Santa Clara University


From Satellites to Automobiles, Robotics Lab Does it All

Back row, from left: Phelps Williams, Professor Christopher Kitts, Mike Rasay, Paul Mahacek. Front row, from left: Ignacio Mas, Giovanni Minelli. Photo by Dominic Hart

The SCU Robotics Systems Laboratory, under the direction of mechanical engineering Associate Professor Christopher Kitts, is always buzzing with activity. From designing and operating a shoe-box sized spacecraft, to analyzing the computerized diagnostics system of a top-of-the-line BMW, students are involved in real-world engineering on a daily basis.

Last year, recognizing the excellence of Professor Kitts’ program, NASA approved the operation of the GeneSat-1 mission by our student-based team, who not only developed the entire command and control systems, but also contributed to the design and test of the satellite and wrote the programs to track the satellite and run the on-board experiments. Their belief in this team was well rewarded as the success of the mission exceeded all expectations. Recently, in an unprecedented move, NASA/Ames Research Center handed over total control of the GeneSat-1 satellite to Santa Clara University engineering students and approved the team to operate the follow-on mission, PharmaSat.

Expanding on the theoretical and algorithmic work Kitts and graduate student Richard “Mike” Rasay have been developing for these spacecraft systems, the Robotic Systems Lab has teamed with BMW to explore the application of advanced diagnostic techniques to BMW’s line of automobiles. In this new project, these techniques will be adapted in order to improve BMW’s ability to detect faults, diagnose their root causes, and resolve them in a cost-effective manner. As part of this project, an interdisciplinary senior design team is working on a 7-series sedan, implementing a data acquisition system, integrating a simulation capability, and developing a fault detection capability for the automobile’s cruise-control system.