Voice of America Covers WVRTC Space Robotics Research

The Voice of America was created in 1942 and is the largest U.S. international broadcaster.  VOA provides news and information to the world in more than 45 languages to an estimated weekly audience of 236 million people.  Content is developed in radio, television, and digital formats and is distributed via satellite, cable, FM, and MW.

Voice of America (VOA) visited the WVRTC facility to cover the research and development being performed in WV in the areas of space exploration and robotics.  A short segment was posted on the VoA website in the “Silicon Valley & Technology” section.  The video can also be viewed on the VOA website here.

Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 1.24.01 PM


Permanent link to this article: http://wvrtc.com/news/voice-of-america-covers-wvrtc-space-robotics-research/

WVRTC Talks Zero-G Testing with WVU Students

DSC_0588The West Virginia University Micro-Gravity Student Research Team visited the WV Robotic Technology Center for an interactive day to cover micro-gravity testing for advancing scientific and space exploration objectives.  The WVU team is planning to test an experimental procedure to evaluate the effects of low-gravity environments on soldering operations.  The flight is projected in the 2017 timeframe, and in preparation for mission success, the student team is gathering information on all aspects of simulated environment testing.

The students were eager to learn about the past experiences of the WVRTC with Zero-G flight and Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) test campaigns    Dr. John Kuhlman from the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department is the lead faculty member on the student team and partnered with the WVRTC for outreach initiatives to support student development.

The students toured the WVRTC facility and received a short overview of how the WVRTC team assists robotic satellite servicing and asteroid exploration initiatives.  The technology being developed at the Center was showcased in hands-on robot demonstrations in the simulation laboratory.  The WVRTC team will continue to support the students as the prepare to tackle their micro-gravity test in the coming semester.


Permanent link to this article: http://wvrtc.com/news/wvrtc-talks-zero-g-testing-with-wvu-students/

WVRTC Developing Advanced Task Priority for Robotic Operations

WVRTC Robot Simulator SoftwareThe WVRTC is focusing on a key topic in robotics: full autonomy. The research task, led by lead research engineer, Dr. Giacomo Marani, focuses on taking human control progressively out of the robotic operations process. The goal is to increase the level of information exchanged. Rather than a human sitting there controlling the robot’s movement joint by joint, they will instead be able to use short sentences to operate the robot such as, “Go there,” or “Grab that.”

The team is currently investigating the first stage of research, namely Inverse Kinematics with Tasks Prioritization, or TPIK as it’s become known. TPIK is focusing on the robot’s ability to split its task into a sequence of subtasks, each one with a different priority, and ensuring that the highest priority task is ahead of the lowest. For example, if the robot is approaching an obstacle, preventing collision must have higher priority than following the originally planned trajectory.

This increase in level of autonomy is necessary because humans are not always able to be there in real-time to control the robot. As the robot moves farther away from Earth, the delay in communication makes it difficult to intervene in real-time from ground control. Once the robot gains autonomy, it will no longer have to rely on continuous human interaction; it will be able to prioritize and adjust its actions accordingly.

Permanent link to this article: http://wvrtc.com/news/wvrtc-developing-advanced-task-priority-for-robotic-operations/

WVU Robotics Team Wins at the NASA Centennial Challenge

For the third straight year, WVU students have swept the competition at NASA’s Centennial Challenge. The robot, Cataglyphis, scored 11 points to win the Level 2 competition for the Sample Robot Return competition. WVU’s team is the only team to ever win a Level 2 competition, an accomplishment repeated consecutively for two years.

The team was awarded $750,000 for their success; the highest award ever granted in the history of the competition. Their total earnings over their three years of victory total to $855,000. In their first competition, they were awarded $5,000 for a Level 1 victory. For last year’s Level 2 victory, they were awarded $100,000.

The Centennial Challenges were created to allow everyday citizens and engineers to assist in helping NASA prepare for complex issues in space exploration.  This particular challenge is focused on maturing the technology of rovers that are used to explore the Martian surface. For this year’s competition, the team’s robot autonomously traveled over 20 acres of land to gather four samples of varying difficulty over a 2-hour time period.

“The win is an impressive display of technology that is being developed at West Virginia University,” according to Dr. Thomas Evans, Director of the WV Robotic Technology Center.   “NASA’s Sample Return Challenge is a great event for the students and faculty at WVU to showcase their capabilities in robotics and space exploration. Yu Gu has done an excellent job leading the team along with support from Powsiri Klinkhachorn, Jason Gross and Marvin Cheng.”

“Our aim at WVU is to grow the robotics program to be one of the best in the nation,” Evans continued. “The students and faculty involved in this program have helped us to get closer to achieving that goal.”


Permanent link to this article: http://wvrtc.com/news/wvu-robotics-win/

Upward Bound Visits WVRTC

WVU Upward Bound - 10WVRTC hosted the WVU branch of Upward Bound today as a part of the STEM Outreach Initiative. Upward Bound is a program that helps students to overcome cultural, academic, and social barriers. They provide weekly tutoring and monthly activities with the goal of helping these students to graduate high school and seek secondary education opportunities.

A group of eleven consisting of students and staff toured the space robotics laboratory as they learned about NASA’s current and future objectives with satellite servicing and the Asteroid Redirect Mission, or ARM.

The students got their own taste of outer-space as they applied force to a robot programmed to behave as if it is a 2,000 kg satellite in space. The robot moved almost effortlessly as it would in zero gravity.

Dr. Thomas Evans wrapped up the tour by explaining to the students the importance of STEM education and the need to grow technical job opportunities in the Mountain State.

WVU Upward Bound - 12






Permanent link to this article: http://wvrtc.com/news/upward-bound-visits-wvrtc/

WVRTC Interns Successfully Complete Project Peer Reviews

WVRTC 2016 Summer Internship Peer ReviewThe WVRTC Summer 2016 interns participated in a peer review by the WVRTC technical staff. The WVRTC summer 2016 interns are working on multiple projects that support the WVRTC team with robot control, 3D printing, and robot end-effector lighting systems.  Working alongside WVRTC engineers since mid-May, all interns are on schedule to complete their summer projects before the start of the fall academic semester.

Domenick Poster is a West Virginia University student from the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. Mr. Poster is working on creating a web interface for a robot end-effector lighting simulation. The illumination system will be used by WVRTC engineers during robotic tests that require the simulated lighting intensity to be controlled to match on-orbit settings.

The remaining intern projects aim to refine prototype tactile sensor systems developed by the WVRTC team.  Josh Samples has spent his time working on electronic circuit development for the tactile schemes that will enable a sense of touch or haptic feedback in  robot control scheme.

Each of the four interns completed a 45 minute formal presentation and the question and answer session that followed.  Action items for each intern were assigned to maintain progress and schedule for successful completion of each project.




Permanent link to this article: http://wvrtc.com/news/wvrtc-interns-successfully-complete-project-peer-reviews/

WVRTC RISES Program Holds Technical Review with NASA JSC

RISES Robotic Demonstration at WVRTCThe WVRTC Robotic In-Situ Surface Exploration System (RISES) team hosted the technical mentor team from the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX to review with the progress of the NASA Early Stage Innovation (ESI) research project. (More information on RISES: https://www.nasa.gov/content/robotic-in-situ-surface-exploration-system-rises/#.V3aNh1f-2V8 )

ESI is a NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate program that awards contracts to develop low-TRL technologies in alignment with NASA’s future space exploration missions.

The RISES research program specifically supports the Asteroid Redirect Mission with extended applications to any space exploration objective that can benefit from nondestructive characterization of material or structural components. The team at WVRTC proposed nondestructive testing (NDT) methods that could be used in-situ on an asteroid to determine its mechanical properties before committing to robotic capture operations.

The NASA JSC mentors of the WVRTC RISES program started their visit on the West Virginia University campus with an introduction and tour of the mining laboratory facilities.  The team performed demonstrations and technical presentations on the NDT capability.

The WVRTC facility in Fairmont was the next stop on the agenda.  A working lunch and technical presentation were followed by a full-scale robotic demonstration to determine the density and compressive strength values of asteroid analog boulders ranging in size from 1 – 6 meters in diameter — the minimum and maximum diameters targeted by the Asteroid Redirect Mission.

The WVRTC RISES team is currently halfway in the second year of the two-year research project and is aiming to closeout the program by increasing the prototype robotic tools to a TRL-5 level in hopes to extend the development for flight applications with ARM.


Permanent link to this article: http://wvrtc.com/news/wvrtc-rises-program-holds-technical-review-with-nasa-jsc/

An Exciting Week for WVRTC in D.C.

WVRTC Director Dr. Thomas Evans, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, NASA GSFC Director Chris ScoleseThis past week, WVRTC made its way to Washington D.C. to tackle several program tasks. The team divided and conquered to make it to the Academic Partners’ Meeting at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the WVU Alumni Luncheon at the National Press Club.

The WVRTC staff attended the Academic Partners’ Meeting on Tuesday, allowing for Dr. Thomas Evans, Director of WVRTC, to represent the team at the WVU Alumni Luncheon.  The Alumni Luncheon featured remarks from WVU President Gordon Gee.

Meetings with U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) filled the remainder of the day as Evans promoted WVRTC’s mission-critical support for robot satellite servicing. Wednesday morning kicked off with a meeting at Congressman David McKinley’s (R-WV 1st District) office, followed by day two of the Academic Partners’ Meeting.

Evans quickly departed D.C. after the meeting with Cong. McKinley to deliver an hour-long presentation at NASA Goddard covering WVRTC’s most recent work.  The audience consisted of members from the University of Maryland, Case Western Reserve University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Johns Hopkins University, as well as NASA Goddard personnel.

After the presentation, the team returned to D.C. to participate in the summit held by the United State of Women Organization at NASA Headquarters.  The summit focused on “engaging women and girls in STEM through data science.” Evans, accompanied by two WVRTC interns, tuned in for an enlightening talk about women shattering the ceiling in science and math-based careers.


Permanent link to this article: http://wvrtc.com/news/an-exciting-week-for-wvrtc-in-d-c/

Thomas Evans, Ph.D. – WVRTC Director

Dr. Thomas Evans serves as the Director of the WV Robotic Technology Center in support of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s, Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office. At WVRTC, Dr. Evans is responsible for strategic development and guidance of research to support satellite servicing endeavors and advanced space robotic operations. In addition to leading the full-time staff at WVRTC, Dr. Evans holds a Research Associate Professorship position in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department at WVU. He engages research faculty and graduate students within the University’s College of Engineering to support the development of WVRTC robotic subsystems and advanced sensor systems.

Dr. Evans performed mechanical design and systems engineering of robotic tools and sensor system integration before advancing to the Director position. His background and experience includes research and development in the fields of composite materials, embedded sensor systems, robotics, and mechanical design.



Permanent link to this article: http://wvrtc.com/team/thomas-h-evans-phd/

Giacomo Marani, Ph.D. – Research Engineer

Giacomo Marani received the Laurea degree in Electronic Engineering and the Doctorate degree in Robotics and Automation from the University of Pisa in Italy.

He is the lead researcher at the West Virginia Robotic Technology Center, serving the NASA Space Servicing Capability Office, with focus on the application of autonomous manipulation concepts to space systems, finalized to on-orbit satellite servicing. His research interests include advanced robotic kinematics and dynamic control of autonomous robotic systems, simulation, sensor fusion and pose estimation with computer vision.

Previously he served at the University of Hawaii at Manoa as acting principal investigator on the SAUVIM project (Development of a Semi-Autonomous Underwater Vehicle for Intervention Missions) and as lecturer for Advanced Robotics.

Since 2009 he is chair of the IEEE Marine Robotics Technical Committee.

Permanent link to this article: http://wvrtc.com/team/giacomo-marani-ph-d-research-engineer/

Older posts «