This paper, a “Q & A interview” conducted by Joanne Pransky of Industrial Robot Journal, aims to impart the combined technological, business and personal experience of a prominent, robotic industry engineer-turned entrepreneur regarding the evolution, commercialization and challenges of bringing a technological invention to market.
The interviewee is Dr Robert Ambrose, Chief, Software, Robotics and Simulation Division at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. As a young child, even before he started school, Dr Ambrose knew, after seeing the Apollo 11 moonshot, that he wanted to work for NASA. Dr Ambrose describes his career journey into space robotics and shares his teams’ experiences and the importance of the development of Robonaut, a humanoid robotic project designed to work with humans both on Earth and in space.
Dr Ambrose received his MS and BS degrees in mechanical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis, and his PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Dr Ambrose heads the flight spacecraft software, space robotics and system simulations for human spaceflight missions. He oversees on-orbit robotic systems for the International Space Station (ISS), the development of software for the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and future human spaceflight systems, simulations for engineering development and training, hardware in the loop facilities for anomaly resolution and crew training and the technology branch for development of new robotic systems. Dr Ambrose also serves as a Principal Investigator for NASA’s Space Technologies Mission Directorate, overseeing research and formulating new starts in the domains of robotics and autonomous systems. He co-chairs the Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT) Robotics, Tele-Robotics and Autonomous Systems roadmap team for the agency’s technology program, and is the robotics lead for the agency’s human spaceflight architecture study teams. Working with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Dr Ambrose is the Technical Point of Contact for NASA’s collaboration in the National Robotics Initiative (NRI).
Dr Ambrose not only realized his own childhood dream by pursuing a career at NASA, but he also fulfilled a 15-year national dream by putting the first humanoid robot into space. After seeking a graduate university that would allow him to do research at NASA, it didn’t take long for Dr Ambrose to foresee that the importance of NASA’s future would be in robots and humans working side-by-side. Through the leadership of Dr Ambrose, NASA formed a strategic partnership with General Motors (GM) and together they built Robonaut, a highly dexterous, anthropomorphic robot. The latest Robonaut version, R2, has nearly 50 patents available for licensing. One of the many technology spinoffs from R2 is the innovative Human Grasp Assist device, or Robo-Glove, designed to increase the strength of a human’s grasp.
Pransky, J. (2015), "The Pransky interview: Dr Robert Ambrose, Chief, Software, Robotics and Simulation Division at NASA", Industrial Robot, Vol. 42 No. 4, pp. 285-289. https://doi.org/10.1108/IR-04-2015-0071
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