MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering have been doing research to help Mars Rovers.

In the research, a Ph.D. student Cagri Kilic led the research on preventing slips and stumbles in planetary rovers. During the research, Kilic was trying develop a way to use nonvisual information to maneuver over treacherous terrain. The research aimed to prevent losses like the 2010 Martian exploration rover, Spirit, which stopped communication after its wheels became trapped in invisibly shifting sands. 

This research was supported by grant funding from NASA’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. Yu Gu and Jason Gross, who are Associate Professors in the Department of Mechanic and Aerospace Engineering, helped Kilic create a way for a rover feel its way forward using only its existing sensors when visual data is not available or reliable.  

The three wrote up a grant application that was sent to NASA to do research in this area, which also attracted Kilic to work towards his Ph.D. degree. Their completed research can be found in a Field Robotics paper that the three coauthored, in hopes that the algorithms will be used in future Mars missions.

Gross feels that exploring other planets is something that we need to do as a country. He mentioned that it is exciting work to be part of and that it is great to be engaged in this area of work at WVU.

As part of the grant, they were able to send students to go and spend time at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Kilic was able to test in the Mars yard where they have rovers, as well as locally with coal ash.

They are starting on a new project where robots are in retail spaces like Target, Walmart, or Kroger and can use their wheel sensors to infer slips and prevent people from falling.