Press Release

NASA Goddard Technology Wins 2007 ‘R&D 100’ Award

By SpaceRef Editor
October 19, 2007
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For the second year in a row, a technology developed at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has been recognized by R&D Magazine as one of the top 100 most innovative and technologically significant new products of the year. Dubbed the “Oscars of Invention” by the Chicago Tribune, the R&D 100 awards are annually bestowed upon technologies that have the potential to greatly affect further scientific discovery, human life, and society.

Goddard’s Adaptive Sensor Fleet (ASF) technology, one of this year’s winners, has already made significant inroads into oceanographic and simulated planetary research — and its breadth of capabilities has the potential to benefit science missions ranging from oil-spill detection to search-and-rescue operations.

The revolutionary ASF software architecture employs a unique, simple interface to remotely control vehicles (such as boats, satellites, rovers, robots, etc.) to work collaboratively in support of a scientific goal. Offering centralized communication, the system can control the fleet of vehicles and reroute them as needed without the vehicles “talking” to each other. The system offers extreme versatility in the variety of science goals it can accomplish, and offers cost savings and efficiency by enabling reusable code and commands.

“There really are very few limits to the types of research and exploration goals ASF can be used to accomplish,” said Jeff Hosler, head of the ASF development team at Goddard. “The system can control and monitor boats to study weather phenomena, or detect oil and chemical spills. It could control rovers or robots in space, or unmanned vehicles on Earth for military, mining, search-and-rescue … the possibilities are really quite vast.”

While hypothetical examples of ASF’s applications abound, several significant applications have already been demonstrated with great success. Under a joint effort funded by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA oceanographer John Moisan led a team that developed six low-cost, fully instrumented “aquabots” that used ASF to direct them in autonomously and collaboratively gathering near-real-time observations of various ocean phenomena, such as algal blooms, ocean currents, temperature and salinity.

ASF’s capabilities have also been demonstrated through a collaboration with NASA’s Multi-Purpose Exoterrain for Robotic Studies (MERS) project. MERS is a 30-foot-by-40-foot area that emulates Mars’ surface, including variegated sand, rock, dune, and crater areas. This testbed environment was created by Goddard researchers to perform simulated surface exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond — all unknown, unstructured, and dynamic environments. Using three rovers from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Penn., Hosler and his team successfully demonstrated the use of ASF to control the vehicles autonomously in this simulated Martian landscape.

“I am very proud of what the ASF team, managed by Jeffrey Hosler, has achieved,” said Jacqueline Le Moigne, Goddard’s acting assistant chief for Information Systems Technology. “Not only is ASF going to be of significant benefit to NASA, but it also has the potential to impact life on Earth.”

Other managers at NASA are singing the praises of the technology as well. “We are very grateful and pleased to be recognized by R&D again this year for the outstanding innovation that is happening at Goddard,” said Nona Cheeks, chief of Goddard’s Innovative Partnerships Program Office, which nominated ASF for the R&D award. Goddard Director Edward J. Weiler echoed this sentiment commenting, “It is our hope that technologies like ASF will continue to be of significant impact both within and beyond the walls of NASA.”

Image right: The red trapezoid indicates an area to be studied at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay in hurricane conditions. The boats represented by red and green have begun mapping their specified areas (as shown by the hexagons), while the boat represented by blue is having a difficult time reaching its assigned area due to strong hurricane winds. If it continues to encounter difficulty, ASF will automatically re-route the green or red boat to fill in once they have completed their initial assigned measurement areas. Click image for enlargement. Credit: NASA/Fuentek

ASF team lead Jeff Hosler will attend the R&D 100 Awards ceremony tonight in Chicago where he will accept the award on Goddard’s behalf.

The first R&D 100 Awards were given in 1963. Many entries over the years have become household names, including Polacolor film (1963), the flashcube (1965), the automated teller machine (1973), the halogen lamp (1974), the fax machine (1975), the liquid crystal display (1980), the printer (1986), the Kodak Photo CD (1991), the Nicoderm anti-smoking patch (1992), Taxol anticancer drug (1993), lab on a chip (1996), and HDTV (1998).

One hundred winners that exemplify the best new technologies are chosen from an international pool of contestants from universities, private corporations, and government labs. Winners of the 2007 R&D 100 Awards appear in this month’s issue of R&D.

SpaceRef staff editor.