Aerospace Robotics Laboratory

News: I am seeking highly qualified and motivated graduate students (currently seeking 1 PhD and 1 MASc). Students with experience in a variety of backgrounds (robotics, computer vision, machine learning, fluid mechanics, soil mechanics, control, optimization) will be considered. Applicants with high GPA from top universities are keenly sought, with the opportunity for financial support.

We have active collaborations with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), McGill, MDA (the world leader in the space robotics industry), as well as other industry partners.

To apply, please submit your CV to:

Krzysztof (Chris) Skonieczny, PhD
Associate Professor
Canada Research Chair Tier II in Aerospace Robotics

Electrical and Computer Engineering
Concordia Institute of Aerospace Design & Innovation
Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science
Concordia University
1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
Montreal, QC, H3G 1M8

514-848-2424 ext. 3122
kskoniec [a_T] encs [d0T] concordia [d0t] ca

Click Here for an article about our work by the CBC.

Click Here for an article about our work in the Globe & Mail.

The mission of the Aerospace Robotics Laboratory is to study and develop robotics for space, especially for applications where a robot interacts with granular terrains in low-gravity environments. Examples include roving on Mars, digging and constructing on the Moon, or sampling and anchoring on comets and asteroids.

My research interests include: Space robotics, Planetary rovers, Robot mobility, Vehicle-terrain interactions, Advanced 3D printing techniques, Robotics excavation & construction, Reduced gravity experimentation, Computer vision and machine learning for robotics applications.
Selected Research Videos and Associated Papers

We flew novel wheel-soil experiments aboard an aircraft flying parabolic arcs to achieve Martian and Lunar gravity. We flew a protoype wheel for the upcoming ESA ExoMars mission, driving on Martian soil simulant in Martian gravity for maximum mission relevance; additional experiments at Lunar gravity present a clear contrast to 1-g.

Major contributions of this work include the discovery that reduced (Lunar) gravity induces a statistically significant 20% reduction in traction even after controlling for its effect on the weight of the rover itself, and that this reduced traction can be explained by greater mobilization of subsurface soil we observed with a high-speed camera. Another contribution is the development of a fully automated soil preparation system of inflight use.

Research conducted at Concordia University, in collaboration with the CSA, National Research Council (NRC) of Canada, McGill University, and MDA. Filmed aboard NRC Falcon 20 aircraft.

Related technical reference:
Skonieczny K, Niksirat P, Forough Nassiraei AA. "Rapid automated soil preparation for testing planetary rover-soil interactions aboard reduced-gravity aircraft." Journal of Terramechanics 83 (2019): 35-44. (link)

We have developed a metric to explicitly assess mobility risk based on data‐driven slip versus slope relationships. The metric is informed by past work in terramechanics relating traction to slip: High slip fraction (HSF), defined as the proportion of slip data points above 20%. Another contribution is a low complexity mobility prediction framework, the autonomous soil assessment system. Field tests demonstrate that, for sand and gravel, rover trafficability becomes nonlinear and highly variable above the 20% slip threshold. HSF is shown to be a useful metric for categorizing rover‐terrain interactions into low, medium, or high risk, correctly and consistently. Furthermore, the metric is shown to be useful for early detection of potentially hazardous changes in rover‐terrain conditions.

Research conducted at Concordia University and Mission Control Space Services Inc., in collaboration with CSA and Canadensys Aerospace Corporation. Filmed at White Sands National Monument, USA.

Related technical reference:
Skonieczny K, Shukla DK, Faragalli M, Cole M, Iagnemma K. "Data‐driven mobility risk prediction for planetary rovers." Journal of Field Robotics 36 (2019): 475-491. (link)

We have developed a viable approach to mobile 3D printing, in which a large object is printed in segments and the robotic printer moves in between the printing of each segment. The motion of the printer is localized precisely using the novel procedure of SLAAM (Simulataneous Localization and Additive Manufacturing), enabling the joining of subsequent segments.  SLAAM fuses local (3D scanner) and global (total-station range finder) sensing to achieve sub-millimeter accuracy, even in the presence of high odometry error.

Research conducted at Concordia University.

Concurrent with my PhD studies at Carnegie Mellon University, I was also Principal Researcher at Astrobotic Technology Inc. As Principal Investigator (PI) on a series of NASA grants, I led the research and development of a novel robotic excavator for the Moon and Mars: the Polaris Excavator.

This video shows the operation of this bucket-wheel excavator, demonstrating excavation of over 1000 kg of lunar soil simulant in an hour (shown 60x), digging in the presence of rocks, and traversing 20 cm obstacles and 15 degree slopes.

Research conducted at Carnegie Mellon University and Astrobotic Technology Inc., in collaboration with NASA Kennedy Space Center and NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC). Filmed at NASA GRC.

Related technical reference:
Skonieczny, K. "Lightweight Robotic Excavation." PhD Thesis. Carnegie Mellon University

I developed a technique for visualizing and analyzing soil shearing and flow as it is influenced by a wheel or excavation tool. I applied computer vision to high-speed images of sub-surface soil (taken through a transparent glass sidewall of a soil bin).

This video shows a wheel with grousers (or cleats) interacting with granular soil. The lower image shows processed results displaying particle flow speed, as indicated by colour heat, ranging from blue (indicating static soil) to red (indicating maximum flow velocity).

Research conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, in collaboration with NASA Glenn Research Center.

Related technical references:
Skonieczny, K, Moreland, SJ, Asnani, VM, Creager, CM, Inotsume, H, Wettergreen, DS. "Visualizing and Analyzing Machine‐soil Interactions using Computer Vision." Journal of Field Robotics 31, no. 5 (2014): 820-836. (link)

Skonieczny, K, Moreland, SJ, Wettergreen, DS. "A grouser spacing equation for determining appropriate geometry of planetary rover wheels." In Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS), 2012 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on, pp. 5065-5070. IEEE, 2012. (pdf)

I conducted an experimentation campaign that for the first time subjected excavator robots to gravity offload (a cable pulls up on the robot with 5/6 its weight to simulate lunar gravity) while they dig. These experiments provide evidence suggesting continuous excavation (e.g. bucket-wheel) is better suited for low gravity environments than discrete excavation (e.g. front loader).

This video shows offloaded experiments with a bucket-wheel excavator followed by experiments with a front-loader excavator robot. Both modes of operation start off with equivalent production (0.5 kg/s) but, whereas the bucket-wheel maintains productivity throughout, the front-loader quickly stalls.

Research conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, in collaboration with NASA KSC and NASA GRC. Filmed at NASA GRC.

Related technical reference:
Skonieczny, K. "Lightweight Robotic Excavation." PhD Thesis. Carnegie Mellon University (pdf)

I developed a control system that utilized novel kinematics for a proposed Mars rover to overcome terrain obstacles. This was achieved by shifting the rover's centre of gravity away from wheels currently encountering obstacles.

This video shows simulated results for a rover climbing a step obstacle. Without leaning back upon initial contact with the front wheels, the rover would not climb the obstacle. Similary, without leaning forward the rear wheels would not be pulled up over the step.

Research conducted at University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (during my Master's studies) and MDA Space Missions.

Related Technical Reference:
Skonieczny, K, D’Eleuterio, GMT. "Improving Mobile Robot Step-Climbing Capabilities With Center-of-Gravity Control." In ASME 2010 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference, pp. 1531-1538. American Society of Mechanical Engineers, 2010. (link)

I conducted modeling and experimentation to demonstrate that vehicle speed and payload capacity govern productivity of lightweight excavators, while other parameters including number of wheels do not.

This video shows one run from this experimentation campaign.

Research conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, supported by NASA KSC.

Related technical reference:
Skonieczny, K, Delaney, M, Wettergreen, DS, Whittaker, WL. "Productive Lightweight Robotic Excavation for the Moon and Mars." Journal of Aerospace Engineering 27, no. 4 (2013). (link)

Additional publications can be found on my Google Scholar profile.