To build the best bots, NASA happily looks to others here on Earth

Our Q&A with NASA’s Terry Fong (click here for transcript). (video link)

NEW ORLEANS—“People who’ve met me keep asking ‘Hey, why is NASA here? You’re not a startup, not an investor,’” Terry Fong recalls. The lead for NASA’s Intelligent Robotics Group took the stage at the recent 2018 Collision Conference in between people preaching their coffee business models and others promoting everything from cloud services to Vespas. Fong’s organization may obviously be different, but he absolutely had his recruitment pitch as ready as the next attendee. Industries everywhere—NASA very much included—want to better leverage autonomous and intelligent systems to automate tasks and make new initiatives possible. So this senior scientist for autonomous systems found himself on the showroom floor in search of potential collaborators, just like everyone else.

“Tech development doesn’t exist in a bubble, and NASA doesn’t do everything end to end,” Fong tells Ars. “We exist in an ecosystem. There are things we want to pull in, whether from a startup or a large corporation, and there are things we’re trying to push out to industry. For me, it’s important to understand what NASA can reuse and not make ourselves, or what we can work with people to adapt in ways that are useful for our missions.”

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To build the best bots, NASA happily looks to others here on Earth