CONTACT: GARY GALLUZZO
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0009; fax (319) 384-0024
UI engineers develop virtual reality for NASA robot
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Geb Thomas, associate professor of industrial engineering
in the University of Iowa College of Engineering, and his colleagues at
NASA and Carnegie Mellon University will soon begin testing a robot prototype
in the Atacama Desert of Chile, South America in which virtual reality
software designed and built by the UI team will allow the public to control
On Wednesday, June 18 the Carnegie Mellon-designed robot, called Nomad,
will begin a 45-day, 120-mile trek across the Atacama Desert to test its
ruggedness and versatility for future trips to the moon and Mars. This
is the first in a series of tests that next year will send the robot to
the Antarctic to hunt for meteorites. As a special feature of the Atacama
Desert project, visitors to the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh will
be able to drive the 825-pound, four-wheel-drive robot. According to Thomas,
who, along with eight engineering students from the UI's GROK lab developed
the computer interface that will allow visitors to control the robot, the
project underscores the skill of the UI engineers.
"NASA has been very pleased with the quality and the freshness
of the work Iowa delivered on this project. We've worked our way onto
their short list," Thomas said.
During the mission, UI undergraduate student Emily Wiese will tend the
interface from Pittsburgh. And, in a related activity, UI computer science
graduate student Paul Henning of Lake Zurich, Ill. is currently helping
NASA to prepare the computer interface for the Pathfinder mission scheduled
to land on Mars Friday, July 4. In addition, NASA's Ames Research Center
and Carnegie Mellon have invited the UI's GROK Laboratory to help build
the computer interface that will control Nomad while it searches for meteorites
during a future trip to the Antarctic.
"This three-year project will allow the GROK Lab to continue to
push the boundaries of the technology farther than it already has and secure
its position as one of the top telerobotic interface research organizations
in the world," Thomas says.
The UI team consists of graduate students: Steve Zellers and Ming Che
Lai, both of Iowa City, and undergraduates Emily Wiese of Clarinda, William
Robinson of Ottumwa, April Rathe of Ottumwa, Steve Dow of Urbandale, Yeut
Wah of Iowa City, Trianto Hartono of Indonesia and Aytun Ozturk of Turkey.