Chernova Earns NASA Early Career Faculty Award

The Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machine’s Sonia Chernova is one of eight university researchers nationwide selected by NASA to receive the 2016 Early Career Faculty Award (ECF) in the Space Technology Research Grants program.

The grants, worth up to $200,000 per year over three years, are awarded to outstanding early career faculty focused on space technology development addressing critical needs in the U.S. space program.

Chernova, an assistant professor of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, received the award for her proposal to develop interactive robotic systems that enable co-located astronauts and Earth-based NASA operators to refine and adapt the behavior of a robot during deployment in a way that maximizes task efficiency and human-robot team operation.

As NASA prepares future crewed low-Earth orbit, lunar, and Mars-based deployments, the award provides Chernova with funding to develop techniques for execution of repetitive, routine, and potentially hazardous tasks by robots. 

“I hope that my research will enable a robot to detect when unexpected operating conditions are encountered, request help from co-located crew members or remote ground control operators, as appropriate, and refine its operating procedures to improve future task execution and the long-term autonomy of the system,” Chernova said.

Current practices in deploying robotic space systems are limited to manual teleoperation of robots by crews in co-located settings, and the use of carefully handcrafted structured control sequences from ground control. Both approaches are costly in terms of crew time and effort and are not scalable for long-term, co-robot deployments. By enabling the robots to leverage the inputs obtained from human operators, Chernova’s work aims to facilitate the automation of many routine tasks, thereby reducing the load on human crew members and supporting safer, more affordable, and more effective human-robot space exploration and discovery.

NASA’s Early Career Faculty Award is administered by the agency’s Space Technology Research Grants Program, which seeks to accelerate the development of emerging technologies from academia that serve the needs of NASA, other government agencies, and space-related industries.


Josie Giles
IRIM Marketing Communications Mgr.