Joel Burdick

Joel Burdick (Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering, Caltech)

Campus PI

Issa Nesnas

Issa Nesnas (Group Supervisor for the Robotic Software Systems Group, JPL)



  • Melissa Tanner, Dorian Tsai, Krishna Shankar, Jeff Edlund (Graduate Students)
  • Hima Hassenruck-Gudipati, Yifei Huang, Nikola Georgiev, Kristen Holtz, Diego Caporale (Summer 2012 SURF students)


This project is developing the technologies and prototypes needed to demonstrate a novel DuAxel robotic architecture that has the in-situ science capabilities of conventional rovers, but can also access extreme terrains consisting of vertical drops, long crater descents, cold traps, and generally rough terrain. A number of scientific goals outlined in the NRC’s recent Decadal Survey require access to such terrains in both a robust and cost effective manner.

The DuAxel design combines two individual Axel class tethered vehicles which are docked with a central module to form a 4-wheeled self-contained rover that can efficiently traverse long distances over nominal terrain. When sampling and measurements in extreme terrain are required, one (or both) Axel(s) can disengage to descend into the extreme terrain. The central module (and possibly other Axel) form a base station and anchor for the descending vehicle. This modular architecture has significant cost, maneuverability, and practical advantages over current planetary rovers.

The goal of this seed project is to develop:

  1. the key remaining mechanical prototypes and
  2. the key autonomous control capabilities

which are needed for an effective proof-of-concept demonstration of the DuAxel mission architecture.