Dr. Ron Diftler serves as the Robonaut Project Leader at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Robonaut is a human-scale space robotic system designed to assist astronauts before, during, and after space walks. The Robonaut Team’s latest robot, Robonaut 2 (R2), is the culmination of 15 years of NASA Robonaut development and a highly successful partnership with General Motors (GM). In addition to collaboration with GM, Dr. Diftler led his team through previous collaborations with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Johns Hopkins University, Vanderbilt University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Southern California, Rice University, and the Institute for Human-Machine Cognition.
“Leading the Robonaut team has been my greatest accomplishment at NASA,” says Dr. Diftler.
Little did he know as a boy of 7, watching the TV show “Gigantor” and building erector sets, that one day he would lead a team that designed, built, and launched the first humanoid robot into space. In February 2011, R2 was launched from Space Shuttle Discovery and is currently undergoing testing aboard the International Space Station.
Dr. Diftler’s love of science and space began at an early age, watching the Apollo moon landings, reading science fiction, and watching “Star Trek.” He had excellent teachers throughout grade school and high school who encouraged him in science and math, greatly influencing his decisions and path after high school.
His advice for future scientists is: “Ask lots of questions and always assume that there is a better way to do something. Join your school robotics club. That’s where the action is.”
Now with two grown sons, a successful career at NASA, and prestigious several awards, he says his hopes for the future are “to send Robonauts to help crew as we go to asteroids, return to the moon, and ultimately journey to Mars.”
Dr. Diftler holds a B.S.E. mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton University, an M.S. in electrical engineering from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Rice University. He has published more than 50 peer reviewed technical papers in robotic systems and helicopter dynamics. He has more than 10 patents currently in process or awarded in the field of robotics, including several on robot hand technology.
Dr. Diftler is a recipient of a 2009 NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Award, a 2004 NASA Public Service Medal, and the 2005 IEEE Humanoids Conference Best Paper Award.
In his spare time Dr. Diftler enjoys exercising, reading, cooking, skiing, and travelling.