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Press Release

Contact:
Anne Watzman
412-268-3830

For immediate release:
September 30, 2005

Research Professor at Robotics Institute Receives Award for Work on Robotic Exploration


Associate Research Professor David Wettergreen has been awarded the first annual Popular Mechanic's Breakthrough Award for his work on technology for robotic exploration.
PITTSBURGH—David Wettergreen, associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, has been awarded the first annual Popular Mechanic's Breakthrough Award for his work on technology for robotic exploration. The Breakthrough Award recognizes 10 individuals and teams that are helping to improve lives and expand possibilities in the realms of science, technology and exploration.

The award was presented at a ceremony on September 29, 2005, at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Wettergreen, who is currently at work in the Atacama Desert in Chile, accepted the award in absentia. In addition to the award, Wettergreen, along with the other nine awardees, will be featured in Popular Mechanic's November issue.

Wettergreen works with robotic exploration underwater, on the ground, in air and space, examining the perception, planning, learning and control necessary for robot autonomy. His research begins with rover and algorithm design but results in mobile robots capable of exploring some of the most extreme environments on Earth.

Currently, Wettergreen is leading research in which robots are being used to investigate the geology and biology of the Atacama Desert in Chile. In this research, Zoë, a solar-powered, autonomous rover is measuring the distribution of microscopic life in the Atacama Desert for a NASA-funded project. The goals of the project are to create robotic technologies and methods applicable to the search for life, called robotic astrobiology, while at the same time conducting a scientific investigation of the unknown distribution of life in the desert. The Chilean desert is thought to be similar to Mars because of its aridity, soil composition and extreme UV radiation.

"David's robots are doing pathbreaking work in planetary exploration," said Matt Mason, director of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute. "The technology will feed into future efforts on the moon and Mars, but David has shown there is also an exciting role for robots in scientific exploration on Earth."

In recent years, Wettergreen and his robotic exploration team have investigated algorithms, sensors and mechanisms for planetary rovers, underwater vehicles and inflatable airships. He recently led research in sun-synchronous navigation, conducting field experiments above the Arctic Circle on Devon Island in Canada and a demonstration of long-distance, autonomous navigation on frozen Lake Mascoma in New Hampshire. Recently the team was in Mexico at the Zacatón Cenoté, conducting preliminary studies for an underwater vehicle that will explore flooded caverns.

In 1995, Wettergreen earned his Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon, where he began his affiliation with the Field Robotics Center and his work with walking robots and control algorithms. He earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics and computer science from Carnegie Mellon in 1987 and his master's degree in software systems from Carnegie Mellon in 1989.

After earning his Ph.D., Wettergreen worked as an NRC postdoctoral research associate at the NASA Ames Research Center in 1996 and 1997, working with the intelligent robotics group. As part of this group, Wettergreen helped develop technologies for robotic exploration, including building robots, control architectures and interfaces. From 1998 to April 2000, he was a research fellow at the Robotic Systems Laboratory at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, where he led research in underwater robotics.

For more information on Wettergreen and his work, visit his Web site: www.frc.ri.cmu.edu/~dsw/.

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