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Mattel Releases Toy Version of Mars Rover

Subject: Mattel Releases Toy Version of Mars Rover
From: Ron Baalke baalke at kelvin.jpl.nasa.gov
Date: Fri Jun 27 12:26:19 CDT 1997

PASADENA, CALIF 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011

Contact: John G. Watson

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                  June 19, 1997


    It rocks, it rolls, it boogies. Mattel Inc.'s Hot Wheels JPL
Sojourner Mars Rover Action Pack Set, a toy version of Sojourner, a
mini-rover destined to traverse the Martian soil starting July 4, recreates
the real robot's distinctive, six-wheeled, "rocker- bogie" locomotion
system. The toy, now available nationwide, is but one example of how the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory's Technology Affiliates Program works cooperatively
with industry.

    Through this program, corporations form strategic alliances with
JPL either to license intellectual property, as was the case with Mattel, or
to gain access to JPL's engineers and scientists to help solve a range of
technological problems. To date, more than 120 companies, large and small,
have utilized the program to solve upwards of 200 specific technology

    In short, the program provides a streamlined way for JPL, one of
10 NASA centers around the country, to do business with the private sector.
The payoff: technologies developed for the space program prove beneficial
back on Earth and, in the case of the Mattel toy, help educate and enthuse
the public about the space program.

    "We are pleased to have forged an alliance with Mattel through
our Technology Affiliates Program," says Merle McKenzie, manager of JPL's
Commercial Technology Office. "Who could help but become intrigued by the
Mars Pathfinder mission, scheduled to land on Mars on July 4 and set
Sojourner free to explore the red planet, after seeing this intricately
accurate mini-version of the mission's mini-rover?"

    She adds, "When Mattel first approached us in 1995 with the idea
of creating a toy based on Sojourner, the Technology Affiliates Program
significantly streamlined the process of licensing this technology. The
program is designed precisely to cut red tape and get things moving along

    JPL is managed by the California Institute of Technology, which
serves as the party of record on all patents developed at JPL and works
closely with JPL on Technology Affiliates Program agreements.

    Mars Pathfinder is one of the first missions in a new,
decade-long NASA program of robotic exploration to expand scientists'
knowledge of Mars. The unifying theme throughout the decade is the search
for water, which is a key requirement for life. Sojourner, the first rover
ever to explore the Martian surface, will not only take close-up images of
the Martian terrain but also will measure the composition of the rocks and
surface soil, determining their mineralogy.

    Sojourner's many innovations include miniature electronics and
the ability to decide on its own whether to climb over rocks up to its own
height of 0.3 meters (one foot) or to circumnavigate larger ones. Its
"rocker-bogie" suspension is unique in that it does not use springs. Rather,
its joints bend and conform to the contour of the ground, providing the
greatest degree of stability for traversing rocky, uneven surfaces. A six-
wheeled chassis was chosen over a four-wheeled design because it provides
greater stability.

    Many of these fascinating features have been captured in the
Mattel toy. "We hope this does indeed turn out to be a big hit," says
McKenzie. "After all, what better way to inform the public about the space
program and get everyone enthused about the marvelous technology it has

    For further information about JPL's Technology Affiliates
Program, visit their web site at http://techtrans.jpl.nasa.gov/tu.html


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