Advancing space robotics: Chasing a new frontier at Texas A&M

The Texas A&M University System News Release

BRYAN/COLLEGE STATION, Texas —Dr. Robert Ambrose has joined the faculty of the J. Mike Walker ’66 Department of Mechanical  Engineering at Texas A&M University. Along with his appointment, Ambrose is also the recipient of the Governor’s University Research Initiative (GURI) grant program and The Texas A&M University System Chancellor’s Research Initiative (CRI).

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Ambrose will serve as a professor in the department as well as a staff member of the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station and the George H.W. Bush Combat Development Complex. Ambrose comes to Texas A&M from NASA, where he served as chief of the software, robotics and simulation division at the Johnson Space Center.

He received his mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from The University of Texas at Austin.

“Investments in our faculty, particularly the recruitment of National Academy members, is vital to a university’s pursuit of excellence,” said Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp. “I am proud that we have more than tripled our National Academy members in recent years, and the university has benefitted so much from their contributions to teaching and research.”

Ambrose’s research focuses on robotic manipulation and mobility, specifically in relation to space robotics — a field that he said is growing rapidly. Ambrose said he is excited to bring his decades of experience to Texas A&M to explore and address new and emerging challenges in this field.

“The energy we see in space today is exciting, with new companies, new approaches and new challenges,” Ambrose said. “We intend for Texas A&M to become the premier university for space robotics at a time when the field is breaking out. But much of what we need first in space will then create new markets on Earth. For example, the Texas A&M focus on off-road autonomous vehicles is a perfect fit for a guy building lunar rovers at NASA for the last 20 years.”

While space is the frontier for which engineers are innovating, the core areas of robotic manipulation and mobility will also serve to provide technological advancements to daily life here on Earth as well. Ambrose noted robotic applications including construction, food production and logistics for small crews as just a few areas where the needs of astronauts overlap with advances in industry as well — including robots building homes, assisting in food production and delivering packages.

“Imagine a team of humans and robots building a home in a week or a family farmer in Texas with robotic equipment able to out compete massive industrial farms overseas,” Ambrose said. “The implementation will be like a person with a sewing machine able to do more than with a single needle and thread, or a person with a power drill versus a manual screwdriver. Robots are a force multiplier and the ultimate power tools.”

He said a decade of leading robotics at NASA has provided him an appreciation for the rapid speed at which technology is advancing and the critical need to provide a strong education to the engineers of the future.

“It is a competitive world, and I intend to help Texas A&M produce the top talent and new ideas for the field,” Ambrose said. “For over a decade at NASA, I have run a division of more than 500 engineers, helping projects get formulated, helping engineers work through design challenges and urgently fixing problems for astronauts in space. I am excited to teach that problem-solving approach to our next generation.”

An internationally recognized leader in robotics and autonomous systems, Ambrose has recently managed robots on the International Space Station, software and simulations for SpaceX, Boeing and Orion Spacecraft, and the development of exercise equipment, wearable robotics and jetpacks used by astronauts during his service at NASA.

He is a founding member of the National Robotics Initiative, a member of the United States government’s Senior Executive Service and vice president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Robotics and Automation Society.

“The GURI and CRI programs have enabled Texas A&M to recruit some of the country’s top experts in a variety of high-impact engineering disciplines,” said Dr. John Hurtado, interim dean of the College of Engineering. “We are all excited to welcome Dr. Ambrose to Texas A&M and look forward to him sharing his expertise with our students and collaborating with his fellow faculty members.”

GURI was established in 2015 as a tool to aid public institutions of higher education in Texas to recruit distinguished researchers to the state.

“The GURI grant really sealed the deal for me coming to Texas A&M, accelerating my plans for developing new robotic systems and showing the state of Texas’ appetite for winning this new space race in robotics,” Ambrose said.

About The Texas A&M University System
The Texas A&M University System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation with a budget of $6.3 billion. The System is a statewide network of 11 universities; a comprehensive health science center; eight state agencies, including the Texas Division of Emergency Management; and the RELLIS Campus. The Texas A&M System educates more than 151,000 students and makes more than 22 million additional educational contacts through service and outreach programs each year. System-wide, research and development expenditures exceeded $1 billion in FY 2019 and helped drive the state’s economy.

Contact: Pam Green
Interim Executive Director, Marketing and Communications
College of Engineering, Texas A&M University
Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES)
(979) 845-2957
(979) 574-4138 (cell)
p-green@tamu.edu

Texas A&M System to Observe New National Holiday

The Texas A&M University System News Release

BRYAN/ COLLEGE-STATION, Texas — The Texas A&M University System will shut down Friday, June 18, in observance of Juneteenth being designated a national holiday, Chancellor John Sharp announced Thursday.

“This is a special day that originated in Texas and we’re proud to honor it,” Sharp said.  

President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act today, establishing June 19 as a national holiday. In recognition of the historic nature of this event, the 11 universities and eight state agencies in the Texas A&M System will observe this holiday Friday.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery. On June 19, 1865 Maj. Gen. Gordan Granger arrived in Galveston and delivered General Order No. 3, which announced that all slaves were free in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation. Months later, the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery.

Given the short notice, employees should report to work if they provide essential services or whose services are needed Friday to support events and activities involving or serving members of the public. They will be provided compensatory time off.

Tim Leach’82 Elected Chairman of Board of Regents

The Texas A&M University System News Release

BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents on Monday elected Tim Leach of Midland as chairman and William “Bill” Mahomes Jr. of Dallas as vice chairman.

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Leach’82 to the Board of Regents in 2017. He has served as vice chairman the past two years. Leach is Executive Vice President of ConocoPhillips and a member of the company’s board of directors.

Gov. Abbott first appointed Mahomes’69 to the Board of Regents in 2015 and reappointed him this year to another six-year term. He is a partner at Bracewell LLP.

The Board also named Al Davis, deputy agency director of the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, as the interim director for the Texas A&M Forest Service, following the retirement of Tom Boggus.

Amy K. Swinford, the associate agency director for the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, was named interim director, following the retirement of Bruce Akey.

Board committee members also were named:

COMMITTEE ON AUDIT

Mike Hernandez, Chair

Randy Brooks

Bill Mahomes

Cliff Thomas

COMMITTEE ON ACADEMIC AND STUDENT AFFAIRS

Jay Graham, Chair

Randy Brooks

Mike Hernandez

Elaine Mendoza

COMMITTEE ON FINANCE

Bob Albritton, Chair

Jay Graham

Mike Plank

Elaine Mendoza

COMMITTEE ON BUILDINGS AND PHYSICAL PLANT

Mike Plank, Chair

Bob Albritton

Bill Mahomes

Cliff Thomas 

Monday’s board meeting also marked the first meeting for Mati Rigsby’23, newly appointed as student regent by Gov. Greg Abbott. The Gainesville native is studying epidemiology at Texas A&M University.

About The Texas A&M University System
The Texas A&M University System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation with a budget of $6.3 billion. The System is a statewide network of 11 universities; a comprehensive health science center; eight state agencies, including the Texas Division of Emergency Management; and the RELLIS Campus. The Texas A&M System educates more than 151,000 students and makes more than 22 million additional educational contacts through service and outreach programs each year. System-wide, research and development expenditures exceeded $1 billion in FY 2019 and helped drive the state’s economy.

Contact: Laylan Copelin
Vice Chancellor of Marketing and Communications
(979) 458-6425
(512) 289-2782 cell
lcopelin@tamus.edu

Texas A&M System Tapped to Help Offshore Energy Industry

The Texas A&M University System News Release

TEES to Lead Research and Development Consortium for U.S. Government.

BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) will collaborate with energy-sector stakeholders, several national labs and universities in 10 states as the manager of a new Ocean Energy Safety Institute (OESI).

The goals of the new OESI include safer workplaces, improved environmental stewardship and greater U.S. energy security.

Through advances in technology, monitoring equipment and workforce training, the OESI will work to mitigate environmental and safety risks for both conventional and renewable energy technologies and prevent geohazards, work-process incidents and offshore oil spills.

The consortium is organized under an agreement announced in May between TEES and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the U.S. Department of Energy. The agreement calls for up to $40 million from the federal government over five years, as well as about $12 million in investments from consortium members.

A smaller-scale OESI had been operated until recently by TEES and two other Texas universities. Now, the OESI includes 16 universities in 10 states, including Texas A&M University and Prairie View A&M University. It also involves several national labs and more than 20 stakeholders representing conventional and renewable energy – including offshore wind and marine and hydrokinetic energy – from every offshore energy producing region.

“Tell us how we can help and we’ll be right there,” said John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System. “We’re delighted to contribute to the energy sector. It fuels so many jobs in Texas and across the country.”

Katherine Banks, Texas A&M president, is the principal investigator on the OESI project. She applauded her team for pulling together a diverse array of stakeholders from the energy industry and academic institutions.

The universities involved in the OESI represent Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, California, Washington and Alaska.

“We are glad the federal government selected Texas A&M to support the energy industry,” Banks said. “TEES has nationally recognized expertise in shepherding advanced research and development.”

John Pappas, TEES director of center operations and adjunct faculty member in the Department of Ocean Engineering at Texas A&M, is the program manager for the OESI project. He called the new consortium a “game-changer.”

“We look forward to being part of the next generation of safety and environmental protection technologies for offshore energy production,” Pappas said. “Our team is extraordinarily diverse, creative and talented. It will offer new solutions and new ways of thinking.”

TEES will be responsible for developing a road map of projects in consultation with consortium members. Once approved by federal officials, the road map becomes a guide for individual projects with yearly objectives.

While the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the  Department of Energy will provide expertise, direction and oversight through a Joint Steering Committee (JSC), the OESI will operate independently. The JSC will include experts in oil and gas, offshore wind and marine and hydrokinetic energy, which is the method of converting energy from waves, tides, ocean currents, and thermal and dissolved-salt gradients into electricity.

Faisal Khan will be the OESI technical director. A chemical engineering professor, Khan is a leading researcher in offshore technology and safety engineering. He emphasized that consortium projects will entail researchers from a variety of engineering fields: ocean, industrial, chemical, civil, mechanical and others.

“This is a multidisciplinary, holistic approach,” Khan said. “We will provide technical support and safety and environmental protection technologies for oil, gas, wind and wave energy production.”

About The Texas A&M University System
The Texas A&M University System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation with a budget of $6.3 billion. The Texas A&M System is a statewide network of 11 universities; a comprehensive health science center; eight state agencies, including the Texas Division of Emergency Management; and the RELLIS Campus. The Texas A&M System educates more than 151,000 students and makes more than 22 million additional educational contacts each year. Systemwide, research and development expenditures exceed $1 billion and helped drive the state’s economy.

Contact: Mike Reilly
Chancellor’s Office of Marketing and Communications

(979) 458-6492
(402) 679-0456 cell
mreilly@tamus.edu