Senior Research Engineers Lawrence Greer and Michael Krasowski equip MADI with sensors and imaging equipment depending on the mission
January 17, 2014

NASA Working With Cleveland Police On Robots

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

NASA engineers at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland have been busy lately: retro-fitting an old crime fighting robot from the 1970s and customizing a remote-controlled submersible for use in the murky waters of Lake Erie or the rivers of the Midwest.

Once used to move ticking time bombs away from targets and into containers designed for safe detonation, the crime-fighting robot Leroy was a vital part of the Cleveland police force in the 1970s, when mafia agents kept the police quite busy. As organized crime activities in Cleveland subsided in the ensuing decades, Leroy slowly fell out of service – eventually finding a place in a remote corner of the Cleveland Police Museum.

During a visit to the museum, NASA Glenn engineer Mike Krasowski had a discussion with museum trustee Bob Cermak about potentially refurbishing Leroy, and under an existing Space Act Agreement with the City of Cleveland, the research center’s Mobile and Remote Sensing Lab (MARS) was able to begin work on the robot.

The MARS team was able to equip Leroy with 21st century electronics and capabilities. Operable remotely or via tether, Leroy can now capture still and video camera images, operate an old police shotgun and grip bombs once again.

“Thanks to the folks at Glenn, we can now use Leroy to educate the public,” Cermak said. “Kids can operate the robot to better understand the tools we used for crime fighting in that era.”

The MARS team is also working on the instrumentation of the Mars Lab Aquatic Descent Instrument (MADI). The aquatic robot is equipped with interfaces for law enforcement and underwater science in both fresh and salt water.

“The beauty of MADI is that it can be tailored to meet the needs of any underwater mission,” Krasowski said. “If first responders want to use it, we can fit the robot with metal detectors and sonar imaging equipment to locate underwater evidence in the murky depths of Lake Erie.”

Once it is equipped with specialized sensors, MADI will be able to dive into dangerous waters before human divers and search an underwater area. If a diver is necessary, they would be able to follow MADI’s tether down to a particular area.

“MADI can be fitted with sensors that measure pressure and temperature; water salinity and chemical compounds, just to name a few,” Krasowski said.

Last summer, students from Glenn’s Space Academy learn about robotics by attaching instruments and lowering MADI into a quarry descending 90 feet. Data gathered by the students was eventually used to write their academic reports. The MARS team said they planned to work with the Cleveland Police to test and exhibit MADI’s capabilities through the end of this year.

The MARS team said MADI could eventually be used as a research tool on celestial bodies such as Saturn’s moon Titan, which has many lakes of liquid methane.

“In astrobiology, we are always looking for biomarkers or biosignatures, which point to signs of life,” Krasowski said. “Scientists developing submersible instruments for Titan lake science missions can proof instruments using MADI to perform underwater tests and demonstrations on Earth.”