Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute recently celebrated two notable events: the 60th birthday of University Professor William L. "Red" Whittaker and the 25th anniversary of field robotics, a discipline he founded. The celebration included a daylong symposium featuring some of the most distinguished experts in the field.
"Twenty-five years ago there was no sense whatever of what to do, how to do it, what technologies would unfold, what computing capabilities would come to be, what sensing would be invented, fulfilled and commercialized," said Whittaker, explaining he wanted to pursue robots beyond the built-environment.
The journey of discovery and implementation fueled his bold ambition. Whittaker explains it was only along the way, little by little, that the ideas of farming, mining, environmental cleanup, security — or for that matter, toys and surgery — came into being.
"And of course it's not over ... the story's not done," he added.
Whittaker expects that 25 years into the future many of today's "research" robots will become everyday experiences in our lives and work. For example, highway automation and crash-less cars are something that will likely be taken for granted.
Meanwhile, Whittaker's on a mission to place a robot on the moon by 2010 and possibly win the Google Lunar X Prize.
"Prize competitions have a substantial impact in moving field robotics into its future. Each has the effect of a punch of acceleration in the technology and in lifting the consciousness and in transforming the belief of what's possible," he explained. "It's true of all of them in great technology ... and in addition, each fosters an industry."
He cites the example of Charles Lindbergh's flight to Paris for $25,000, which led to the creation of trans-oceanic airlines. Whittaker said it's been the destiny of field robotics to develop, secure and feed the earth but also to explore worlds beyond.
"Those destinies are hardly begun. There's much, much more that's out there."
Carnegie Mellon's Field Robotics Center has developed more than 60 robots over the past 25 years. To learn more about them, visit http://www.frc.ri.cmu.edu.