Advisory Board

Brian H. Wilcox, M.S.

The NewScientist article Giant robots could carry lunar bases on their backs said

NASA engineers are testing out a giant, six-legged robot that could pick up and move a future Moon base thousands of kilometers across the lunar surface, allowing astronauts to explore much more than just the area around their landing site.
In a 2005 report about its exploration plans, NASA said it wanted to set up a base at a fixed location on the Moon after initially returning humans there in 2020.
But a gargantuan robotic vehicle called ATHLETE (All-Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) could change that. Measuring about 7.5 meters wide, with legs more than 6 meters long, the robot could act essentially like a turtle, carrying the astronauts’ living quarters around on its back.
ATHLETE’s wheel-tipped legs are so long, “it just steps right off and carries the payload anywhere you want,” says JPL’s Brian Wilcox, who heads the ATHLETE project.

Brian H. Wilcox, M.S. is Principle Investigator, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is Principal Investigator for several NASA research tasks in the area of robotic vehicle development for planetary exploration. Recent tasks managed by him include the “Robotically-deployed Lunar Telescope” feasibility task and the “Nanorover Outposts” feasibility task, both of which led to development of one or more working prototypes as part of the feasibility demonstration.
Brian is Member, Committee on Autonomous Vehicles in Support of Naval Operations, Naval Studies Board, National Academy of Sciences. He was Chair, Space Automation and Robotics Technical Committee, American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics from 2000 to 2004. He was awarded the JPL Award for Excellence, JPL’s highest award, in May 1999 for proposing the Miniature Mars Ascent Vehicle. In the words of JPL Director Ed Stone at the award ceremony, this effort “enabled Mars sample return”. He was awarded the NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal for his work in development of Planetary Rover systems in May 1992.

He authored
Robotic vehicles for planetary exploration, Vision-based planetary rover navigation, and ATHLETE: A Mobility and Manipulation System for the Moon, and coauthored A Mars rover for the 1990’s, Mars rover local navigation and hazard avoidance, Experiences with operations and autonomy of the Mars Pathfinder Microrover, Operator-coached machine vision for space telerobotics, The Pathfinder Microrover, Expanding venue and persistence of planetary mobile robotic exploration: new technology concepts for Mars and beyond, Embedded Control of a Miniature Science Rover for Planetary Exploration, Summary of the issues regarding the Martian Subsurface Explorer, The MUSES Rover, Motion planning for a six-legged lunar robot, and Structural feasibility analysis of a robotically assembled very large aperture optical space telescope.

From 1985 to 2005, he was Supervisor of the Robotic Vehicles Group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Robotic Vehicles Group was responsible for the control and navigation of the Sojourner Rover, which explored part of Mars in the summer of 1997, including design of the electronics and navigation sensors, development of the control software including all elements (command sequencing, power control, communication codes and handshaking, instrument deployment, as well as hazard detection and avoidance), and mission operations. The group is currently responsible for similar activities for both the MUSES CN Nanorover as well as the Mars ‘03/05 “Athena” rover. He was personally responsible for conceiving and developing the stereo camera and laser ranging system used on the Sojourner rover, and for the system design concept of the MUSES CN nanorover.
Brian earned his B.A. (magna cum laude) in Mathematics from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1973, his B.S. (magna cum laude) in Physics from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1973, and his M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California in 1992 with an Emphasis in Signal and Image Processing. He holds six US patents in the areas of robotic vehicles and VLSI for robotic perception including the patents High mobility vehicle, Robotic vehicle, and Method for surmounting an obstacle by a robot vehicle.