Don Savage/Dolores Beasley
Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/358-1547)

Anne Watzman
Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh, PA
(Phone: 412/268-3830)

RELEASE: 01-127

A new robotic explorer, smart enough to know when it’s
lost or in trouble and designed to follow the Sun in a whole
new way, is ready to face its first test in the harsh
elements of the Canadian Arctic.

The prototype robot, named Hyperion, has the potential to be
self-sufficient and will help researchers test a technique
called Sun-synchronous navigation.

Sun-synchronous navigation involves tracking the Sun while
exploring terrain. If Hyperion is successful, future
autonomous robots could obtain continuous solar power for
long-term exploration of distant planets and moons.

The robot must know its position and orientation with respect
to the Sun while it explores its surroundings. It navigates
to capture enough sunlight to power itself while traveling
through rough terrain and trying to reach important
scientific objectives.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute,
Pittsburgh, PA, with support from NASA developed Hyperion,
named for a Titan of Greek mythology who fathered the Sun,
moon and the dawn. The word Hyperion roughly translates to
“he who follows the Sun.”

“Near the poles of the moon, the idea is for a robot to move
with the dawn, and always remain in sunlight as it explores
its environment,” said Robotics Institute Research Scientist
David Wettergreen, a co-investigator on the project. The
robot represents the latest in a series of terrestrial
testbeds for planetary explorers the Institute has developed
for the agency in a relationship that spans more than a

The field experiments with Hyperion will take place in
Nunavut, Canada, on the hilly, rock-strewn terrain of Devon
Island, the largest uninhabited island in the world. There is
a narrow window, between July 10 and July 20, to conduct the

Researchers believe that at the right latitude and speed,
robotic explorers should get enough sunlight to maintain
continuous operation. For some missions, by following the
dawn, these rovers may also be able to regulate their
temperatures by staying in the transition region between
frigid night and scorching daytime temperatures. They would
travel with the sunrise and never have to hibernate

“The reasons for developing Sun-synchronous rovers are
twofold: capability and reliability,” said Melvin Montemerlo,
NASA program executive, Office of Space Science, Washington,
DC. “Since they’re always in sunlight, they never have to go
into a sleep mode and there’s a greater science return for
the dollar. Secondly, you don’t have to power down at night
so you don’t have to worry about making it through a cold
night and about powering up again when the sunlight returns
in the morning.”

“Sun-synchronous navigation would enable robots to undertake
missions of months or years. To travel vast distances on the
moon or Mars is what is called for to make the revolutionary
discoveries,” said principal investigator William L. “Red”
Whittaker, Carnegie Mellon’s Fredkin research professor and a
pioneer in the development of mobile robots.

Hyperion is 2 meters long, 2 meters wide and almost 3 meters
tall, with a near vertically mounted solar panel measuring
3.5 square meters. It carries this panel mounted upright to
catch the low-angle sunlight of the Polar Regions.

Hyperion operates on about 200 watts of power. It is
fabricated of aluminum tubing and has four wheels on two
axles. On the front axle, a frame supports stereo cameras and
a laser scanner. All of Hyperion’s computers, electronics and
batteries are mounted in a body enclosure between the axles.
The robot weighs 156 kilograms, or nearly 345 pounds.
Wettergreen said Hyperion has enough intelligence to know
when there’s a problem and can send a message to human
operators to ask for help.
Hyperion is a concept vehicle designed to operate only on
Earth. Robots designed for flight missions would require
specialized components, such as space-qualified motors and

Wettergreen will lead the field experiment with six
colleagues. The team intends to produce status reports,
images and online movies throughout the field experiment.
More information about Hyperion and the Sun-Synchronous
Navigation Project can be found at: