Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Perspectives on Space Robotics

Brian Wilcox will discuss current plans for exploration of the moon using teams of human astronauts and robots starting in 2020, and discuss the history of space robot development that led to the acceptance by the human spaceflight community of the involvement of robotic systems. Brian, as an active participant in the robotics research community for the past 30 years, will give his perspective on the history and development thread of robotics generally and what we can expect in the near and midterm futures, with examples drawn from the field of space robotics.


Brian Wilcox is the Principal Investigator for the ATHLETE robot being developed under the NASA Exploration Technology Development Program for use as a cargo and habitat transport system on the moon. ATHLETE is the All-Terrain, Hex-Limbed, Extra-Terrestrial Explorer, a six-wheel-on-leg vehicle that rolls over nominal terrain, walks over extreme terrain, and can perform assembly, maintenance or repair tasks using tools attached to any of its six limbs. Previously, Brian was the supervisor of the Robotic Vehicles Group at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for over 20 years, guiding the development of the technology leading up to the successful Sojourner, Spirit, and Opportunity Mars rovers. Brian was personally responsible for the development of the imaging and hazard sensors and hazard avoidance system on Sojourner. His group was responsible for the electronics, flight software, ground software, and mission operations for Sojourner, and staffed key roles for all those same functions on the larger Mars Exploration Rover Project. Brian also led the development of the "nanorover" - a 1-kilogram rover designed to explore near-Earth asteroids. Brian has a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California.