NASA's JPL: Sending machines where humans cannot go
JPL is the lead NASA centre for robotic exploration. It plans to use the new software to enable automated robotics to explore further the surface of other planets, overcoming the physical and atmospheric obstacles and paving the way for humans.
The centre developed sophisticated software for the Mars rovers, but has also written operating systems allowing them to drive on the surface of the planet as independently as possible, place instruments down and use cameras and other apparatus. Additionally, for ‘seeing’ and sensing their alien surroundings. These include craggy cliffs, steep canyons and ice so the robotics need to be able to safely navigate and survive such features and stand-in as human explorers.
Out on a limb
Now JPL is looking at automation for limbs and wheels in order for future exploration of more of the solar system’s planets. An example is a four-limbed, 64-fingered rover named LEMUR, or Limbed Excursion Mechanical Robot, developed to scale rock walls by gripping with hundreds of tiny fishhooks on each ‘finger’. The test project has led to a new generation of robotic automation that can walk, climb, crawl and use grippers to attach to surfaces.
Reinventing the wheel: robots that roll
The Axel Rover from NASA is a system of platforms aimed at versatile mobility for scientific access of planetary surfaces. It employs two wheels and a link that trails behind. The more recent DuAxel model attaches two Axel Rovers to one another and they move as a duo until a steep slope is encountered. They then separate, attached by a tether, while one rappels down the slope, then returns to the partner.
Other two wheelers include a small, foldable, shoe-box sized robot called A-PUFFER which could be employed to scour parts of the Moon inaccessible to astronauts and BRUIE, a submersible intended one day for the subsurface oceans of the solar system’s other moons.
For above-surface exploration, NASA is testing prototype airships to fly through the extremely hostile atmospheres of Venus and Saturn’s Moon, Titan. They are being developed to follow up on the Mars Helicopter carried by the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.
Microsoft: Building a secure foundation to drive NASCAR
Microsoft is a key partner of The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and together they are driving ahead to create an inclusive and immersive new fan experience (FX).
These long-term partners have not only navigated the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic with the use of Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365, but are now looking to a future packed with virtual events to enhance the FX, well beyond NASCAR’S famous Daytona racetrack.
“Together, we've created a secure environment that's allowed for collaboration, but the future is all about the fans”, said Melinda Cook, General Manager for Microsoft South USA Commercial Business, who cited a culture of transparency, passion, adaptiveness, and a growth mindset as to why this alignment is so successful.”
“We've partnered to create a fluid, immersive experience for the users that is supported by a secure foundation with Microsoft in the background. We are focused on empowering and enabling customers and businesses, like NASCAR, to reach their full potential. We do this with our cloud platform which provides data insights and security.”
“Our cloud environment allows NASCAR to move forward with their digital transformation journey while we are in the background,” said Cook who highlights that Microsoft is helping NASCAR
- Empower employees productivity and collaboration
- Improve fan engagement and experience
- Improve environment security and IT productivity
- Improve racing operations
Microsoft Teams, which is part of the Microsoft 365 suite, enabled employees to work remotely, while staying productive, during the pandemic. “This allowed people to provide the same level of productivity with the use of video conference and instant messaging to collaborate on documents. Increased automation also allows the pit crews, IT, and the business to focus on safety, racing operations, and on the fan experience,” said Cook.
“We have started to innovate to create a more inclusive fanbase, this includes using Xbox to give people the experience of being a virtual racer or even leveraging some of the tools in Microsoft Teams to have a virtual ride along experience.”
“These environments are how we create a more inclusive and immersive experience for the fans. We're working on a virtual fan wall which allows people from new locations to participate in these events,” said Cook, who pointed out Microsoft was also helping bring legacy experiences alive from NASCAR’s archives.
“At Microsoft we can take it one level further by letting fans know what it's like to see the pit crew experience, the data and all the behind-the-scenes action. We will continue to improve automation with machine learning and artificial intelligence, from marketing to IT operations to finance to racing operations,” said Cook.
Christine Stoffel-Moffett, Vice President of Enterprise Technology at NASCAR, said: “Microsoft is one of our key partners. They have been instrumental in helping the NASCAR enterprise technology team re-architect our Microsoft systems to ensure an advanced level of security across our environment, contribute to our business outcomes, and focus on fan experience.”