Computer Science and Information Technology

USRA has continued to advance computer science and information technology in support of a broad range of scientific and engineering application domains of relevance to NASA. Accomplishments this past year have contributed to the revolutionization of exploration and science through innovation in information technology. Included below are a few highlights of accomplishments from this past year that show examples from multiple USRA programs.

Current Highlights
image of computer chip

Quantum Computer Advances with Each Generation Processor

USRA operates a Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab with NASA and Google resulting in research papers by USRA, NASA, Google and the University community.

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Use of the lab continues to grow with thirteen proposals received to date for the third Request for Proposal Cycle that was announced after the lab’s quantum annealing computer upgrade to a D-Wave 2000 Q processor with 2048 qubits and other system enhancements. Improvements include reduction of the minimum annealing time from 5 to 1 microseconds, and ability to offset the annealing cycle with a global pause and quench cycle on a per-qubit basis. The 2000Q represents the third processor that will have been installed in the lab, which started with a 512-qubit processor in 2013 and was upgraded to an 1152-qubit processor in 2015.

image of a driverless car

Autonomous Systems

Research and development on autonomous systems greatly expanded this past year at USRA through the RIACS and NAMS programs, including achievement of a major milestone in our collaborative research agreement with Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley.

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USRA’s continued collaboration with Nissan resulted in a live demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). In January 2017, thousands of visitors to the Nissan CES exhibit watched live televised demonstrations of Nissan Leaf cars being driven autonomously at NASA Ames Research Center. A Nissan “mobility manager” at CES demonstrated capability for humans to remotely assist autonomous vehicles in unpredictable and dif cult situations where the vehicle cannot solve the problem itself.

The software that enables this remote assistance was developed with significant support from USRA/RIACS technical staff working onsite at Nissan, and was built on NASA’s open-source VERVE software that was developed for human-robot teaming in space exploration. In the live demonstration, the mobility managers were able to remotely help the self-driving cars navigate around construction machinery and other dif cult road obstacles. Current research is focused on enhanced support for use of Artificial Intelligence and Human-Autonomy teaming, as well as eld operation trials for driverless vehicles in the U.S. and other countries related to operating fleets of autonomous taxis and shuttle buses.

medical testing in space


Planned exploration missions will take human beings to distances further from Earth and for longer durations than any previous mission, during which, returning to Earth or communicating with Earth may not be an available option for crew members.

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In some deep-space situations, the exploration crew may have to manage their medical care without assistance from group support. To enable crew autonomy when far from Earth, the seamless management of medical data provided by a self-contained medical system will be necessary to support these missions.

This paradigm for medical care is a shift from current care provided on the International Space Station (ISS), where astronauts may be returned home in an emergency, or may readily contact ground control if a situation arises. In addition, ISS medical data management includes a combination of data collection and distribution methods that are minimally integrated with on-board medical devices and systems. For deep-space missions, having an integrated solution for data collection, storage and distribution will alleviate the crew from time-consuming tasks associated with data management, and will prevent errors in storing medical data that may occur when entered manually.

An interdisciplinary team at NASA Ames Research, which included Dr. Michael Krihak of USRA, initiated the development of a medical system that was designed to ingest data from various data sources. The integrated system also included the beginnings of a data architecture that will ultimately support more sophisticated capabilities such as data analytics, image analysis and decision support. Capabilities of the system were further expanded to send Astroskin biometric data via telemetry to a Core Flight Software system. Simultaneously, the medical system, using Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems protocol, also received and stored vehicle environmental data from an Environmental Control and Life Support System simulator. As part of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships ground test, this capability was demonstrated in a live integrated test at the NASA Johnson Space Center Integrated Power, Avionics and Software facility.

Meet Our Experts
USRA Programs in Computer Science and Information Technology
testing the Nissan Leaf

Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science

An underlying philosophy and approach of the Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science is that successful research is interdisciplinary, and that challenging applications associated with NASA’s mission provide a driving force for developing innovative information systems and other technologies. To implement this approach, research staff undertakes collaborative projects with research groups at NASA and elsewhere, integrating computer science with other disciplines to support NASA’s mission.