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The Remote Agent Experiment: Debugging Code from 60 Million Miles Away

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Published on Mar 12, 2012

Google Tech Talk
February 14, 2012

Presented by Ron Garret.

ABSTRACT

The Remote Agent Experiment: Debugging Code from 60 Million Miles Away

The Remote Agent Experiment (RAX) was an autonomous control system for an unmanned interplanetary spacecraft called New Millennium Deep Space 1 (DS1). In May, 1999, control of the DS1 spacecraft, a $150-million asset, was handed over to the Remote Agent software for three days. It was the first -- and, to date, the last -- time that an interplanetary spacecraft has been under fully autonomous control. RAX was a resounding technological success, but a political disaster. Instead of paving the way for future autonomous missions, RAX is the reason that NASA has not flown an autonomous mission since. This talk is about the lessons learned from an ambitious but ultimately failed attempt to introduce technological change into a large, bureaucratic organization, the limitations of static code analysis, and the unique challenges of debugging code when the round-trip ping time is 45 minutes.

Slides available at http://www.flownet.com/ron/RAX2.pdf

Dr. Ron Garret is a software engineer turned entrepreneur and angel investor. He has co-founded three startups and invested in a dozen others. In a previous life he was an AI and robotics researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab where he led the development of one of the four major components of the Remote Agent. In 2000 he went to work for what was at the time an obscure little Silicon Valley startup called Google, where he was the lead engineer on the first release of AdWords, and the author of the Google Translation Console. He is currently working on launching a new startup company.

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