Also In This Issue

Lab Work: Research Developments

Lunar Rover Impresses NASA Scientists

A Texas A&M University undergraduate engineering team developed a lunar rover prototype that could be used in a future moon mission.

Developed by a 10-person team consisting of six College Station and four Texas A&M University at Qatar Aggies, the prototype can collect lunar samples while being controlled through the internet. Built to maneuver diverse terrain, the rover has potential as a low-cost alternative to existing rovers.

The team presented its rover at NASA headquarters in Houston earlier this year, where it successfully navigated the facility’s simulated Martian and lunar rock fields with ease.

“This is a really powerful concept,” said Dr. Marc Fries, a NASA scientist. “Right now, if we want to collect lunar samples, we either send an expensive lander with lots of equipment but little movement capability, or a very large rover. This robot is a nice middle ground.”

The College Station team developed the robot’s electronic capabilities, while the Qatar team focused on its mechanical aspects. “It’s amazing coming from undergraduates,” said Dr. David Draper, manager of the Astromaterials Research Office at NASA. “This kind of innovative, outside-the-box thinking is what we need to learn more about planetary science. Hats off!”

Improving Robonaut

Dezhen Song, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, is collaborating with NASA’s Johnson Space Center and other Texas A&M University faculty to refine an astronaut robot (Robonaut) that can perform tasks at the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA has already developed a prototype with human-like arm and hand configurations. The focus now is to improve the robot’s simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) capabilities, which will enable it to visualize a map of the ISS as well as its relative location in the area.

The group is experimenting with cameras, motion sensor technology and stereovision, which will allow the robot to judge distances. Once complete, Robonaut will be able to navigate the ISS, transport items, perform panel maintenance and carry out dangerous tasks that would otherwise put astronaut crews at risk.

The versatile work done by Song and his team will aid a variety of fields. “If successful, we will significantly increase robots’ ability to handle different environments, which can impact manufacturing, daily life, defense and other areas that benefit from the capabilities of mobile robots,” Song said.

Drive into the Future

Texas A&M University was selected by General Motors (GM) and SAE International as one of eight national universities to compete in the AutoDrive Challenge, a three-year competition that involves creating a fully autonomous passenger vehicle that can navigate an urban driving course.

For the competition, a team of students and researchers will be assembled from the Zachry Department of Civil Engineering, the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution. Each participating university is provided a Chevrolet Bolt EV as the vehicle platform. Throughout the challenge, the team will work with computing platforms, sensing technology and advanced computation methods such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop a fully autonomous system.

The AutoDrive challenge, which consists of competitions each May to demonstrate progress, will not only provide students with applied experience that will prepare them for the workforce, but will also foster interest in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“The students and faculty at these schools bring deep knowledge and technical skills to the competition,” said Ken Kelzer, vice president of global vehicle components and subsystems at GM. “We are proud to offer these students the hands-on experience necessary for them to make an immediate impact on the automotive world when they graduate.”

Sea Aggies Assist Sea Turtles

The Upper Texas Coast Sea Turtle Patrol, a collaboration between Texas A&M University at Galveston and Turtle Island Restoration Network, was back at work last summer as sea turtles laid their eggs along Texas beaches.

The patrol monitors and protects nesting sea turtle species along beaches from Rollover Pass to Surfside, Texas. Its primary focus is to help conserve and rehabilitate the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, the most endangered sea turtle in the world, which nests only in the western Gulf of Mexico.

From April to July each year, the patrol works closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Padre Island National Seashore to find and excavate turtle nests.

Part of its routine monitoring program involves attaching a tag to the mother turtle’s foreflipper, which allows the team to collect long-term biological data and identify if the female has previously nested on the coast. The team also carefully excavates eggs and transports them to an incubation facility, where they have an increased survival rate. Since sea turtle sex is determined by nest temperature, the facility can raise mostly females, which benefits the population.

In addition to its conservation efforts, the patrol also trains future biologists through its close work with Texas A&M Galveston students and local volunteers.


  • A Primate Namesake

    A species of tarsier, Tarsius spectrumgurskyae, was renamed after Texas A&M anthropology professor Sharon Gursky to honor her decades-long contributions to the study of these enigmatic primates. Exclusive to the islands of Southeast Asia, tarsiers weigh about as much as a stick of butter and can swivel their heads 180 degrees.
  • Flying High

    Texas A&M scientists are utilizing unmanned aircraft systems to fly over crop fields and collect data on plant characteristics such as crop height and bloom patterns. The data will be synthesized by computer algorithms to give farmers important information regarding crop yield. Higher crop yields are needed to keep up with the growing global population.
  • Converting Carbon

    A team of mechanical engineering researchers is trying to make the best use of energy waste. Led by Professor Ying Li (left), the group is refining a process that could turn one of the world’s most potent pollutants and greenhouse gasses—carbon dioxide—into hydrocarbon fuels that can help the environment and solve growing energy needs.

Dunae Reader '15

Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications/Spirit Editor/Maroon Co-Editor