Carnegie Mellon University and NASA Researchers Map Underground Faults Using UAS-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University and NASA Researchers Map Underground Faults Using UAS

Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley and NASA Ames research scientists recently returned from a successful deployment to map the underground geophysics of Surprise Valley, CA. In an expedition led by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and funded by NASA, a team of scientists and engineers from USGS, NASA, CMUSV, and Central Washington University collected magnetic data using a UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) in a region for which geophysical data of the characteristics of the subsurface could prove crucial for earthquake monitoring.

Ritchie Lee, robotics researcher, and Corey Ippolito, an Electrical and Computer Engineering Ph.D. student and research scientist in the Adaptive Controls and Evolvable Systems (ACES) group in the Intelligent Systems Division at NASA Ames Research Center, developed the scientific instrumentation, or payload, for the UAS. The mission proved successful with SIERRA (Sensor Integrated Environmental Remote Research Aircraft) collecting baseline magnetic data that will be integrated into the payload for next year’s follow-up deployment with a new experimental UAS. “We’re very pleased with the high-quality data we’ve collected. The challenge now is taking the data and doing something with it,” said Lee. “We want to apply a three-level process to the data: see, think, and act. We need to take the data and process it to see what we’re really looking at, then think about how to plan future routes for the UAS based on what we see and finally, take action with the deployment of the new UAS in a year,” explained Ippolito.

The team hopes to expand the deployment of UAS to other areas where underground data is integral to scientists’ abilities to predict the likelihood of earthquakes and the damage they may do. The development of UAS platforms is moving toward increased automation, which would greatly impact the earth sciences, space sciences, and disaster situations. “Right now, we can’t send a UAS into a tornado, for example, because it’d probably fly right into it and get destroyed. So, the ability for robotics systems to go into their environments and autonomously apply science to do something useful in response to environments is a huge step into the capabilities of how we operate,” said Ippolito.

The Surprise Valley deployment is the result of NASA and CMUSV’s extended collaboration with USGS. Lee and Ippolito, in conjunction with the Carnegie Mellon Innovations Laboratory (CMIL) became attached to the project after working on concepts for the intelligent control of vehicles based on magnetic payloads. CMIL seeks to improve forward-looking mobility and aerospace technologies, a vision that is aligned with the development of SIERRA into a more intelligent system for future expeditions. “We’re trying to make robots smarter so that we don’t need a human controlling them, especially in dangerous scenarios,” said Jason Lohn, Associate Research Professor and Director of CMIL.