Richard Volpe, former manager of robotic autonomy
architecture at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
Calif., has been named manager of JPL’s Mars Regional Mobility
and Subsurface Access Technology office.

In this new role, Volpe will oversee and coordinate the
technology and development for next-generation Mars surface
and subsurface exploration. This will include overseeing
demonstrations of future mission concepts.

“The intent for these missions is to increase the level
of autonomy for the systems, particularly rovers,” said Volpe.
The Mars Exploration Rovers in 2003 will demonstrate surface
mobility, he said. “We hope to use new capabilities like
stereo-vision, obstacle avoidance and voyaging away from the
landing site.”

However, Volpe says that the objective is to create
rovers that will not need to stop and communicate with
operators whenever they encounter problems. “If a rover has
problems, it needs to phone home. We want to make it smarter.
We want to minimize the detailed level of operator interaction
and increase system performance and science data return.”
With this in mind, Volpe said, he hopes to create a rover that
could travel longer distances and carry out operations for
several days without communicating with Earth.

Volpe has been with JPL for 10 years. He also worked on
the Long Range Science Rover Desert Field tests with the rover
Rocky 7, which helped to make the proposed 2003 rover mission
a possibility. Volpe received his bachelor’s degree in physics
from Loyola College in Baltimore, Md., and his master’s and
doctorate in applied physics from Carnegie Mellon in
Pittsburgh, Pa. Volpe is a resident of Pasadena.

JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of
Technology in Pasadena.