Designing robots for Earth and space

Jan 27, 2014 by Nancy Smith Kilkenny
Designing robots for earth and space
NASA Glenn engineers refurbished Leroy, the bomb retrieval robot, for the Cleveland Police Museum. Credit: NASA

In a remote corner of the Cleveland Police Museum, a famous robot languished gathering dust. In its glory days, this robot was part of the fight in the 1970s against Mafia domination in Cleveland.

As the bombing capital of the country at the time, the robot known as Leroy was a crime-fighting superstar, taking dozens of unexploded bombs away from neighborhood targets and depositing them in safe containers for detonation.

When the Mafia was eventually broken by local and federal law enforcement, Leroy's role waned and he was consigned to a corner of the museum.

A few months ago, NASA Glenn Senior Research Engineer Mike Krasowski was visiting the museum and had a conversation with Bob Cermak, museum volunteer and trustee. When Cermak expressed an interest in refurbishing Leroy, Krasowski assured him that the center's Mobile and Remote Sensing Lab (MARS) could get the robot working again under an existing Space Act Agreement with the City of Cleveland.

Along with engineer Larry Greer and technician Danny Spina, the MARS team fitted Leroy with new electronics and capabilities. He might be a 1970s robot, but today he is fitted with technology that allows him to be operated remotely by computer or tether, take still and video camera images, operate a vintage police shotgun and operate the bomb gripper.

"Thanks to the folks at Glenn, we can now use Leroy to educate the public," says Cermak. "Kids can operate the robot to better understand the tools we used for crime fighting in that era."

Senior Research Engineers Lawrence Greer and Michael Krasowski equip MADI with sensors and imaging equipment depending on the mission. Credit: NASA, Michelle M. Murphy (Wyle Information Systems, LLC)

While the MARS team helped the Cleveland Police refurbish an old crime-fighting robot, their day-to-day work involves outfitting modern robots for other applications for first responders under the Space Act Agreement, which has great potential for science in space and on Earth. For example, they are currently working on the instrumentation of MADI (the Mars Lab Aquatic Descent Instrument). It's an underwater robotic device fitted with interfaces for sensors and instruments for applications in law enforcement and underwater science in fresh and salt water.

"The beauty of MADI is that it can be tailored to meet the needs of any underwater mission," says Krasowski. "If first responders want to use it, we can fit the robot with metal detectors and sonar imaging equipment to locate underwater evidence in the murky depths of Lake Erie."

Diving is always dangerous and many first responder divers are injured each year. A robot like MADI, outfitted with specialized sensors, can dive into the water first and search an underwater scene, keeping humans out of harm's way. Then if a diver is needed, the diver can follow MADI's tether down to an area of interest.

The MARS team is also working with freshwater research scientists at Glenn investigating the health of lakes and streams in the Midwest. "In that situation," says Krasowski, "MADI can be fitted with sensors that measure pressure and temperature; water salinity and chemical compounds, just to name a few."

At the heart of MADI is a complex operating system. Greer has developed the "brains" of the robot, which allows it to operate and send critical data to remote computers for analysis.

The MARS team will be working with the Cleveland Police and NASA researchers through 2014 to test and demonstrate MADI's capabilities. But they already have a group of believers. This summer, students from Glenn's Space Academy were given an educational challenge to design instruments for underwater exploration. Krasowski's team used MADI to test their ideas by attaching instruments and lowering the into a quarry descending 90 feet. It gathered data used by the students to write their reports. They went home excited about scientific research.

Beyond Earth, the team believes MADI could be a research tool on celestial bodies such as Titan. One of the moons orbiting Jupiter, Titan has many lakes of liquid methane. "In astrobiology, we are always looking for biomarkers or biosignatures, which point to signs of life," says Krasowski. "Scientists developing submersible instruments for Titan lake science missions can proof instruments using MADI to perform underwater tests and demonstrations on Earth."

Explore further: NASA eyes Tropical Cyclone Madi's rainfall

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA eyes Tropical Cyclone Madi's rainfall

Dec 09, 2013

Tropical Cyclone Madi is headed for a landfall in southeastern India, and NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's TRMM satellite found that rainfall was heaviest north of the storm's center.

NASA tests Mars rover prototype in Chile

Jun 29, 2013

NASA scientists said Friday they were testing a prototype of a robot the US space agency hopes to send to Mars in 2020 in Chile's Atacama desert.

Recommended for you

Microsoft beefs up security protection in Windows 10

19 hours ago

What Microsoft users in business care deeply about—-a system architecture that supports efforts to get their work done efficiently; a work-centric menu to quickly access projects rather than weather readings ...

US official: Auto safety agency under review

Oct 24, 2014

Transportation officials are reviewing the "safety culture" of the U.S. agency that oversees auto recalls, a senior Obama administration official said Friday. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been criticized ...

Out-of-patience investors sell off Amazon

Oct 24, 2014

Amazon has long acted like an ideal customer on its own website: a freewheeling big spender with no worries about balancing a checkbook. Investors confident in founder and CEO Jeff Bezos' invest-and-expand ...

Ebola.com domain sold for big payout

Oct 24, 2014

The owners of the website Ebola.com have scored a big payday with the outbreak of the epidemic, selling the domain for more than $200,000 in cash and stock.

Hacker gets prison for cyberattack stealing $9.4M

Oct 24, 2014

An Estonian man who pleaded guilty to orchestrating a 2008 cyberattack on a credit card processing company that enabled hackers to steal $9.4 million has been sentenced to 11 years in prison by a federal judge in Atlanta.

Magic Leap moves beyond older lines of VR

Oct 24, 2014

Two messages from Magic Leap: Most of us know that a world with dragons and unicorns, elves and fairies is just a better world. The other message: Technology can be mindboggingly awesome. When the two ...

User comments : 0