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Les Quiocho - Robotics Engineer
December 2, 2009

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Name: Les Quiocho
Job Title: Robotics Engineer
Education: Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at El Paso; Master of Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Houston
NASA Center: Johnson Space Center
Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Hobby: Being involved in my two sons' extracurricular activities (e.g., baseball, basketball, music, etc.)

 

Tell us about the project that you are working on now.

What attracted you to a career in robotics?

What do you consider to be the highlight of your career?

What prepared you for your job?

Are you involved in any student robotics projects as a mentor or advisor? If so, please tell us about it.

Were you a participant in any NASA opportunities as a student? If so, please tell us about it.

What advice would you give to students interested in a career in robotics?


Tell us about the project that you are working on now.

I'm actually working on several different projects. However, my primary responsibility is to lead our division's Mobile Servicing System simulation development for all engineering, operations and training facilities across NASA's Johnson Space Center.

The Mobile Servicing System consists of three main subsystems: the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (Canadarm2, or the station robotic arm); the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (Dextre robotic hand); and the mobile remote servicer Base System (a "train" that can carry the Canadarm2 along rails running the length of the station).

The simulation of these systems is highly complex and involves flexible multibody dynamics algorithms, electromechanical modeling of the joints, end effectors and grippers, and control systems in terms of real-world flight software representations. It's my job to maintain expertise in these various technical areas as well as overall systems integration and team management. Also, since these systems are provided by the Canadian Space Agency as part of the International Space Station program, I serve as our division's technical liaison to CSA for modeling, simulation and verification/validation issues.

Another project that I'm responsible for is the integration of manipulator systems such as the SSRMS (station robotic arm) or the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (shuttle robotic arm) with berthing and docking mechanisms to study on-orbit operations pre-flight, i.e., motion, loads, and capture analyses. This task again requires skills in verification and validation as the integrated systems are highly interdisciplinary and complex in nature.

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What attracted you to a career in robotics?

My senior design project at the University of Texas at El Paso involved using a sprocket or belt drive robot to feed metal stock to a computer numerical controlled lathe in order to emulate a manufacturing cell. Both devices required computer programming and systems integration. At the beginning of the project, I ended up researching robotics topics and became very interested in the field. When I was offered the NASA graduate fellowship at the University of Houston to work on my master's degree, and it turned out that the research area was to be in robotics, the fit was just perfect.

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What do you consider to be the highlight of your career?

I consider two events to be highlights of my career with NASA. The first was a technical accomplishment - months of integrated SRMS/Androgynous Peripheral Attachment System mechanism simulation development and analysis that ultimately culminated in the contribution to the development of a new operational technique. This method, entitled "SRMS assisted docking" (in which the shuttle robotic arm assists with docking), took place during the Shuttle/Mir program on STS-74, flown in November 1995. The second was an accomplishment of special recognition - I received a Silver Snoopy in December of last year (2008) for my contributions to the space shuttle, International Space Station, and Constellation* programs, with respect to simulation modeling, development, and analysis. (The Silver Snoopy is a NASA award, given by astronauts, for outstanding achievements related to human spaceflight safety or mission success.) As it turns out, astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger (STS-131 mission specialist) was one of the crew members presenting that day, along with astronaut Ellen Baker.

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What prepared you for your job?

The courses I took in mechanical engineering both as an undergrad and graduate student (e.g., statics, dynamics, kinematics of mechanisms, physics, mathematics, numerical analysis, programming, controls and robotics) all prepared me for my job. However, getting the opportunity to perform my graduate research while at NASA JSC helped me get the "big picture" of what would really be required to tackle real-world problems driven by actual programmatic deadlines.

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Are you involved in any student robotics projects as a mentor or advisor? If so, please tell us about it.

I'm involved in two student robotics activities, both related. First, I serve as the kit coordinator for the Space City BEST, a hub that participates in a yearly robotics competition for intermediate- and high-school-level students. (BEST stands for Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology.) Space City BEST supports 24 area schools from around and surrounding the metropolitan Houston area. I've been in this particular kit coordinating role since the inception of the hub 11 years ago.

Second, I mentor one of the Space City BEST participating schools, Westbrook Intermediate School. I've been mentoring these sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students since 2004, when my older son first joined the robotics team there as a sixth-grader. My younger son plans on participating next year. Part of my mentoring responsibilities at Westbrook Intermediate includes teaching basic robotics concepts during a nine-week mini-course as well as preparing the team for the Space City BEST competition.

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Were you a participant in any NASA opportunities as a student? If so, please tell us about it.

While I was enrolled in the master's program at the University of Houston, I was fortunate enough to be funded through the NASA Graduate Student Researchers Project. This fellowship allowed me to attend school and, at the same time, work on research projects directly related to JSC. It was during this timeframe that I began to develop my interests in robotics kinematics, dynamics, and controls. I was also exposed to other important robotics areas such as programming, sensory perception and path planning/obstacle avoidance.

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What advice would you give to students interested in a career in robotics?

One piece of advice I would give those interested in a career in robotics would be to enroll in a high school intern or university co-op student program that gives them the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field. Over the years, we have had numerous students in our organization that have pursued these types of programs, and I believe that it has been invaluable for determining if robotics was right for them. Also, because the robotics discipline is highly mathematics- and physics-intensive, I would encourage them to emphasize these particular subjects in school, starting as early as intermediate school.


*The Constellation program is no longer an active NASA program.

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Les Quiocho - Robotics Engineer
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Page Last Updated: March 26th, 2014
Page Editor: NASA Administrator