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SwRI sets low-cost ROS-I consortium membership entry fees

With input from the industrial robotics and automation community, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has set a low-cost membership model for the ROS-Industrial Consortium (RIC). This model encourages a broad base of membership and gives participants more control over how development funds are used. In conjunction with the launch of the consortium, SwRI has funded a special internal research program to accelerate ROS-Industrial development and benefit the technical needs of the consortium.

“As an early adapter of ROS, SwRI has been successfully leveraging it for industrial robotics applications,” explained Shaun Edwards, a senior research engineer in SwRI’s Automation and Data Systems Division. ROS (Robot Operating System) is an open-source project providing a common framework of libraries and tools for a wide range of applications, particularly in service and research robotics. In January, SwRI established the ROS-Industrial repository, an open-source resource providing a common industrial control platform to facilitate technology transfer from research labs to industry.

“Following other successful opensource projects as models, SwRI is initiating a precompetitive commercial collaborative research consortium, exclusively focused on the needs of industrial robot users,” said Paul Evans, director of SwRI’s Manufacturing Systems Department. RIC full membership is set at $10,000, with lesser levels of membership available.

Contact Evans at (210) 522-2994 or


SwRI engineers investigate “cognitive fingerprints” for bolstering computer passwords

It won’t make passwords passé, but a team led by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) intends to use “cognitive fingerprints” to make sure you are you, and not an imposter.

Even the strongest password can be used freely once it has been compromised by a computer hacker. However, a novel software-based authentication tool called covert-conditioned biometrics will attempt to use a unique sequence of problem-solving moves to distinguish between a legitimate user and an identity thief. Research in support of the system is sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Covert-conditioned biometrics will incorporate principles of adaptive learning, behavior modification and game theory to capture and discriminate aspects of the cognitive fingerprint that authenticate a user’s identity.

“It will deploy covert games, mimicking ordinary human computer interactions. Authenticated users are likely to unknowingly develop strategies for playing the games, even if the games are imperceptible,” said Jenifer Wheeler, a senior instructional specialist in the Learning Sciences and Systems Department of SwRI’s Aerospace Electronics, Systems Engineering and Training Division.

SwRI has teamed with Sentier Strategic Resources LLC to combine SwRI’s experience in behavioral modeling, educational software development and learning science with Sentier’s experience in cognitive psychology and human-subjects testing.

Contact Wheeler at (210) 522-6052 or


photo of new model reconciles the Moon’s Earth-like composition

New model reconciles the Moon’s Earth-like composition with the giant impact theory of formation

The giant impact believed to have formed the Earth-Moon system has long been accepted as canon. However, a major challenge to the theory has been that the Earth and Moon have identical oxygen isotope compositions, even though earlier impact models indicated they should differ substantially. In a paper published Oct. 16 in the journal Science online, a new model by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), motivated by accompanying work by others on the early dynamical history of the Moon, accounts for this similarity in composition while also yielding an appropriate mass for Earth and Moon.

In the giant impact scenario, the Moon forms from debris ejected into an Earth-orbiting disk by the collision of a smaller proto-planet with the early Earth. Earlier models found that most or much of the disk material would have originated from the Mars-sized impacting body, whose composition likely would have differed substantially from that of Earth. The new models developed by Dr. Robin M. Canup, an associate vice president in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division, and funded by the NASA Lunar Science Institute, involve much larger impactors than were previously considered. In the new simulations, both the impactor and the target are of comparable mass, with each containing about four to five times the mass of Mars. The near symmetry of the collision causes the disk’s composition to be extremely similar to that of the final planet’s mantle over a relatively broad range of impact angles and speeds, consistent with the Earth-Moon compositional similarities.

Contact Canup at (303) 546-9670 or


photo of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s LAMP spectrometer

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s LAMP spectrometer detects helium in Moon’s atmosphere

Scientists using the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have made the first spectroscopic observations of the noble gas helium in the tenuous atmosphere surrounding the Moon. These remote-sensing observations complement in-situ measurements taken in 1972 by the Lunar Atmosphere Composition Experiment (LACE) deployed by Apollo 17.

Although LAMP was designed to map the lunar surface, the team expanded its science investigation to examine the far ultraviolet emissions visible in the tenuous atmosphere above the lunar surface, detecting helium over a campaign spanning more than 50 orbits. Because helium also resides in the interplanetary background, several techniques were applied to remove signal contributions from the background helium and determine the amount of helium native to the Moon. Geophysical Research Letters published a paper on this research in 2012.

“The question now becomes, does the helium originate from inside the Moon, for example, due to radioactive decay in rocks, or from an exterior source, such as the solar wind?” said Dr. Alan Stern, LAMP principal investigator and associate vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute.

The paper, “Lunar Atmospheric Helium Detections by the LAMP UV Spectrograph on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter,” by Stern, K.D. Retherford, C.C.C. Tsang, P.D. Feldman, W. Pryor and G.R. Gladstone, was published in Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 39, doi:10.1029/2012GL051797, 2012.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., developed and manages the LRO mission. LRO’s current Science Mission is implemented for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate sponsored LRO’s initial one-year Exploration Mission, which concluded in September 2010.

Contact Stern at (303) 546-9670 or


DARPA selects SwRI’s K-band space crosslink radio as communications system for a cluster of small, wirelessly connected spacecraft

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to provide the flight low-rate crosslink wireless communications platform for the System F6 Program.

The System F6 Program, which is envisioned to culminate in an on-orbit demonstration in 2015–2016, is designed to validate a new space mission concept in which a cluster of smaller, wirelessly connected spacecraft replaces the typical single spacecraft carrying numerous instruments and payloads. This “fractionated” architecture enhances survivability, responsiveness and adaptability compared to the traditional monolithic spacecraft. The SwRI K-band radio is a core element of the open source F6 Developers Kit (FDK), which allows any spacecraft to participate in an F6-enabled cluster.

“As a nonprofit organization, Southwest Research Institute is ideally suited to support the DARPA System F6 FDK through the development of the K-band crosslink solution,” said Dr. Mark Tapley, a staff engineer in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division and principal investigator for the wireless system.

Contact Tapley at (210) 522-6025 or


NRC renews contract for SwRI to continue operating CNWRA

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has renewed its contract with Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) for the fifth time to operate the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses (CNWRA®). The five-year contract, valued at almost $76 million, assures continuing technical assistance and research support to NRC activities related to storage, transportation, possible reprocessing and ultimate geological disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive wastes through September 2017. The CNWRA has been located at and operated by SwRI since it was created in 1987.

Established as a federally funded research and development center, the CNWRA provides independent technical assessment to the NRC, the U.S. regulatory agency responsible for evaluating safety and environmental aspects of storage, transportation and disposal of radioactive wastes. In particular, NRC was charged by Congress to evaluate and, if appropriate, license a potential high-level radioactive waste repository.

“For the past 25 years, CNWRA has been a central part of the Commission’s efforts to evaluate engineering, environmental and scientific factors affecting management of radioactive wastes,” said Dr. Wesley C. Patrick, vice president of SwRI’s Geosciences and Engineering Division, which oversees the CNWRA.

Contact Patrick at (210) 522-5158 or

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Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 10 technical divisions.