David Ray Thompson

David R. Thompson


I live in Pasadena and work with the Machine Learning and Instrument Autonomy Group at the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. My work involves computer vision, machine learning and their applications to robotic space and planetary exploration. Here are some of my research projects and personal interests. You may also be interested in my JPL webpage.
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Lately I have been conducting a variety of different experiments with NASA's newest airborne imaging spectrometer, AVIRIS "Next Generation" (AVIRIS-NG). We have been building the science data pipeline to take us the way from raw instrument data up through refined reflectance and atmospheric analyses. In addition, we're porting various aspects of this system to real-time deployments that will function onboard the aircraft and provide immediate, tactical science analyses to pilots and operations teams.

  • D. R. Thompson, D. A. Roberts, B. C. Gao, R. O. Green, L. Guild, K. Hayashi, R. Kudela, and S. Palacios. Atmospheric Correction with the Bayesian Empirical Line. Optics Express, in press (Preprint PDF).
  • D. R. Thompson, I. Leifer, H. Bovensmann, M. Eastwood, Matthew Fladeland, C. Frankenberg, K. Gerilowski, R. O. Green, Sven Kratwurst, T. Krings, B. Luna, and A. Thorpe. Real-Time Remote Detection and Measurement for Airborne Imaging Spectroscopy: A Case Study with Methane. Atmospheric Measurement Techniques, 8, 2015. p. 4383-4397 (PDF).
  • D. R. Thompson, B. C. Gao, R. O. Green, P. E. Dennison, D. A. Roberts, S. Lundeen. Atmospheric Correction for Global Mapping Spectroscopy: Advances for the HyspIRI Preparatory Campaign. Remote Sensing of Environment vol. 167, 2015 (PDF).
  • D. R. Thompson, F. C. Seidel, B. C. Gao, M. Gierach, R. O. Green, R. M. Kudela, P. Mouroulis. Optimizing irradiance estimates for coastal and inland water imaging spectroscopy. Geophysical Research Letters (42), 2015.
  • C. Fichot, B. Downing, B. Bergamaschi, L. Windham-Myers, M. Marvin-DiPasquale, D. R. Thompson, and Michelle Gierach. High-resolution remote sensing of water quality in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. Environmental Science and Technology , in press (Preprint PDF).
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We aim to provide these robots the ability to identify basic science features so that they can make simple decisions about where to collect data and what to transmit to Earth. Image: automatic classification of Mars Exploration Rover image to find rocks. Original credit NASA/JPL.

  • D. R. Thompson, D. T. Flannery, R. A. Kiran, A. C. Allwood, B. D. Bue, B. Clark, W. Timothy Elam, T. Estlin, R. Hodyss, J. A. Hurowitz, Y. Liu, L. Wade. Automating X-ray Fluorescence Analysis for Rapid Astrobiology Surveys, Astrobiology 15 (11), 2015, 961-976.
  • A. Altinok, D. R. Thompson, B. Bornstein, S. A. Chien, J. Doubleday, J. Bellardo. Real-time satellite image analysis using decision forests, with a deployment onboard the IPEX Spacecraft. Journal of Field Robotics (in press).
  • D. Bekker, D. R. Thompson, W. J. Abbey, N. A. Cabrol., R. Francis, K. S. Manatt, K. Ortega, K. L. Wagstaff. A Field Demonstration of an Instrument Performing Automatic Classification of Geologic Surfaces. Astrobiology 14(6): 2014, 486-501. (Preprint PDF)
  • D. R. Thompson, Robert O. Green, Didier Keymeulen, Sarah Lundeen, Yasha Mouradi , Rebecca Castano, Steve A. Chien, Rapid spectral cloud screening onboard aircraft and spacecraft. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, 2014 (Preprint PDF).
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Future primitive body exploration missions may need to revise trajectories and observation plans to quickly characterize the target for safe, effective observations. However, light time delays for communication with Earth may be tens of minutes to hours. When appropriate, time-critical decisions could be automated and shifted to the spacecraft for immediate access to instrument data. Mirrored planning systems on both sides of the light-time gap permit fluid transfer of authority as needed. Image: automatic detection of Hartley 2 comet plumes. Original image credit: NASA/JPL/UMD.

  • W. Huffman, D. R. Thompson, B. Bue, J. Castillo-Rogez, J. Boland. Autonomous onboard point source detection by small exploration spacecraft. Proceedings of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 2015 (in press).
  • K. L. Wagstaff, D. R. Thompson, B. Bue, T. Fuchs. Autonomous Real-time Detection of Plumes and Jets from Moons and Comets. The Astrophysical Journal 794 (43): 2014.
  • D. R. Thompson, M. Bunte, R. Castano, S. Chien, R. Greeley. Image Processig Onboard Spacecraft for Autonomous Plume Detection. Planetary and Space Science Vol. 62, 2012. p. 153-159.(PDF)
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New radio astronomy instruments like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will generate petabyte data volumes. These investigations would benefit from real time anomaly detection and data mining to identify key features of interest. We're currently investigating adaptive resource allocation strategies and cost-sensitive computing to identify transient radio sources in radio astronomy data.

  • K. Wagstaff, N. Lanza, D. R. Thompson, T. Dietterich and M. Gilmore. Guiding Scientific Discovery with Explanations. Assoc. for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) 2013.
  • C. Trott., S. J. Tingay, R. B. Wayth, D. R. Thompson, A. T. Deller, W. F. Brisken, K. L. Wagstaff, W. A. Majid, S. Burke-Spolaor, J-P R. Macquart, D. Palaniswamy. A framework for interpreting fast radio transient search experiments: application to the V-FASTR experiment. The Astrophysical Journal 2013 (preprint PDF)
  • D. R. Thompson, W. F. Brisken, A. T. Deller, W. A. Majid, S. Burke-Spolaor, S. J. Tingay, K. L. Wagstaff, and Randall B. Wayth. Real time adaptive event detection in astronomical data streams: lessons from the Very Long Baseline Array. IEEE Intelligent Systems 2013.(Preprint PDF)
  • R. Wayth, S. J. Tingay, A. Deller, W. F. Brisken, D. R. Thompson, K. Wagstaff, and W. Majid. Limits on the event rates of fast radio transients from the V-FASTR experiment. The Astrophysical Journal Letters 753:L36 2012.(PDF)
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Statistical models of the environment can tell explorer robots where to travel, what samples to collect and what data to return to scientists. Much of my work aims to ground autonomous science decisions by remote explorers in formal principles of information theory, active learning and experimental design.

  • D. R. Thompson, D. Wettergreen, G. Foil, M. Furlong, R. Kiran. Spatio-spectral exploration combining in situ and remote measurements. Assoc. for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) 2015.(Preprint PDF)
  • D. R. Thompson, N. A. Cabrol, M. Furlong, C. Hardgrove, B. K. H. Low, J. Moersch, D. S. Wettergreen. Adaptive Sensing of Time Series with Application to Remote Exploration. International Conference on Robotics and Automation, 2013 (PDF).
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Much of my work involves data mining on spectral data to automatically draft maps and characterize science phenomena. This is particularly useful for remote robotic explorers. Image courtesy NASA/JPL.

  • D. R. Thompson, B. Bornstein, S. Chien, S. Schafffer, D. Tran, B. Bue, R. Castano, D. Gleeson, A. Noell, Autonomous Spectral Discovery and Mapping onboard the EO-1 Spacecraft. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing , Vol. 51 No. 6, June 2013. (Preprint PDF)
  • M. Gilmore, D. R. Thompson, L. J. Anderson, N. Karamzadeh, L. Mandrake, R. Castano. Superpixel segmentation for analysis of hyperspectral datasets, with application to CRISM data, M3 data and Ariadnes Chaos, Mars. Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 116, E07001, 2011.
  • D. R. Thompson, L. Mandrake, M. S. Gilmore and R. Castano, Superpixel Endmember Detection. Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, 48(11): 4023-4033, Nov. 2010.
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Other Interests


The humble leaf about which the world revolves! Lots of tea-heads will wax poetic about the 300-year-old British teamaking tradition. I favor the 2000-year-old Asian tradition: an infinite variety of styles and flavors, each refined to its own art form.

  • Fujian Whites (a.k.a. Bai Mu Dan, Shou Mei): I prefer these rustic styles of white tea to their classier "Silver Needle" cousins. They look like craft-store potpourri, and smell like coconut or (sometimes) apricots. Shou Mei in particular makes a sturdy daily cuppa.
  • Sencha: As Japanese as Godzilla, but greener still, this classification encompasses a wide range of daily (non-ceremonial) Japanese teas. It looks like grass clippings, and tastes like vegetables - spinach or asparagus, perhaps. This is a tough one to brew properly, especially at the higher grades. But expertise is rewarded with a well-nuanced cup.
  • Tung-Ting Oolong: The greener oolong teas, especially those produced in Taiwan, are my favorite of all. Unfortunately their price is usually commensurate with their quality! Flavors suggest honey, peach, vanilla, or a bouquet of flowers. There's no tea presentation quite so elegant as dozens of perfect uniform two-leaves-and-a-bud pickings.


I practice a calorie restriction regimen. The idea is based on a large number of animal studies (from nematode worms up to rats and monkeys) which show that reducing calorie intake while maintaining nutrient levels triggers health-improving metabolic changes and slows the aging process by as much as 30-40%. What about humans? I'll have a better idea in 2050, but the preliminary tests (T3, WBC, lipids, body temperature, etc.) suggest encouraging parallels to the animal studies. These days I consume 1650 calories a day under the supervision of a physician.


A relatively new music craze. I'm a big fan of the French Impressionists (Ravel, Debussy) although I've recently investigated some more modern stuff. Bartok's string quartets are my all-time favorite.

Copyright 2013 David Ray Thompson, some images and papers excepted.

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