Office, and

for gliders,” says Clayton Jones, a se-

the deep-ocean arrays will have a sur-

implemented by various industry and

nior director at the company. “One is

face buoy, but “for the other two in the

academic partners:

coastal, one is open-ocean.”

triangle, these are the communications.”

• Woods Hole Oceanographic

The coastal gliders will concentrate more

The open-ocean gliders will gain an ad-

Institute and its partners, Oregon

on coastal water dynamics, including

ditional payload bay for an additional

State University and Scripps Insti-

the appearance of low-oxygen zones,

battery supply, as they will be conduct-

tution of Oceanography, which

and the open ocean gliders will monitor

ing their missions for up to a year at a

are responsible for the coastal

conductivity, temperature and depth.


The Slocum G2 glider the company

While most of the glider technology for

has developed “is basically a modular

the OOI will be off-the-shelf, the extend-

platform that is rated for 1,000 meters

ed endurance adds a bit of a challenge,

which is responsible for the

[depth], but you can slide in alternative

as does the 5,000 meters deep commu-

regional cabled seafloor systems

payload bays or pumps that will be op-

nications relay, Jones says.

and moorings

timized for the pressures that you’re go-

moorings and autonomous vehicles • The University of Washington,

• The University of California San

ing to dive to.”

“This is a great program. This will be a lot of fun; it’s stuff that we’ve all talked

Diego, which is developing the

The coastal version will carry a CTD

about before … so it’s exciting to go

computing infrastructure

(conductivity, temperature and depth)

through the process steps of, what would

sensor, oxygen sensor and an optical

you like to achieve for the science, and

payload to measure backscatter, chloro-

how do we do that?”

• Rutgers and its partners, the University of Maine and Raytheon Mission Operations and Services, are responsible for the education and public engagement software.

phyll and dissolved organic matter along with providing PAR (photosynthetically active radiation) data. There’s also an acoustic Doppler current profiler, which uses sound to monitor water speed and motion.



Click IT:

To get updates on the OOI.

“For the open ocean, it’s a little more limited,” Jones says, although they will take on the critical function of communication. Those gliders won’t carry PAR and ADCP, instead adding an acoustic modem. “There will be some deep-ocean moorings, and not all of them will have sur-

A coastal glider has already been delivered to the OOI for testing, and the open-ocean design is “coming along nicely,” he says. The gliders will work alongside the powered autonomous underwater vehicles, which are being provided by Hydroid. If the gliders discover something of interest as they move along their paths, the powered vehicles can be dispatched to check it out. “It’s been a really good group to work with,” Jones says of the OOI. “Everybody’s rowing in the same direction.”

Mission Critical

Winter 2011


It’s a small world after all STATE OF THE ART

Boise State University, Idaho The U.S. Geological Survey used a fleet of 17 Raven UAVs, donated by the Army, to track pygmy rabbit habitats what would otherwise be difficult for humans to get to. Researchers say the use of UAVs allowed them to evaluate 10 times more terrain than would be possible with a manned mission.

Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, Rio Grande, Colo. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have tracked sandhill crane populations here in early 2011 using AeroVironment Ravens.

Station Papa, North Pacific Location: 50°N, 145°W The North Pacific OOI node.

Tuckerton, N.J., to Baiona, Spain

Off the Coasts of Oregon and Massachusetts The Ocean Observatories Initiative is under construction now. It will consist to two large arrays featuring a variety of moorings, and the array on the West Coast will feature two undersea cables as well, which will bring information off the seafloor at high data rates. Both sites will feature underwater moorings as well as gliders and autonomous underwater vehicles. Look for data to start flowing to your computer in 2013.

San Francisco, Calif. Liquid Robotics launched four of its autonomous surface vessels, Wave Gliders, from this point in November 2011. The company is on a mission to perform the longest unmanned ocean voyage in history. After swimming together to Hawaii, the robots will set off on different paths, with two going to Japan and the other pair sailing to Australia.

The Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences’ undersea Slocum glider, dubbed Scarlet Knight after the school’s mascot, traveled 7,400 kilometers across the Atlantic on a 221-day journey in 2009, dodging storms, hurricanes and ships along the way. The Slocum glider also became the star of the documentary “Atlantic Crossing: A Robot’s Daring Mission,” which won awards at several film festivals.

South Shetland Islands, Antarctica

Southern Ocean, SW of Chile Location: 55°S, 90°W The Southern Ocean OOI node.

Argentine Basin, South Atlantic Location: 42°S, 42°W The South Pacific OOI node.


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Winter 2011

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has performed penguin population counts here using a flying hexacopter UAS. The researchers were able to do their work quicker, and the penguins did not notice the system when it flew higher than 100 feet.

With the help of robotics, scientists, researchers and companies can gather information about our planet (and a couple others to boot), all the while cutting costs and mitigating the risks of putting humans in such harsh environments for extended periods of time. Here’s a look at some of the most far-flung missions robots have ever performed.

Summit Station, Greenland Robots from Dartmouth University performed missions in this harsh climate, seeking information on the ionosphere and magnetosphere and how charged particles would interact with Earth’s magnetic field as a part of climate change research.

Irminger Sea, SE of Greenland Location: 60°N, 39°W The Ocean Observatories Initiative also includes other instrument nodes, each smaller than the arrays off the coast of the United States. Each will feature moorings and gliders.

Vardo, Norway Swedish UAV manufacturer CybAero has flown its APID 60 unmanned helicopter over the Arctic Ocean in winds of up to gale force, to show its suitability for a variety of missions, including for oil and gas pipeline monitoring.

Challenger Deep, Marina Trench, 11”21’ N, 142” 12’ E Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s Nereus remotely operated vehicle dove to the deepest spot in the ocean, the Challenger Deep, in May 2009. The mission made the ROV the deepest diving ever.

El Giza, Egypt A robot is undergoing a series of missions, exploring the Great Pyramid of Giza. So far, it has unveiled new hieroglyphics and details that may eventually lead to the finding of the pyramid’s possibly dual hidden chambers.

Gale Crater, Mars NASA’s newest and largest ever rover Curiosity will spend its time here, looking for signs that the planet is safe to roam by future astronauts. The latest estimate on Curiosity’s touchdown is 6 Aug.

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Winter 2011


Cold hard facts

Robots — and their creators brave the cold of the poles in the name of science By Danielle Lucey


egative 24.5 degrees Celsius —

that is the average temperature mea-

sured by the National Science Foundation during a recent summer at Summit Station, a year-round research camp located on the

gions Research, camped out for one week

ing. Greenland’s weather had other ideas,

this past July.

dropping about a foot and a half of snow

Using unmanned aerial vehicles at these temperatures is a bit of old hat, though it

on the ground during the one week the researchers were there.

can be difficult in poor conditions. But get-

“In fact, the time of the season we were up

ting a ground robot to wheel along through

there, it was July in Greenland, the particu-

some uncharacteristically soft, fresh summer

lar robot we were using on this mission was

snow is a big challenge.

not the one that we intended to use.”

town — that Dartmouth researchers, in a

“The robot’s not meant to work in pow-

Dartmouth got involved in the subzero proj-

joint project with the University of New

dery snow,” says Laura Ray, a professor

ect when the team created a robot aimed

Hampshire and the U.S. Army’s Cold Re-

at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineer-

at measuring the ionosphere and magneto-

Greenland Ice Sheet. Only accessible via a C-130 Hercules that lands on a snow runway, it’s at this remote station — 285 miles (460 kilometers) from the nearest

Yeti gets ready to traverse the snowy terrain in Antarctica on a 2010 mission. All photos courtesy Eric M. Trautmann, Laura Ray, Dartmouth University.


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Winter 2011

Yeti was used to shake down the instruments Dartmouth plans on using on another mission with its other cold-weather robot, Yeti.

sphere —respectively, a layer of upper at-

second thing, of course, is that you want to

“In the beginning we were envisioning a

mosphere and a plume of charged particles

use the least energy that you can to make

very large panel that would face the sun,

and how they interact with Earth’s magnetic

this possible.”

but that panel turned out to be much too

field. The robot would traverse Antarctica during the austral summer and fuel itself off of solar power to survey the region.

Ray says they started the Cool Robot project before they knew if a solar-powered cold weather robot “was even feasible.” Once

large, and it would probably be more like a sail and probably flip the robot over,” Ray says.

While this type work is easier to do at the

the team set a target ground pressure, they

For the power, the team took advantage of

poles, the South Pole has added travel,

set a mass budget so the robot would still

the high reflection of the snow they knew

expense and timing challenges for the stu-

be functional on wheels.

would be present. Without having any so-

dents involved. The team for now is focused on Arctic exploration. Through a grant with the National Science Foundation, Dartmouth built a robot, called Cool Robot, and proved its viability.

“Once you get into tracks you’re all of the sudden at a much higher energy budget.” To make the chassis, the team used Nomex, a Nylon-related polymer. With fiberglass plies on the outside and a honeycomb mid-

To create a robot capable of operating over

dle, the material can be used as airplane

snow, the team focused on setting budgets

floor panels. The team cut and folded the

for its mass and energy.

material into a box to create the chassis

“In order to work in any terrain that’s de-

and reinforced it with aluminum bracing.

lar cells, Ray’s team roughed out on paper how much power it could get from a low sun angle with direct sunlight and reflection. “It turned out that the reflected piece was big enough that it made sense to make this solar panel into a box,” says Ray. The box would go over the top of the robot with panels on the sides and top. “Even if you have the sun directly on one of the panels, the

formable, such as this, you’d like a low

Then they had to tackle creating their own

one opposite that in the back, even though

ground pressure,” says Ray. “And then the

solar panels.

it’s in the shade, gets a decent fraction of Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Cold Hard Facts — continued from Page 15 energy through reflections off the snow.” The team made the 65-kilogram solar panels itself, again using Nomex as backing. “Then, subsequent to that, we said, ‘Now

Yeti uses battery power and has a passive

button to stop. And he has about two sec-

joint between its front and back wheels to

onds before the tractor is over the crevasse

traverse difficult terrain.

to hit the button. So that’s not a very fun

“It’s hard to get that robot stuck,” says Ray.

we have the robot. Let’s do some science

The robot was originally made for a sepa-

with it,’” says Ray.

rate mission in Antarctica that aimed to survey a cargo route for crevasses by using a

job.” Yeti is light enough that when it crosses a crevasse, it will not fall in, so the radar is simply outfitted behind the robot, says Ray.

ground-penetrating radar Yeti pulls behind

“What we’re trying to do with Yeti is ob-

it. Since flying in supplies to McMurdo Sta-

viously not eliminate the operator, but you

tion — a research center on Ross Island —

can send a robot out to pre-survey a route

The Greenland project, now in its second

is costly, cargo typically comes to Antarc-

that you are intending to survey.”

year, uses Dartmouth’s backup robot, Yeti,

tica by ship, and it is then transported by

to shake down the instrumentation that will

ground to the station.

Yeti stands in for Cool Robot

eventually be used on Cool Robot.

Over the next two or so years, the team hopes to formalize autonomous crevasse

Before using robots, an operator would

detection, though the work is currently un-

Cool Robot is currently undergoing modi-

watch a screen for eight to 10 hours a day


fications to its solar box that will improve

that was relaying footage taken from radar

its efficiency and give it more ground clear-

on a 6-meter boom attached to a manned

ance, says Ray.

PistenBully snow groomer leading a con-

“And that’s a long lead item, so that’s what’s on the drawing board for this year.”

Dartmouth’s other robot, Cool Robot, is powered up by solar cells, which optimize the reflection of light off the snow to stay charged up.


Mission Critical

Winter 2011


For the NSF work at Summit Station, Yeti was outfitted with an aerosol package to measure particulate count in the air, monitoring its environmental footprint and,

“It’s a very difficult image to interpret,” says

through another instrument, measure the

Ray. “If he finds a crevasse, he hits a red

surface roughness of the snow. Both are

Yeti pulls its ground-penetrating radar as it explores Greenland in a photo from a 2008 mission.

good indicators of climate change, says

“Yeti is a little heavier [than Cool Robot], so

“This was really, again, not outside of our


it sinks more in that snow,” says Ray.

plan because we had planned for a very

The harsh conditions actually proved too

The robot would use its aerosol sensor to

much for one of the two recently graduated

pick up a plume being generated nearby.

undergraduate researchers on Ray’s proj-

Using GPS waypoints, Yeti would autono-

ect. Plagued by altitude sickness once at

mously navigate a pattern so it would cross

Though the testing was short lived, Ray

Summit Station, which sits at 3,216 meters

the region where the plume was being

called it successful.

above sea level — around the same height

pushed by the wind and then stay inside

as the Pyrenees Mountains of southwest Eu-

the plume for sometime waiting for a peak

rope — one of Ray’s two students on the

measurement. Then the robot would exit the

project had to leave the mission. This left

plume to get a general mapping of the ex-

the one student to deal with maneuvering

tent of the plume dispersal.

the robot largely on his own.

“They were able to do one run that was

short deployment the first time around, really to just shake down the instruments, and I think we accomplished that.”

The team hopes to deploy again to Summit for a longer period of time in 2013, and then, in the final year of the project, perform an overland autonomous deployment where the robot goes ahead of a traverse team.

“Once in a while he’d have a hand from

maybe about half of the distance that we

other groups working around there, and

would have like to have done,” says Ray.

you’re working in fairly extreme condi-

“Unfortunately, they had trouble getting be-

Danielle Lucey is managing editor of Mis-

tions,” says Ray. “I think they had maybe

yond the outer extent of the camp boundar-

sion Critical.

small heated space that they could work


in, but it was fairly cramped. Just moving the robot around is quite difficult on your own. It’s not heavy, but really, you need two people.” The snow also closed the testing window from the full week to only two days.

The boundaries of the 10,000-square-foot Summit Station are made more difficult to traverse because of plowing that creates massive berms around the camp. “One person could not get the robot over that to explore beyond that,” she says. Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Q&A: David J. Fratello Q&A

Payload Manager NASA Global Hawk Project Dryden Flight Research Center David J. Fratello is the payload manager for NASA’s Global Hawk Project out of Dryden Flight Research Center in California. Fratello has worked with NASA to develop Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) in 2011 and Genesis and Rapid Intensification Project (GRIP) in 2010. These missions explore the role the atmosphere plays in creating natural disasters like hurricanes.


What are some of the risks involved

GRIP campaign, as well as HS3, used

with flying the Global Hawk in vola-

remote sensors, so we were peering

tile weather patterns such as hurricanes? What kind of programs have you


A: We take safety very seriously here,

participated in to test the Global

and we don’t accept risks unnecessar-

Hawk technologies? What did you learn?

ily, but what we did was we modified

A: A year ago we participated in a NASA hurricane campaign GRIP, and

the aircraft with some additional situation awareness sensors for the pilots:

down into the hurricane from above, gathering data remotely.


What can unmanned aircraft do for HS3, and other NASA atmospheric

programs, that other technologies cannot?

a day/night nose camera, calibrated

A: It’s really driven by the endurance of

accelerator on the aircraft with real-

the aircraft. We typically have a flight

time feedback, things like that. Then

time of eight hours with manned flights.

we had a team of scientists and meteo-

The case in point with HS3: We’re

rologists monitor satellite-based data

going to be deploying out of [NASA

giving us cloud-top temperature so we

Goddard Space Flight Center’s] Wal-

knew what kind of turbulence the air-

lops, and I know that one of the inter-

craft would see. We don’t just fly into

ests of the campaign is to investigate

moderate, and certainly not heavy, tur-

what’s called the Sahara Wave. It’s


the genesis process atmospherically

stay up there for a very long time, and

The benefit of our aircraft is that we’re

for hurricane development out in the

so it’s a real game changer for NASA

so high. Most aircraft don’t have seri-

eastern portion of the Atlantic coming

airborne science.

ous turbulence at 16,000 feet. The

off Africa. They’ll send us to the eastern

that was a mobile hurricane research campaign. The three aircraft flew multiple hurricane events last year, and that was our first time taking the Global Hawks intentionally toward severe weather. That was pretty dramatic. We hadn’t done that before. The real reason that we exist here is because the unique flight capabilities of this jet. We’re at high altitudes and we can


Mission Critical

Winter 2011

edge of the Atlantic to measure the Sa-

installing on the jet, and other things

We’re looking to get better resolution

haran wave coming off Africa. There’s

like that to give our pilots better situ-

of the measurements, actually sample

no way a manned aircraft could fly out

ational awareness. The point is if they

the air and fly through it. You can look

across the Atlantic, and stay there for

have more information, they may feel

at the hurricane from space, but when

10 hours like we can, and then come

they can take the airplane into places

you put dual-band radar 60,000 feet

back and land in Virginia.

that you might not otherwise

over the hurricane, you can map it with

For GRIP we’ve launched out of Edwards [Air Force Base], and Hurricane Earl was coming up the east shore of Florida, and we flew from here over to the Atlantic and stayed over Hurricane

pretty high resolution.


When most people think NASA, they think of the space shuttles. Why is

it important for NASA to do research at the atmospheric level with unmanned systems?


What is the significance of NASA focusing all of this attention on

unmanned systems, especially since the iconic shuttle program ended in 2011?

Earl and had more eye passes than

A: Most people don’t appreciate the

any manned aircraft had, and yet we

fact that the first A in NASA is aeronau-

A: From the airborne science aspect,

were eight hours from home. That kind

tics. Most people do associate NASA

we’ve wanted to get these Global

of endurance really is a game changer.

with space, so most of them don’t know

Hawks for a number of years. Four

we’ve been investing in aeronautic re-

years ago, the project manager found

Have you been shopping around

search for decades. We have a very

out these three preproduction airplanes

for additional sensor technology to

active science program here. NASA’s

would be available; they’d be removed

hallmark is satellite capability and re-

from Air Force activity. We were very

mote sensing.

pleased they were able to transfer


make the mission more successful? A: We continue to look at how we can

these aircraft to us.

improve the aircraft, how we can ap-

NASA has a very strong atmospheric

ply it and get more and more info from

science program to understand things

To us the unmanned capability isn’t

it. We just purchased some better night

like global climate change, etc. We

so much that it’s unmanned. The un-

vision cameras, we just purchased

have a fleet of aircraft that allow us to

manned aircraft is simply able to do

weather radar that we’re going to be

put the sensors into the atmosphere.

things that the manned plane can’t.

NASA has used its Global Hawks to monitor hurricanes and to conduct atmospheric research. Photo courtesy NASA Dryden/Carla Thomas.

Mission Critical

Winter 2011



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Red rover

NASA sends Curiosity on over to Mars on the agency’s most bold mission yet By Danielle Lucey


uch as been made in the media in the last few months about the unmanning of space explora-

tion, technology lapses that replace shuttles and space stations with rovers and rocket launches. But

NASA’s new robot is the first step in what may one day be man’s largest leap — sending a person to the surface of Mars. The Atlas V rocket, operated jointly between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, lifted the Mars Science Laboratory out of orbit, leaving Florida’s Space Coast on 27 Nov. This marks 10 months after Kennedy Space Center hosted the final space shuttle mission, which also took a robot into orbit. NASA, GM and Oceaneering International’s Robonaut 2 headed to the International Space Station on Discovery. NASA’s shift from manned to unmanned missions isn’t the only turning point marked by this mission. The last time NASA sent rovers to Mars, Spirit and Opportunity as part of the Mars Exploration Rover program in summer 2003, the mission was searching for rocks and soil that would indicate Mars had a watery past. The Mars Science Laboratory’s mission goes a significant step beyond that. By characterizing the climate and geology of Mars, NASA is seeking to gain as much knowledge of the Red Planet as it can so one day it can mark a bold shift in history, sending a human to another planet.

Atlas V with the Mars Science Laboratory on board, launches from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on 27 Nov. Photo courtesy NASA/Scott Andrews/Canon.

Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Mars Exploration — continued from Page 21

ing a laser from its Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam, instrument, which excites a The Mars Science Laboratory will be the first planetary mission to ever use an electrical umbilical system to lower Curiosity onto a planet’s surface. Image courtesy NASA.

pinpoint spot on a rock with glowing, ionized gas. By analyzing the light spectrum, Curiosity can tell which elements are present in the rock, and it can get a closer look using its magnifying glass sensor. The robot can sense what is in front of it up to 20 feet. That plutonium will also generate enough fuel to keep the rover mobile. The Mars Science Lab has six massive wheels, each with an individual motor. The wheels — a



Click IT:

Click on the image or scan this barcode with your smartphone to see an animation of Curiosity’s unique entry, decent and landing maneuver. Animation courtesy NASA.

notorious issue for NASA since both the Spirit and Opportunity rovers got stuck at one point on the previous mission — can do full 360s. “There’s a couple times on Mars where there’s some really soft sand that can get you kind of buried and your wheels can dig in a little bit,” says Eric Aguilar, system integration and test lead at NASA’s Jet Pro-

‘A Mars scientist’s dream machine’ To mark this mission’s big paradigm shift, NASA went big with Curiosity, the mission’s solitary rover. “It’s not your father’s rover,” says Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. Weighing in at 2,000 pounds on Earth and measuring up to six feet tall, the machine is “the largest and most complex system ever placed on another planet,” says McCuistion. Its price tag ended up being big too, reaching a total $2.5 billion, according to The New York Times — 56 percent higher than the initial 2006 estimate for the project. However, the price, which includes two years of surface operations and data analysis that have yet to be performed, pales in comparison to many defense programs — $2.5 billion will buy about 15 fighter jets minus the research and development. To power such a behemoth machine, NASA turned away from the solar technology used


Mission Critical

Winter 2011

for Spirit and Opportunity and turned to radioisotopic power generated by plutonium — this rover’s nuclear. This is enough juice to keep Curiosity searching for at least one Martian year, about 687 Earth days. A large power supply is important since potentially the most key element to this robot is its arm, which holds five different devices. Two are for in-situ measurements while the other three acquire and prepare samples. The devices can saw into Martian rocks to unearth their geological secrets, making it the first space-bound robot to ever do so.

pulsion Laboratory, MSL’s testing grounds. Enlarging the wheelbase allowed NASA to help balance the weight distribution of the vehicle so it would not get stuck as easily, he says. Its rocker-bogie suspension system makes scaling over rocks and through holes with the 50-centimeter-diameter spiked wheels a fairly painless task. At top speed, they can move about 1.5 inches per second — about the same pace as its Mars Exploration Rover brothers. JPL tests, and will continue to test, Curiosity through its twin rover, Scarecrow. The lab will still perform indoor

Through the robot’s Sample Analysis on

and outdoor tests at its Mars Yard through

Mars payload, which at 83 pounds takes

the mission’s duration. (For more informa-

up about half of the robot’s available real

tion, see Testing, Testing on Page 38.)

estate, it will analyze these measurements by separating elements and compounds by mass and then heat the samples until they vaporize. It then separates the gases for analysis. The instrument is accurate to within 10 parts per thousand. “We consider that sort of a science home run,” said Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for the project, at a NASA press conference. Curiosity can also examine rocks by blast-

The rover can also measure the radiation levels on the planet, “critical for the day that we do send humans to Mars,” says Vasavada. The rover uses a weather station for feedback on the environment and can sound below its chassis to look for minerals and water as it creeps along. “I can tell you that this is a Mars scientist’s dream machine,” says Vasavada.

Coming in for a landing The Mars Science Laboratory and its Curiosity rover are due to land on Mars in early August 2012. The Mars Exploration Rover mission landing vehicles were slowed down using a parachute — technology also used on the Viking and Mars Pathfinder mission programs — and then slowed further by rocket-assisted descent motors. The Mars Science Laboratory mission is breaking from tradition, simulating a landing that would be more realistic for a human crew to replicate. MSL will still use a parachute and rockets to temper its landing, but it will be the first planetary mission to use a guided entry

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory tests Curiosity’s Earth-bound twin, Scarecrow, at the facility’s Mars Yard. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL/Cal-Tech.

landing. This improves the landing accuracy to a range of about 12 miles, versus hundreds of miles like in the past. Onboard computing will allow the entry vehicle to steer itself toward a pre-determined landing site. After its parachutes slow the vehicle and it separates from its heat shield, necessary only for entry, reverse rockets will stabilize the vehicle as a trio of tethers and an electrical umbilical cord act much like a crane on planet Earth to gently lower the rover to the

layer prior to landing, enabling it to get

done all the testing that we can do,” he

right to roving.


While it’s impossible for NASA to end-to-

Once Curiosity gets its space legs, it will

end test this entry, descent and landing

find itself at Gale Crater, a location NASA

scenario, project manager for the mission

scientists painstakingly chose for its wealth

at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Pete

of geological potential.

Theisinger says the agency is as confident as it can be.

ground. Also unlike Spirit and Opportunity,

“To the extent that we’ve been able to think

Curiosity will separate from its protective

of it, we’ve attacked all the problems and

Much like the Grand Canyon on Earth, Gale Crater hosts layers of soil that essentially tell the history of geology on Mars. NASA already knows that images of Gale indicate it has geological evidence of water, says Vasavada. Now the agency is

Curiosity is equipped with a rock-studying laser, able to determine the elements and compounds in the soil. Image courtesy NASA.

looking for organics in hopes of finding a habitable environment for microbes. Looking for water “is sort of in the rear view mirror now, and we’ve moved onto this evidence of a habitable environment,” says Vasavada. “Really we’re reading the early history of Mars. … If any of those [samples] really scream out that those were a really habitable environment, we’ll tell you,” he said during the NASA press conference. Gale Crater was down-selected in a process that started with more than 50 sites. Eventually NASA picked four sites: Gale Crater, with a tall mountain of layered soil; Holden Crater, a dried-up lake bed; Mission Critical

Winter 2011



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Mission Critical


Winter 2011

Mars Exploration — continued from Page 23

NASA’s largest rover yet, Curiosity, is currently on its way to Mars on a mission to find organic material. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL/Cal-Tech.

Eberswalde Crater, the site of an ancient river delta; and Mawrth Vallis, a channel created by catastrophic flooding. John Grant, a geologist at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, likened choosing one of the four sites to picking which flavor ice cream to eat — it comes down to which one feels right. “There’s no hard yes or no answer,” he said at a NASA press conference held in the summer of 2011. “We think Gale Crater is going to be a great novel,” he said. Even if NASA doesn’t find organics, Grant said that as Curiosity ascends the mountain, it will tell the history of the Mars environment through what it does find. It will take two years to get to the summit, he estimates, but with all the interesting facts the rover could find along the way, that could slow to 10 years. Pete Theisinger from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory says Curiosity has no life-limiting consumable on the design and the power source should last “a great number of years.” Since Gale Crater does not have the dust or winter issues of the Mars Exploration Rover mission, there is no condition pushing the rover to wear out. “The thing at the top of my concern list is what I don’t know,” says Theisinger. “These things are very complicated, and we test the heck out of them … [but] there’s always going to be surprises.” NASA scientists testing the laboratory’s entry, decent and landing at Kennedy Space Center. Photo courtesy NASA.

Danielle Lucey is managing editor of Mission Critical.

Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Going unmanned in the deep MARKET REPORT By Lindsay Voss


he 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill

time vehicles have been quick to anticipate

from their sensor systems. This allows the

brought an influx of attention to the

a growing need for unmanned surface and

vehicles to better detect obstacles in low vis-

world of offshore drilling; the role re-

subsea technologies.

ibility environments and helps them tackle

motely operated vehicles play in the offshore oil and gas industry and the potential for autonomous underwater vehicles to support subsea monitoring operations. With the global demand for petroleum at an all time high, companies in the oil and gas sector are exploring in the word’s most remote locations. In many cases the search for reserves has reached miles below the ocean’s surface at depths inaccessible to divers and manned underwater technologies. As ex-

According to Bob Black, CEO of SeeByte Ltd., a software provider for unmanned

subsea pipeline.

platforms, ROVs and AUVs are a neces-

As advances in the technology continue,

sary technology as offshore oil and gas

Dan McLeod, senior program manager at

operations move into deeper water. Where

Lockheed Martin, anticipates growing in-

divers were once used for subsea work, in

terest for AUVs to augment ROV capabili-

many cases they have been replaced with

ties for subsea oil and gas operations. The

remotely operated or autonomous systems

company’s Marlin AUV is being targeted at

capable of withstanding depths and pres-

the offshore petroleum sector and is gain-

sures unfeasible for humans.

ing traction as an ideal system for survey-

ploration and drilling go further out and

“Diving is a risky and expensive business,

deeper in the world’s oceans, the need for

and reserves are being located in deeper

autonomous technologies to ensure safe op-

and deeper waters,” Black says. “This is

erations and divert potential environmental

driving the demand for unmanned technolo-

disaster has never been greater. Fortunate-

gies and taking the diver out of the equa-

ly, the unmanned systems industry is primed


and ready to meet the call.

difficult operations such as tracking miles of

ROVs and AUVs have been undergoing ma-

ROVs are not new to offshore drilling. In

jor technological advances that are propel-

fact, the systems were operated as early

ling them into the oil and gas sector. Many

as the 1960s and saw widespread use

of these advances have been in the sys-

beginning in the 1980s. Small, shallow-

tems’ software and subsystems rather than

water ROVs are used for routine monitoring

the actual vehicle. For instance, SeeByte’s

and inspection, while much larger systems,

software is enabling AUVs to make sense of

some as large as cargo vans, tackle mis-

the data and information they are receiving

ing applications and other more complicated missions. Unlike many AUVs today, McLeod says that the Marlin has increased capabilities that allow it to do more than the traditional patterned survey or simply “mowing the grass.” “The Marlin AUV brings additional autonomy and intelligence that allows the vehicle to interact with the data it’s collecting,” McLeod says. “The vehicle is capable of interacting with its sonar and building 3-D models. These models are ideal for realtime change detection, which is important for monitoring offshore infrastructure.”

sions involving equipment gripping and manipulation. Unlike ROVs, AUVs and unmanned surface vehicles have only recently seen more widespread operation in the oil and gas sector. Attributes including long endurance and low operating costs have intrigued the oil and gas industry and resulted in the systems being considered for a wide range of applications. More than a year after the Deepwater Horizon spill, AUVs continue to monitor the Gulf of Mexico to assess the environmental impact from the accident. But the systems are not limited to environmental monitoring, and a number of companies providing unmanned mari-


Mission Critical

Winter 2011

Lockheed Martin’s Marlin AUV is being targeted at the offshore petroleum industry. Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin.

As a result of increased capability, AUVs

life tracking and subsea-to-satellite gateway

are more frequently being used for daunt-

communications access, to name a few.

ing subsea applications. Missions requir-

All of these applications are critical for the

ing long endurance are best suited for the

oil and gas industry as it designs offshore

technologies and include pipeline moni-

installations, completes construction and

toring, site surveying, environmental sur-

maintains daily operations.

veying, equipment inspection and other applications requiring extensive time at sea. However, AUVs are still not capable enough to replace ROVs. While AUVs offer advantages such as tether-free operations, operating speeds of up to 4 knots and long endurance, according to McLeod the systems lack intervention capability and the ability to transport tons of heavy equipment to underwater worksites. While McLeod an-

“Liquid Robotics is able to go out with a Wave Glider at a reasonable cost and conduct a comprehensive environmental acoustics study which provides an accurate picture of the ocean,” Anderson says. “This information helps the environmental regulators, the scientists and the oil companies by providing hard data for resource management.”

ticipates AUVs could one day be capable

The potential cost effectiveness of AUVs is

of turning valves and accomplishing more

the main reason the oil and gas industry

complicated tasks, for now they will aug-

is gravitating toward the technology. Un-

ment, rather than replace, their remotely

like ROVs that require a vessel to hold sta-

operated counterparts.

tion during operations, AUVs and surface

While AUVs have received increasing attention over the last year due to their operations in the Gulf of Mexico, they aren’t the only autonomous technologies making waves. Unmanned systems are also being used to assist the offshore oil and gas industry on the ocean’s surface. Liquid Robotics,

vehicles such as the Wave Glider are free to roam the ocean; for example, the Wave Glider can be controlled by a Web-based command and control system, making it

other unmanned maritime systems reach

much faster than tethered systems.

the point of vessel-independent operations.

the Marlin AUV will eventually stay at sea

the way for unmanned surface technologies

with home bases that would allow for bat-

in the oil and gas sector with its wave-pow-

tery recharging. For these types of endur-

ered Wave Glider marine robot. The system

ance operations, launch and retrieval ves-

can be deployed for a year or more using

sels would rarely be needed.

According to Brian Anderson, vice president of oil and gas sales at Liquid Robotics, the company is currently working with BP to conduct flourometry analysis, which tests for and analyzes the refined and crude oil products and chlorophyll in the ocean. But this type of analysis is not the only work that the Wave Glider can tackle. Other applications include ocean current monitoring, weather assessment, seismic data acquisition, acoustics monitoring, marine ocean

tion standpoint.

are also able to conduct some missions

quartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., is leading

tal data.

companies from a cost and public percep-

It could be some time before AUVs and

McCloud envisions that systems similar to

sources to collect oceanic and environmen-

efits that would be positive for petroleum

truly a global ocean survey platform. AUVs

an ocean data services company head-

only solar power and waves as energy

AUVs and unmanned surface vehicles, like Liquid Robotics’ Wave Glider, offer an added cost savings since they do not require manned vessel deployment. Photo courtesy Liquid Robotics.

There are still challenges that will have to be overcome. Particularly, improvements in energy and power will have to be achieved to ensure that underwater and surface technologies can carry larger payloads, operate in strong ocean currents and remain on target for extensive periods of time to accomplish

“Ultimately the oil and gas industry is look-

their mission. Once these advancements

ing for vehicles that can live on the seabed

are achieved, few obstacles will stand in

and conduct vessel independent opera-

the way of unmanned surface and subsea

tions,” says McLeod.

technologies being the go-to systems for the

If the systems advance enough, vessel independence would mean significant cost savings for the offshore oil and gas sector, among other important benefits. According to McLeod, a reduction in the number of ships supporting offshore operations would mean fewer people at sea, reduced operational risks, lower energy consumption and

offshore oil and gas sector. With more attention being placed on offshore operations than ever before, petroleum companies will continue to strive to remain competitive, compliant and environmentally conscious. Fortunately, the unmanned systems industry will be prepared with a variety of technologies ready to lead the way.

a cleaner environment, and ultimately less

Lindsay Voss is senior program develop-

cost to the operators. All of these are ben-

ment manager at AUVSI. Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Maritime in motion



ore than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, yet much of the depths of our oceans and freshwater bodies remain unexplored. Getting a manned vehicle to the greatest depths, battling water pressure and total darkness, is risky business. Now, autonomous underwater vehicles, or gliders, are literally taking researchers 20,000 leagues under

the sea. Their purposes range from cleaning up oil spills to tracking down treasure, but they give users a new perspective on Earth’s own final frontier.


Kongsberg Maritime of Norway, builder of the Hugin family of underwater vehicles, acquires Massachusetts-based Hydroid, builder of the Remus family of AUVs.



The Slocum glider Scarlet Knight, named after the mascot of Rutgers University, wends its way from Tuckerton, N.J., to the coast of Spain, taking 221 days to travel 7,400 kilometers and becoming the star of the documentary “Atlantic Crossing: A Robot’s Daring Mission.”






An Explorer vehicle built by ISE lives up to its name and surveys 1,000 kilometers of under-ice Arctic water.






In November, Subsea 7 and SeeByte Ltd. successfully completed a pipeline inspection in the North Sea. Subsea 7’s GeoSub AUV and SeeByte’s Seetrack Offshore and its Autotracker module set a world record by inspecting more than 100 kilometers of pipelines with and AUV.


In an April expedition, divers found the black box from Air France Flight 447, which crashed off the coast of Brazil in 2009, with the help of the Remus 6000 AUV.


IRobot sends its Seaglider UUV to the Gulf of Mexico to help with cleanup from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Seaglider monitored the area of the oil spill, looking for the level of dissolved oxygen and the presence of oil at depths of more than 3,000 feet.




A group of engineers from MIT’s Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Laboratory found Bluefin Robotics. Today, Bluefin develops more than 80 AUV platforms, and more than 70 different sensors to go with them.

5 9 19

0 9 19





1973 The University of Washington builds SPURV II to study ballistic missile submarine wakes. SPURV II could run for six hours and reach depths of up to 1,500 meters.


0 0 0

Bluefin Robotics became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Battelle Memorial Institute. Battelle is a global science and technology company that develops and commercializes technology and manages laboratories.

Canada’s International Submarine Engineering starts work on ARCS, its first autonomous underwater vehicle, which enters service in 1987 and is still active today, having carried out more than 800 dives.



Engineers at Rutgers LEO15 ocean observatory create the first Remus AUV, an acronym for Remote Environmental Monitoring Units, equipped with sensors like an acoustic Doppler current profiler, a conductivity/temperature/depth profiler and a side-scan sonar.


A custom-designed Remus AUV swam below the Catskill Mountains and Hudson River in June to inspect a 45-mile stretch of the Delaware River aqueduct. The 15-hour survey resulted in 160 thousand digital photographs and 600 gigabytes of overall data.

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory build SPURV, or Special Purpose Underwater Research Vehicle. It was one of the first AUVs. Researchers continued to use the original SPURV, and four other models, until 1979.

1991 Douglas C. Webb, founder of Webb Research, tests the first Slocum glider, named after Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail around the world solo.

Mission Critical

Winter 2011


5 197



Any way the wind blows UAVs explore everything from warriors to weather By Stephanie Levy


egend has it that whoever finds the

tioned at times, but it seemed like we had

ready-made unmanned aircraft with fixed

tomb of the infamous warrior Genghis

some radio interference that resulted in a

wings for exploration resulted in a lot of

Khan will trigger the destruction of Mon-

shut down of controls and the UAV just lost

false starts and even more broken parts.

golia. Questions still linger about how he

power and fell,” Dr. Albert Yu-Lin, research

died. Depending on the tale, Genghis Khan

scientist and emerging explorer for the Na-

either passed from old age, a battle wound

tional Geographic Society, says.

or a vial of poison. During his funeral procession, his loyal followers even went so far as to slaughter anyone who crossed their path when transporting their leader to his final resting place, an unmarked patch of land in the hills of East Asia. The whereabouts of his tomb have remained a mystery for nearly a millennium. Now, hundreds of years later, could these ancient forces have caused a UAV to crash near Mongolia’s northern border? “We are not totally sure why it malfunc-

“We wanted to build our own platform to meet the needs of our exhibition,” Lin says. “We needed something that could

Lin and a team of researchers and students

break down very quickly, be thrown into a

from the University of California San Diego

backpack, and then you could put it back

used unmanned aerial vehicles to track

together and then fly it in high wind condi-

the whereabouts of Genghis Khan’s tomb


through noninvasive survey methods. A National Geographic special about the Valley of the Khans expedition aired on 9 Nov.

A custom chopper

Using off-the-shelf assembly pieces, Lin and a group of students built a UAV equipped with an array of cameras and sensors. It took to the air for the first time on 22 June, 2010. The team was able to get the hexa-

Researchers used a custom-built multi-

copter from concept to reality with the help

bladed remote controlled vehicle called

of the California Institute for Telecommu-

the hexacopter. Previous attempts to use a

nications and Information Technology, or

A student-built UAV roams Mongolia in the search for Genghis Khan’s tomb. Photo courtesy of Dr. Albert Yu-Min Lin, UCSD.


Mission Critical

Winter 2011

Calit2. Calit2 collaborates with engineers

“Our conditions are pretty rugged,” he

and innovators on University of California

says. “We’re out in very, very remote condi-

campuses to speed the production of new

tions so it has to be field robust. If it crashes

autonomous technologies through interdis-

or if something happens we cannot depend

ciplinary collaboration.

on a RadioShack; we need to know we can

The UAV’s two cameras, one that worked in

field engineering solutions around it.”

rotocopters.” Once the hexacopter acted as a scoping tool of the archaeological site, Lin and his colleagues utilized a litany of additional sensors they can use to survey the land. Lin says the team used the highest-grade satel-

visible light and one with an infrared spec-

But the Valley of the Khans project also de-

lites available on the market to get a literal

trum, could develop 3-D maps of archaeo-

pended on one of its most unique aspects:

view from space of the Mongolian land-

logical sites in real time. The hexacopter

the students who are assisting in all aspects

scape. On the ground, Electro Resistivity

could withstand winds up to 30 mph, and

of research and development. Many of the

Tomograpy (ERT) and ground penetrating

in the event of a crash, the camera re-

participants are in the midst of postgradu-

radar (GPR) allowed researchers to “see”

mained protected. An open-source network

ate or postdoctoral study; there were even

up to six meters underground. ERT uses a

controlled much of the aircraft stabilization.

two undergraduates on the team.

compact resistivity meter to investigate shal-

“The whole idea is that we can fly in rough

Radley Angelo, the youngest member of

conditions fairly quickly without needing to

the group, played the largest role in putting

do a long process of calibration and put-

together the hexacopter. A third year under-

ting it together and taking it apart,” says

graduate student at UCSD, Angelo had pre-


vious experience with unmanned aircraft,

Lin says one of the best applications of this technology on the Valley of the Khans project was when the team encountered a large

conducting areal surveys of archaeological sites, and worked closely on data collection and organization.

structure. Ground perception of dimensions

“We’re connecting students with explora-

can only get an archaeologist so far. In a

tion at the National Geographic level that

way, the UAV takes over the surveillance

allows us to build tools like this for real-world

capabilities that a kite would not have in

exploration,” Lin says. “They’re building ro-

Mongolia’s rough terrain.

botic camera traps; they’re building aerial GigaPan tools and aerial UAV multi-bladed

low and deep targets. The GPR system is composed of seven antennas with a center frequency of 200 megahertz. It uses a STREAM (Swath Tomography Radar Equipment for Asset Mapping) system for archaeological mapping. In the end, researchers used sensor data and off-the-shelf Trimble Total Station archers to create a cohesive visualization of the archaeological survey site.

The human element After the UAV and other sensors collected images of the archaeological site, the ex-

Aerial views of a potential archaeological site in Mongolia. Virtual explorers could mark roads, rivers and potential ancient structures. Photos courtesy of Dr. Albert Yu-Min Lin, UCSD.

Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Air Exploration — continued from Page 31 plorers used another unique tool to ana-

led the grassy landscape. No discovery

ings of a traditional ancient Mongolian

lyze their data: people sitting at home on

is too small, so the team began to investi-

burial site. The team’s excitement grew as

their computers. Throughout the expedition,

gate. Barrington admits in his blog that he

they approached the newly discovered des-

virtual explorers could access satellite im-

thought the markings could lead the team to

tination only to find the site had been looted

ages from the mission online and then use

an ancient burial site.

three months prior. Locals say they saw a

digital markers to distinguish roads, rivers and modern or ancient structures. In August 2010, the expedition logged the onemillionth tag from a virtual explorer. In all, the Field Expedition: Mongolia homepage boasts more than 11,000 online explorers, who have processed more than 70 thousand images. “From the air, from a birds-eye perspective, you can see features you wouldn’t see on the ground,” Lin says. “You can see

“While puzzling over this image, I happened to glance out the door of our ger [Mongolian tent],” he writes. “As usual I could see sheep and goats wandering

thing that had stood untouched for 3,000

when it hit me — this was no ancient struc-

years as a monument to Mongolian and

ture, just a herd of sheep seen from space!”

world history just disappear because some-

“It’s pretty amazing what you can see from space,” Barrington says.

sourced information led the explorers on

rington noted that 10 virtual explorers had pointed out a cluster visible on one of the aerial photographs of the archaeological site. A series of black and white dots speck-

could be buried beneath the ancient tomb. “It honestly broke my heart to see some-

ent structures.”

base camp support specialist Luke Bar-

rocks by morning. They did not know what

through the endless grassy plains. … That’s

Unfortunately, in July 2010, this crowd-

significant to the sheepish. In August 2010,

of night, leaving an empty hole and strewn

across the steppe, munching their way

changes in vegetation; you can see differ-

These different structures ranged from the

white Jeep pull up to the site in the dead

what would be a disappointing trek to

one thought they might find precious metals,” he writes. “Now the world will never be able to learn anything from this site.”

“what looked like a circular mound sur-

Conquering new technologies

rounded by a few square formations,” Dr.

Lin says he is looking to further develop the

Shay Har-Noy, computer vision engineer

technologies on his team’s unmanned sys-

with Calit2 and UCSD, writes in a 29 July,

tems. His wish list includes carbon dioxide

2010, blog. Even from a literal view of

sensors and Geiger counters, which have

30,000 feet, the structure had all the mark-

already been included in controlled aircraft tests. “As the cost or the size of thermal cameras decreases, we’re going to try and look into putting those on different aerial platforms,” Lin says.

The hexacopter gets ready for takeoff. The Valley of the Khans project started in June 2010 and wrapped up with a National Geographic special on 9 Nov.

“We’ve sort of hit this point where off-theshelf technology can be combined with a little bit of innovation, and tapping into some of these open-source communications that are taking this to the next level, and we can revolutionize the way we see the world,” Lin says.

Stephanie Levy is associate editor of Mission Critical.

For More Information:


Mission Critical

Winter 2011



wea ther the


ASA is developing




Tropopause Experiment, or ATTREX,


program using the Global Hawk unmanned

received the

aerial vehicle to explore the chemistry of

Global Hawks from Northrop Grumman


the air in the Pacific Ocean around the

in 2010 and has since modified the UAVs

provided ozone instruments and a

equator. ATTREX is one of two Earth venture

with custom communications systems and

water vapor measuring mechanism. Of the

campaigns NASA is conducting with the

an increased number of payload sensor

instruments on board, seven are flying on

UAVs. Test flights this fall tested the scientific


the Global Hawk for the first time.

“We’ve wired the airplane for a payload

The University of Miami also provided

command and control communication

a whole air sampler for Global Hawk.

“The air there has a great deal of influence

system, specifically for payload operation

There are 90 air canisters loaded into the

over global weather patterns and weather

during the flight,” Fratello says. “We’ve

tail of the UAV that suck in air from the

in the U.S.,” David Fratello, payload

denigrated the big 48-inch satellite

atmosphere during flight. Then the air is

manager for NASA’s Global Hawk Project,

communication dish. … We use that strictly

pressurized, sealed off and analyzed after

says (read more from Fratello, a “self-

for payload.”


Originally, the U.S. Air Force flew the

ATTREX officially kicks off January 2013

Global Hawk with just two payload sensor

from Dryden Flight Research Center

locations. Now, NASA added 11 new

in California for Pacific deployment.

instruments to the system. For instance, the

Operations will run for three years. If it’s

UAV will carry lidar, a solar reflectometer

successful, Fratello says NASA hopes

and a chemical analysis system. The

to run future deployments in Guam and

National Oceanic and Atmospheric


tools on board the Global Hawk as well as the UAV’s operability.

described flight guy,” in Q&A on Page 18). Cold air in the region, combined with changes in humidity, may have consequences for the climate that are comparable to the effects of greenhouse gases.

For More Information:

Lin expects his team will be able to add new high-tech payloads to the hexacopter once the price of technology goes down. Photo courtesy of Peter Cottle.

Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Need to Learn More? No Time to Leave Your Desk?

Tune into AUVSI Webinars AUVSI webinars are a new and fastgrowing service that delivers expert speakers and hot topics in unmanned systems to your desktop. Topics over the coming year will include all facets of this dynamic industry.

Members receive a special discount on all webinar content. Listen to the webinars live, or download them to your computer later.

Check our website for the latest schedule:

AUVSI’s quarterly publication that highlights special topics in the unmanned systems industry.

Each is an in-depth focus on one particular issue with information on the defense, civil and commercial applications of the technology as well as new developments and what the future may hold.

Upcoming Issues: Exploration: Winter Edition

2012 issues of Mission Critical will cover the topics of: Agriculture Commercial Robotics Security/Border Protection Sensors


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Summer 2011


To boldly go where they’re allowed UNCANNY VALLEY


ike much of the unmanned sys-

a looming threat to Americans’ pri-

UAS Jobs Created by NAS Integration


tems industry, exploration-related efforts are bound by the laws of

the land — or in this case, the sky.

UAS Jobs Created by NAS Integration






Supreme Court action with UAVs


and the Fourth Amendment, which

ial vehicles involved in research will



likely remain a government asset be-


searches and seizures and requires

cause of their price tag, smaller UAVs


a warrant supported by probable

Source: Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International

access to that airspace.

would remain mum a little longer. The FAA plans on releasing the notice of proposed rulemaking for SUAS in spring 2012. The process that initiated the ruling dates back to 2009. In an AUVSI report, entitled “UAS Integration into the NAS: Impact on Job Growth,” the association reports that while integration in early 2012 was feasible, “Micro, miniature and small UAS integration efforts are likely to be fully realized by 2015.” For larger systems, access to the National Airspace System “will likely not be realizes

cases that deal with manned aircraft and the Fourth Amendment, the

special uses of unmanned systems. “The extensive waiting period has driven some UAS end users to fly their aircraft without the appropriate certifications,” says the report. “These uncertified operations pose a safety risk and could create additional challenges for the UAS community.” Across the pond, the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority has approved segregated airspace for unmanned systems, but this space is solely for testing new systems and not for missions. The CAA also makes size distinctions for what constitutes a UAS and also has a separate set of rules for flying model aircraft.

in this decade unless integration efforts are

In addition to policy regulations, unmanned

accelerated.” The report’s best estimate for

aerial systems face a sometimes-skeptical

integration of systems large and small plac-

public when it comes to privacy concerns.

es the turning point around 2025.

tion. While there are some court

will be necessary because of the

was supposed to rule on small UAS ber the administration revealed that it


ACLU anticipates that further rulings

The Federal Aviation Administration in early 2012, but in early Decem-















bodies ruling the skies would allow


States and abroad if the governing


cause for law enforcement interdic-

0 2010

would be proliferated in the United


While the larger tier unmanned aer-

The ACLU recommends that there are strict usage restrictions on the systems, including prohibition of “indiscriminate mass surveillance,” which could be a difficult line to draw, especially in longer-term exploration uses. It recommends image retention restrictions and public notice of the UAVs’ flights. It also would like auditing and effective tracking of the systems, which would track the use of UAVs by government so citizens can tell how and how often the systems are being used and determine if they are being flown in “improper or expanded purposes.” Another difficult hurdle is the organization’s recommendation for a “democratic control” system. “Deployment and policy decisions

On 15 December, the American Civil Lib-

surrounding UAVs should be democrati-

Meanwhile, the numbers of companies and

erties Union released a report on the use

cally decided based on open information

organizations that would like a piece of

of UAVs and gave its recommendations for

— not made on the fly by police depart-

that airspace continues to grow. In 2007,

government use of the systems. Called “Pro-

ments simple by virtue of federal grants or

less than 100 certificate of authorization re-

tecting Privacy From Aerial Surveillance:

other autonomous purchasing decisions or

quests were made to the FAA for unmanned

Recommendations for Government Use of

departmental policy fiats.”

flights, according to the FAA and the Gov-

Drone Aircraft,” the report states, “Based

ernment Accountability Office. The number

on current trends — technology develop-

steadily grew in the following years, reach-

ment, law enforcement interest, political

ing more than 150 in 2008, 250 in 2009

and industry pressure, and the lack of legal

and 350 in 2010.

safeguards — it is clear that drones pose


Mission Critical

Winter 2011

Banning the use of UAS from federal grants would particularly affect the exploration community, which is largely academic and relies on grants for funding.

Ground Tuesday 7 February .



Air Wednesday 8 February

W h e r e

Maritime Thursday 9 February

B u s i n e s s

7–9 February 2012

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When it really is rocket science TESTING, TESTING


sk any engineer and they’ll tell you:

“We actually can test all phases of the

The outdoor area, called the Mars Yard, is

Testing is key in developing any type

mission. We have simulations that help us

a 21-by-22-meter area of soil carefully craft-

of robot.

launch the vehicle, run through our cruise

ed from beach sand, decomposed granite,

scenarios, run through our EDL [entry, de-

brick dust and volcanic cinders to seem like

scent and landing] scenarios and of course

Mars dust. The lab, now in its second itera-

through surface operation,” says Eric Agui-

tion, has Mars-like rocks — that, although

lar, system integration and test lead team

the same size, have different density from

at the lab for the Mars Science Laboratory

their Red Planet counterparts — that are

program. “With that we have different test

scattered at about the same ratio. Outdoor

Though many domains have their challenges, it’d be pretty easy to argue that the guys at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have a behemoth task at hand — recreating and readying robotics for the environment of space.

beds with different levels of hardware fidel-

testing provides not only a Mars-like land-

Started in the 1930s as a test bed for rocket

ity. For instance like GNC [guidance and

scape, but also the chance to test the robots

propulsion, the Jet Propulsion Lab is home

navigation control] sensors, primary avion-

in natural lighting conditions.

to about 5,000 employees that have per-

ics boxes, central computers, again with

fected rockets and robots for the long jour-

simulations also working around that too.

ney to outer space.

And then … we do all the testing in the

JPL has both indoor and outdoor test facilities as its proving grounds.

test bed first prior to doing anything on the flight vehicle.”

It was at this lab that the now famous Spirit and Opportunity rovers were put through the paces before their summer 2003 launches to land on Mars.

A 2003 photo of technicians removing one of the circuit boards on the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL/KSC.


Mission Critical

Winter 2011

Unlike other kinds of robotics, NASA relies on replica systems — with differing weights to account for gravity on each planet — to continually run tests while the rovers are deployed. This can sometimes run long after the expected end of the mission, as was the case with the Mars Exploration Rover program. The program, originally slated to last for three months, is still ongoing. A panoramic view of the Mars Yard, JPL’s outdoors terrain simulation of Mars. Photo courtesy NASA JPL.

The lab also developed unique imaging technology to aid in rover situation reconstruction, called Virtual Presence in Space technology. It combines special effects, like those that would be found in a Hollywood film, with images a rover has taken while

soil and attempting maneuvers to get the

“We basically did most of what we could do

vehicle unstuck.

over the last year, roughly, to try and get in

deployed. The scientists use the tracks of

JPL’s attempts were delayed because of a

the robots present in these photos to over-

computer server disk crash and the search

lay an image of one of the test rovers, cre-

for a similarly soft material to drive over.

ating a panoramic image of the rover on

Both issues were remedied within a month

Mars. Aside from providing awe-inspiring

of the rover’s immobility.

photographs, JPL’s website says the photos “can be useful to mission teams in planning exploration by enhancing perspective and a sense of scale.” Maintaining these test rovers to recreate on Earth the different situations the MER robots encounter on Mars became key when Spirit, the first of the two rovers to deploy, got stuck in some very soft Martian sand in 2009. The lab poured months of testing

touch with the vehicle,” says Jake Matijevic, who worked on the Mars Exploration Rover program for eight years before transitioning to the Mars Science Laboratory team. “The likelihood is, given the circumstances in which the vehicle was forced to be in

Despite the tests, the rover proved too stuck

once it got stuck in the terrain, [it] means

to mediate, and NASA changed its mission

that it couldn’t produce enough energy to

in January 2010 to a stationary one.

keep itself warm [and] probably caused a

Not long after, in late March, NASA’s planned attempt to communicate with the rover went silent, the agency attributing it to the robot entering a low-power hibernation mode. On 25 May 2011, NASA decided to end contact efforts to Spirit.

problem with the battery systems, and we really needed the batteries to make communication possible. I don’t think there’s a resurrection, if you will, of the spacecraft. If there were, it would have already happened this year.”

into using different materials to mimic Mars’

A synthetic image of Spirit created using the Jet Propulsion Lab’s Virtual Presence in Space technology. The process combines a photorealistic model of the rover and with images taken by Spirit and using special effects combines the images so the rover matches the track marks that appear in the photographs. Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Mission Critical

Winter 2011



In the end, an epic battle ensues between Auto and the ship’s human captain, with a little help from WALL-E, after it becomes apparent that Auto is intentionally keeping the Axiom from returning to Earth. Auto doesn’t want to return to Earth because, he says, “On the Axiom, we will survive.” That’s not good enough for the captain, who retaliates “I don’t want to survive! I want to live!” Finally, the captain shuts down Auto and charts a course back to Earth for the robots and people to work together to clean up the mess. Just so no lawyers get involved, this is not an uncredited photo of WALL-E. But to demonstrate how much people like the little guy, the team from Bluefield State College, W.Va., dressed their robot like him in the 2010 AUVSI Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition. AUVSI photo.

‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Stanley Kubrik’s “epic drama of adventure and exploration” — the movie’s tagline — introduces us to HAL, the precursor to

‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’


WALL-E’s Auto. HAL, the ship’s computer,

The conclusion of Michael Bay’s “Transform-

After humans have made a mess of Earth,

ers” trilogy didn’t just explore his dearth of

mega-company Buy n’ Large promotes

mission. HAL starts off as a charismatic

directing talent or the consequences of co-

space as “the final fun-tier” for people

opting a Pink Floyd album without permis-

looking to escape the clutter. The Axiom,

sion. Instead of humans building robots to

a giant automated ship that ferried people

explore space, astronauts go into space to

away from Earth, comes equipped with ro-

investigate an unmanned spacecraft that

bots to take care of your every need, but

has crashed on the dark side of the moon.

none are so sinister as Auto, the robotic au-

This, according to the movie, is the real rea-

topilot charting the Axiom’s course through

son we went to the moon in the ‘60s.

its journey in space. Auto has taken full con-

The mysterious ship is the Ark, a spacecraft from Cybertron carrying an invention that could end the conflict between the benevolent Autobots and the evil Decepticons, the two types of robots that have been (loudly)

trol of the ship, moving it farther and farther into the depths of space, while generations of passengers on board become obese, immobile and completely reliant on robots to serve them.

battling it out in the first two movies. The

As WALL-E travels to the Axiom on a rocket

movie turns into a race between the Auto-

ship, we get a few clues as to where the

bots and Decepticons to reach the Ark and

Axiom has traveled. WALL-E gets up close

to manipulate it for good or evil.

and personal with one of Saturn’s iridescent

Sadly, the series’ most popular robot, Megan Fox, did not make an appearance in this flick. 40

rings, encounters what looks like a giant nebula as he leaves our solar system. He eventually reaches the Axiom somewhere in deep space.

Mission Critical

Winter 2011

runs most of the operations of the Jupiter computerized counterpart to Drs. David Bowman and Frank Poole; he charms audiences in an early interview with the BBC. But when things start to go wrong on the spaceship, HAL chalks it up to “human error.” Concerned that HAL may be wrong, Bowman and Poole sneak away to talk without the computer overhearing them. They both have a “bad feeling” about HAL, but decide to heed his commands. The astronauts agree to deactivate the computer if it proves to be wrong, but what they don’t know is HAL is reading their lips through a window. HAL exacts his revenge on the astronauts. He cuts off oxygen to Poole and sends him adrift in space. Bowman, not realizing HAL is responsible, gets in a pod to rescue Poole, leaving his helmet behind. While he’s gone, HAL terminates the life functions of the crew in suspended animation. When

Bowman returns to the ship with Poole’s

Things get out of hand pretty quickly when

body, HAL refuses to let him in, arguing

Mayflower One short circuits, causing ROC

that his plan to deactivate the computer

to go insane and chart the ship’s course to

system jeopardizes the mission. Bowman

fly into the sun. Three of the flight crewmem-

does eventually get into the spacecraft to

bers try and disable ROC and save the

deactivate HAL. HAL first tries to reassure

ship, but they meet their own grisly ends.

Bowman, then pleads with him to stop, and

Soon, it’s up to Ted Striker to save the day

finally begins to express fear — all in a

and wrestle control from the computer.

steady monotone voice — before Bowman finally deactivates the computer.

‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’

On the ground, the air traffic controller An image of Voyager 2, which is now busy making its way out of the solar system. Hopefully it won’t being sentient and destructive like the fictional Voyager 6 from the movie.

working with Mayflower One discovers that one of the passengers, played by the late Sonny Bono, has brought a bomb on the plane. But it’s not as scary as it sounds.

Boldly going where no man, or robot, had gone before, Lt. Cmdr. Data was a human-

its creator and is frustrated when it doesn’t

Striker actually uses the bomb to blow up

oid robot on board the Starship Enterprise.

get a response. As it turns out, V’Ger is ac-

ROC. Ultimately, Mayflower One lands on

Designed and built by Dr. Noonien Soong,

tually Voyager 6, one of NASA’s old space

the moon as a manned system. But we’ll let

Data serves as the second officer aboard

probes, which apparently traveled through

that slide.

the Enterprise. His brain is a central com-

a black hole, received some memory up-

puter system, which contributes to his im-

grades from other machines, gained its

pressive computational abilities. He also

own intelligence and decided to return to

had a storage capacity of 800 quadrillion

its maker to complete its mission and share

bits and a total linear computational speed

its knowledge.

of 60 trillion operations per second.

‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ But enough about space. Jules Verne’s classic adventure tale, published in 1870, spins a yarn about a highly advanced subma-

The movie’s producers were perhaps a bit

rine, the Nautilus, captained by the mysteri-

Unlike most robots commonly shown in TV

optimistic about NASA’s planetary science

ous Capt. Nemo.

or movies, Data eventually receives chip

budget; it only built two Voyager space-

that allows him to feel human emotion.

craft, both of which launched in 1977.

Over the course of the series, Data became

Voyager 1 became the most-distant human-

more and more “human-like” without ever

made object in space in 1998, and both

fully fitting in with his human comrades

spacecraft are nearing interstellar space

aboard the Enterprise. He is eventually de-

(where no spacecraft, let alone man, has

clared an autonomous individual, instead

gone before). Future Capt. Kirks may have

of being Starfleet property, but this uncanny

to deal with the Voyagers should they re-

valley made for some poignant, and often


humorous, scenes. The writers used this plot point to show an “outsider’s” perspective

‘Airplane II: The Sequel’

on humanity.

Sometimes a mission to the moon can lead

‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ It’s difficult to talk about science and exploration without at least a couple of Star Trek references. The first Star Trek movie hit screens in 1979, telling the story of a menacing space presence that was destroying Klingon and Federation spaceships alike as

to rogue spaceflight, crash landings and a serious drinking problem. Just ask Ted Striker, the lead character in Airplane II: The Sequel, a riotous follow-up to (what else) “Airplane.” In the sequel, a crew is preparing to fly the maiden voyage of Mayflower One, a lunar shuttle with an autopilot system called ROC, to a space station already

it drew closer to Earth.

built on the moon. All the while, Ted is on

The culprit turned out to be a device named

love of his life, Elaine Dickinson, who works

V’Ger, which just wants to be reunited with

his own autopilot mission to win back the

Scientist Pierre Aronnax and the harpoonthrower Ned Land are part of an expedition to kill what is thought to be a sea monster, which instead is revealed as the Nautilus. Nemo takes them aboard and proceeds to show them the world, or at least the underwater part of it. They wander far afield, from the Red Sea to Antarctica, and even wander about on the bottom in special suits. The Nautilus is a marvel, specially outfitted for marine biology studies, but Nemo is not much of a people person and wants to keep the protagonists hostage. He has vowed never to rejoin the human world, but Aronnax feels that old publish-or-perish pull and wants to get off the ship — even cutting-edge science and exploration gets old after a while, apparently. If only Nemo had thought to employ ROVs or AUVs on his sub, maybe his guests would have stuck around.

on the plane. Mission Critical

Winter 2011


Communications can be key underground, underwater TECHNOLOGY GAP


ne of the biggest challenges facing

Talking underwater

Not every program will be able to create

the use of underwater vehicles, and

AUVs can communicate underwater, but

such an infrastructure, however, so work

sometimes ground vehicles, is commu-

at higher bandwidths they are limited to

continues on technologies to at least ease

nication. Air waves have proven to be ro-

distances measured in tens of meters. The

the communications burden. WFS Defense

bust carriers of information; water is much

ways to get around this have traditionally

markets technologies that use radio fre-

more difficult, and traveling underground

been by surfacing the vehicles and using

quency communications for both sea-going

sometimes renders land communications

antennas to report back or using acoustic

systems and land systems.

tricky as well.

modems to send data via buoys.

The company’s Seatext RF system

Water absorbs and scatters com-

is being used in the Chesapeake



Bay to provide wireless com-

ground can block or echo them,

munication capability from sen-

making communications difficult

sors based on the bay floor to a

or impossible, at least at high

WatchKeeper buoy built by AXYS



There are several ways to get

The Seatext modem in the bay

around these problems. One is

transmits data through water rang-

tethering, as is used with remotely

ing from 5 meters deep to 50

operated vehicles underwater and

meters deep at data rates of up

some unmanned ground vehicles

to 100 bits per second. They are

for certain applications.

used to transmit data about water



quality on the bottom, where the

The team from the Center for Ro-

state of Maryland is trying to re-

bot-Assisted Search and Rescue

store oyster beds.

(CRASAR), for instance, has tethered ground robots as part of its

Another company looking to bol-

toolkit and made use of them in

ster communications, at least on

surveying the damaged Japanese nuclear plant at Fukishima Daiichi. And ROVs used around the

A map of the Ocean Observatories Initiative, which will make heavy use of cabling for undersea communications. Photo courtesy OOI.

the ground side, is Cobham. The company conducted a series of demonstrations of its coded or-

world, including by the oil and

thogonal frequency division mul-

gas industry, rely on tethers.


Tethers are a twofer solution: They can provide both communication at high data rates and power, both of which are critical when you’re sending robots thousands of feet underwater or hundreds of feet down a mine shaft.

untethered vehicles are more desirable, for their range and flexibility, even if using them means operators have to put up with spotty communications. Once you’ve gone that way, however, you’re again suffering with the fact that seawater makes communications difficult. 42

Mission Critical

Winter 2011


how the technology could dramatiWhile advances are being made in radio

cally extend the range of ground vehicles,

frequency communications and even things

improving their ability to work in culverts,

like lasers, William Porter, the former presi-

pipes or in the interiors of buildings.

dent and CEO of WFS Defense says, “The cure will always be a mix of things.”

For some uses, though, fully autonomous,


in 2008 through 2010, showing

The company has now purchased Germany’s Telerob, maker of the tEODor (Telerob

One major new initiative, the Ocean Ob-

Explosive Ordnance Disposal and observa-

servatories Initiative, is using an array of

tion robot) and TeleMAX, a smaller, lighter

devices, including an undersea cable, to

platform with flexible treads and a robotic

get data back from fixed ocean platforms

arm, giving it more platforms to demon-

and autonomous undersea vehicles and

strate its COFDM systems.

gliders (for more on the OOI, see the story on Page 7).

Laser beams and transducers Some companies are looking to more exotic means of communication, mainly for submarines, although that could filter down to smaller unmanned systems as well if the technology is proven. ITT Corp. is working on using laser communication with satellites that would allow submarines to talk at high bandwidth while remaining below the thermocline layer, thus avoiding detection. The system would use “quantum keys” to avoid signal cracking by outside enemies while still allowing a submarine to transmit data over the laser. According to Popular Science, any attempt to intercept the photons would alert the sender. However, there’s much work to be done, as the photons must be able to pass through the water without also disturbing the security of the stream, and satellites must be able to receive and relay such signals. BAE Systems has also been working the submarine communications issue in recent years, although in a different way. The company has demonstrated a through-hull communications system that does away with the need to drill holes in the sides of submarines for communications equipment. Instead, using two acoustic transducers, the company has shown it can send signals through several inches of solid steel. This is not only applicable to submarines, but to armored vehicles, pipes and other systems, the company says. And, while it doesn’t get the signal much beyond the submarine or the armored vehicle, it does help with communications, the company says, in its application for a U.S. patent filed in 2010. “In an application of the present invention when applied to submarine hulls, underwater communication points may be provided at various places over the outside of the hull to enable, e.g. short-range RF or optical communication between external vehicles or divers in the water outside the submarine and equipment or people inside it,” the application says. “For example, a transponder may be linked to the throughhull communications link as provided by the present invention to enable remote control of an underwater vehicle from within the submarine or to download data gathered by the underwater vehicle when it moves to within communicating range of the transponder. The broadband nature of the connection through the hull provided by the present invention seems particularly attractive in its ability to rapidly download or exchange significant quantities of data with a remote vehicle or diver or an underwater beacon in a very short time.”

WFS Defense’s Seatext system, shown here at the Undersea Defense Technology 2009 show. AUVSI photo.

Mission Critical

Winter 2011


UUVs and the brimstone below END USERS


avid Clague is a senior scientist at the

volcanoes are all pretty similar to each

resolution data underwater than anybody

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research In-

other, he says.

can collect on land [over volcanoes],” he

stitute (MBARI) who makes extensive

use of an autonomous underwater vehicle to study submarine volcanoes. Indeed, he says, AUV technology and practices spearheaded by MBARI now make it easier to study volcanoes under the sea than ones on land.

“These are not. Eruption rates vary greatly; eruption durations vary by at least several

This was in evidence this summer, when

orders of magnitude.”

the AUV created a new map of a lava flow

In the past, studying the flows would be done from ships and remotely operated vehicles would do “ground truthing.” That could take 15-20 ROV dives.

“For years, I wanted to drain the water out and see what they [volcanoes] were doing,” he tells Mission Critical. “Now I’d like


from the Axial Seamount, an active volcano about 270 kilometers off the coast of Oregon. An ROV dive noted that the seafloor had changed as they refreshed instruments, and the AUV was able to map the new

“We now make a map — that usually takes

floor, now under one to 15 meters of fresh

us a day or two — and then we’ll put may-

lava, in just a couple of days.

to sink ‘em and see what they’re doing.”

MBARI was established in 1987 by David Packard and is located in Moss Landing,

Clague began his career studying under-

Calif., on Monterey Bay. Its mission is to de-

water volcanoes, but it proved difficult to

velop better instruments, systems and meth-

do because the technology was not good

ods for studying ocean waters. The institute

enough in the 1970s and 1980s. He later

pioneered the use of mapping gear on

returned to it and began working with AUV

AUVs, Clague says, including multi-beam

technology in about 2006, fine-tuning both

mapping systems and side-scan sonar, sys-

technology and operations along the way.

tems that have now found their way onto

“It’s a long process. There’s a lot of things

commercial and military AUVs.

that can go wrong, and they do,” he says.

The institute currently has one mapping

Most researchers using AUVs “fly” them

AUV, the D. Allen B., named in honor of David Clague, MBARI

over flat, muddy sea bottoms. That doesn’t work for volcano studies.

longtime institute board member D. Allen Bromley of Yale University, who died in

“We fly the vehicles through very rough terrain, up very steep slopes, through very sharp changes in slope,” he says. “Pretty

be three dives on it to ground-truth the map. We can actually make a map that says the flow boundaries are here, here and here.”

2004. The institute is building a second mapping vehicle now, Clague says, partly to make

much every mission we do now is pushing

That cuts down on the number of samples

more efficient use of the institute’s ships.

our capability to actually deploy in more

needed for study, which cuts down on the

Other AUVs include one that makes chemi-

and more rugged terrain. When we start-

lab work, which cuts down on expenses,

cal and biologic measurements in the up-

ed, we were flying higher off the bottom to

he says.

per water, and a long-range AUV that can

avoid some of these problems. Now, to increase resolution, we’re flying at 50 meters above the bottom.”

“It saves a lot of money, and we end up with a much better product. … The AUV makes everything much easier; it’s much easier to

Pushing the underwater envelope hasn’t

plan what you’re doing, much easier to see

been easy. “We collected a few samples

what you’re doing. We can collect higher

survey the upper water for up to a month. A combination mapping and video imaging AUV and another to do midwater biologic transects using video are under development.

from the bottom in the beginning,” he says

For More Information:

with a laugh. Clague maps underwater lava flows, making geological maps of the ocean floor. Aboveground volcano eruptions of basalt 44

Mission Critical

Winter 2011



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