Advisory Board

Dr. Issa A.D. Nesnas

The Universe Today article New Robot Could Explore Treacherous Terrain on Mars said

If you’ve looked at the high resolution HiRISE images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or had the chance to explore the new Google Mars, you know Mars is fraught with craters, mountains, gullies, and all sorts of interesting — and dangerous — terrain. Areas such as these with layered deposits, sediments, fracturing, and faulting are just the type of places to look for the sources of methane that is being produced on Mars. But it’s much too risky to send our current style of rovers, including the 2011 Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), into such treacherous terrain.
Engineers from JPL, along with students at the California Institute of Technology, have designed and tested a versatile, low-mass robot that could be added to larger rovers like MSL and then could rappel off cliffs, travel nimbly over steep and rocky terrain, and explore deep craters. This prototype rover, called Axel, might help future robotic spacecraft better explore and investigate foreign worlds such as Mars. On Earth, Axel might assist in search-and-rescue operations.
“Axel extends our ability to explore terrains that we haven’t been able to explore in the past, such as deep craters with vertically-sloped promontories,” said Axel’s principal investigator, Issa A.D. Nesnas, of JPL’s robotics and mobility section. “Also, because Axel is relatively low-mass, a mission may carry a number of Axel rovers. That would give us the opportunity to be more aggressive with the terrain we would explore, while keeping the overall risk manageable.”

Issa A.D. Nesnas, Ph.D. is Group Supervisor for the Robotic Software Systems group and Principal Investigator of the multi-institutional robotic software architecture (CLARAty) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). He has over 15 years of experience in robotic system and software design, sensor-based robotic control, and vision-guided manipulation.
Issa joined JPL in 1997 where he worked on planetary dexterous manipulation for rovers and landers. He developed algorithms for vision-based manipulation, sample acquisition, and instrument placement from rover platforms. He was the Cognizant engineer on CLARAty from 1999 to 2001. More recently, he has led several research tasks including rover-based visual tracking and the development of the Rocky 8 and Axel rovers. He also worked on the entry, descent, and landing for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.
Prior to joining JPL in 1997, he was a senior project engineer at Adept Technology, Inc. inventing and implementing several new technologies for high-speed vision-based robotic applications. He holds a patent for the Impulse-based flexible parts feeder. He also participated in the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences Consortium working with industry leaders in factory automation including Eastman Kodak, Ford, GM, Delco Electronics, and Cummins Engine, designing hardware and software standards for robotic assembly cells.
Issa coauthored Targeted Driving Using Visual Tracking on Mars: From Research to Flight, CLARAty: Challenges and Steps Toward Reusable Robotic Software, A Reconfigurable Robotic Exploration Vehicle for Extreme Environments, A Generic Framework for Robotic Navigation, Toward Developing Reusable Software Components for Robotic Applications, Decision-making in a robotic architecture for autonomy, Continuous planning and execution for an autonomous rover, Towards a unified representation of mechanisms for robotic control software, Rover-based visual target tracking validation and mission infusion, and Increased Mars rover autonomy using AI planning, scheduling, and execution.
Issa earned his B.E. degree in Electrical Engineering from Manhattan College, NY in 1991, and earned his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Robotics from the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Notre Dame, IN in 1993 and 1995 respectively.
He has received several Notable Organizational Value Added (NOVA) Awards and Exceptional Achievement Awards for his work at JPL. He is a member of the Eta Kappa Nu and Tau Beta Pi national honor societies. His CLARAty team received the One NASA Center Best Award for JPL in 2006.
Watch NASA – Axel NEW ROVER and This Week @ NASA 02–10–09.