Research Project

Compact Autonomous Exploratory Search and Rescue Rover (CAESARR)

Motivation/Research Problem
In response to natural disasters, first responders form teams for search and rescue operations to help save lives. However, human search and rescue personal who enter a natural disaster also place themselves at risk to help others. Furthermore, quick response time is critical for rescue operations. Incorporating robots into search and rescue teams has the potential to reduce the time required for first responders to find persons in need of assistance in areas effected by disaster. Small, low-cost exploratory robots can quickly be deployed to aid search and rescue operations by sharing information while mapping out unstructured terrain and detecting potential hazards, without need for retrieval. The CAESARR (Compact Autonomous Exploratory Search and Rescue Rover) research addresses the concept for developing a robot capable of operating in a human and robot team for deployment in disaster scenarios. In addition to deployment of a single robot unit, operating exploratory robot teams in high- risk environments can improve fault tolerance and reduce time to mission completion. Understanding how robots can operate independently, collectively, and alongside human teams are important factors in developing effective intelligent robots.
Research Team


  • Jean-Pierre de la Croix, JPL collaborator
  • Joshua Vander Hook, JPL collaborator


  • Amiel Hartman –  Mechanical Engineering
  • Nhut Ho – ARCS Director – Mechanical Engineering

Student Team

  • Keit Phan
  • Jessica Frederich
  • CAESARR student team, from Systems Engineering Research Laboratory (SERL) senior design projects and ME 486 senior design course
Alignment, Engagement and Contributions to the priorities of NASA’s Mission Directorates
JPL has expressed interested in deploying robot teams to map out caves for planetary exploration during NASA space missions. There are significant size, weight and fault tolerant system considerations for sending robots to other planets or moons. Deploying a robot team comprised of small autonomous robots, capable of acting both independently and collectively, can achieve mission completion with robustness through redundancy in the event of a single unit failure. The CAESARR research project in collaboration with the JPL designed PUFFER robot considers how a compact robot can operate autonomously and integrate into a more complex robot team to complete search and rescue or exploratory missions.
Research Questions and Research Objectives
How do we create a compact low-cost intelligent robotic rover capable of autonomous local navigation over uneven terrain, that is equipped with sensors to map the environment while detecting hazards and can wireless transmit data within a human-robot team to engage in exploratory mission operations?

The goal is to develop the next generation of the CAESARR rover capable of wireless control for autonomy-assisted navigation, handling uneven terrain, environment mapping and hazard detection. CAESARR research and development will focus on the following capabilities:

  • Differential drive robotic rover design
  • Robust mechanical design for operation in uneven terrain
  • Motion control with proprioceptive sensor feedback for odometry
  • Software development for autonomy assisted local navigation with onboard computing
  • Localization and mapping with integration of exteroceptive perception sensors
  • Wireless communication for teleoperation and transferring perception sensor data
Research Methods
Search and rescue application concepts will be used to develop use case scenarios for the CEASARR rover to operate in unstructured terrain and unpredictable environments. The defined use cases will help to develop the system operating requirements. Computer aided design and prototype manufacturing techniques will be used to develop a rover model, manufacture a prototype and test operation. The rover development process will be separated into mechatronic and software segments. Design reviews will be used to evaluate the iterative design process and reduce time to convergence on a functional rover. We will use the information on PUFFER rover designs provided in collaboration with JPL scientists to construct prototype rovers and help facilitate the design process for comparative performance testing. Small, low cost, differential drive rover platforms such as TurtleBot are being used alongside the prototype rovers to accelerate software testing and development.
Research Deliverables and Products
The anticipated deliverables are to have a functional rover prototype with 3D printed chassis, sensors, battery, drive train and control electronics. The anticipated software integration deliverables are to have differential drive path planning and mapping with obstacle avoidance.
Research Timeline
January – March 2020—

  • Evaluate use case and requirements for rover operation.
  •  Evaluate existing rover designs.
  • Identify key requirements and features important for successful rover operation.
  • Evaluation of preliminary design.
  • Present research to JPL collaborators for feedback.
  • Preliminary research for rover perception and control.

February – October 2020—

  • Rover iterative design process.
  • Development of rover perception and control software.

March – December 2020 —

  • Integration, testing, and analysis of rover perception and control software.

January – August 2021 —

  • Integration, testing, and analysis of rover perception and control software.
  • Performance evaluation.
  • Electronics payload evaluation.
  • Iterative design process and evaluation of rover mechanical design.
  • Update evaluation of rover requirements for operation.

May – December 2021 —

  • Update rover mechanical design.
  • Update rover electronics payload design.
  • Evaluate required changes to perception and control software.

January – August 2022 —

  • Manufacture updated rover design, including electronics and software integration.
  • Performance testing.
Are there other activities (e.g., proposals or additional projects) that you have developed or anticipate based on your NASA ARCS project?
I am Co-I on the recently started Campus Autonomous Robot Tours (CART) project at ARCS. CART expands on the JPL collaboration started with the ARCS SubT project, into a collaboration to develop a primary rover asset. The CART project is developing a CSUN tour guide robot capable of autonomous operation around the university campus while providing an interactive tour experience to visitors. The CART project is being developed in collaboration with senior design project students and the university tour guide office to deliver robot-assisted virtual, in-person, live and recorded tours to campus visitors. The CAESARR and CART projects are fully integrated into the SERL senior design project for the ME 486 senior design course including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering and computer science students. This allows the CART and CAEASAR students teams to share knowledge and work together effectively on overlapping research tasks. One of the tasks for the CART project involves the development of a virtual reality simulation environment for testing robotic rovers, which could be used for testing with the CAESARR rover project. Additionally, the senior students contributing to software development on the CART project can share knowledge to enhance the software features for CAESARR software development. It is anticipated that the collaborations on these projects will result in publications, and papers are in progress for CART and CEASARR rover research.

Impact of Project Partnership with NASA:

Partnership with NASA JPL has helped with research efforts at CSUN for developing and testing CAESARR for search and rescue applications. Sharing design information on the JPL PUFFER (Pop-Up Flat-Folding Explorer Robot) for planetary exploration on NASA space missions, has helped to enhance rover development. Partnership with JPL has also exposed me to additional research opportunities and collaboration with JPL researchers. These opportunities have led to the start of the CART project at ARCS and additional fellows participating in joint research projects with JPL. Additionally, the partnership has enhanced research collaboration at CSUN with senior design students by integrating the CART project into the senior design course with CAESARR.