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NASA JPL Internship

I go the unique opportunity to intern in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Robotics section. I worked on a robotic inspection system, which included a quadruped and a tether system. I had three objectives throughout my time there: Create a mass optimization proposal based on the roller arm, evaluate the inspection capabilities, and operate the test bed and provide hardware support.

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Robotic Platform

The quadruped is a unitree A1 customized with a roller arm which helps the robot move through distillation tower manways.  The arm is actuated by a timer pulley, with 3D printed base and aluminum motor housing. The arm has actuated urethane rubber rollers to help with the transition between tower layers.

Mass Optimization

I was able to find the same performance with a lighter system by changing the gearbox of the wheel actuators. This made the actuator less robust, I added a bearing to the motor housing share the radial load. This motor housing was also optimized by adding a fillet instead of the cyan extrusions.

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Further mass optimization was achieved by redesigning the roller wheels. The aluminum hub was optimized using SolidWorks's topology optimization , and the design's machinability was verified by Fictiv, a CNC manufacturing company. The modifications are projected to result in a weight reduction of 1.3 kg, equating to a 27% decrease in the overall mass of the robot.

Inspection Capablities

The work done before I came was mostly based on the localization and locomotion inside the column. One of my initial tasks was to generate a document outlining the extent of the column that our existing system can inspect and proposing solutions for tasks beyond its inspection capabilities.

I did this by creating a 2D rendering of the column and robot to check the geometric constraints. I then upgraded this by using a 3D model of the robot and a model representing the smallest column it will have to inspect.

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Testbed Operator and Hardware Support

I tested the robot in the mock column shown on the left. I ran tests for load capacity, temperature, and communications. 

Throughout the testing process, I documented my observations, identifying potential issues and proposing sources for them. 

I created a voltage enclosure for the test bed and tested it's effectiveness while running the robot for extended periods of time.  I chose to use PLA because  the melting point of it was significantly lower than the max temperature of the voltage converter. I tested my design by using a thermocouple to  confirm cooling.

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JPL Experience

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Working at JPL was amazing and I absolutely loved how they treated their interns and placed a good amount of responsibility on them. They had professional workshops, networking events, and had new speakers every week which were experts on their given field.

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