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Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award Recipient Lecture

Robots at Work

William L. "Red" Whittaker, Thursday, October 29, 2009

4:30-5:30pm, Rashid Auditorium, The Gates Center for Computer Science

Light refreshments provided immediately following the lecture.

Students, faculty and staff, please bring your Carnegie Mellon ID.

Whittaker photo

Robots are a great story of technology, enterprise and people… much of which occurred  at Carnegie Mellon. The presentation will weave some of that story around robots for industry, exploration, fun, wonder, and competitions. Robots are changing the way we live, work and expand our experience. They are toys for entertainment, instruments for surgery, and tools for labor and hazardous duty. Robots explore other planets, labor in factories and paint cars. The great questions are no longer whether robots are real…..but how they work, why, and for what purposes. 

Every successful technology casts a vision, overcomes challenges, earns its relevance, and robotics is no exception. Robotics at Carnegie Mellon had the additional unique advantages of serial incentive prizes. These include adventures like driverless racing, soccer cups and a current competition for roving on the moon. Great challenge competitions drive technology, open huge markets, inspire the public, and forever alter the view of what is possible. Competition drew Lindbergh to Paris for $25,000, which catalyzed an airline industry. A computer defeated a human chess champion for $100,000. That catalyzed computer gaming, and it fundamentally changed belief in artificial intelligence. Flight, gaming, timekeeping and commercial spaceflight each benefited from one-time prizes, but prizes are serial opportunity for robotics. Carnegie Mellon is a headliner on the world stage of robotic competition. We are currently pursuing the $20-million Lunar X Prize for privately landing a robot on the moon.

The story of Carnegie Mellon robotics is more about people than technology. The talk will walk down memory lane for generations who lived the revolution. The presentation will consider how innovation continues to thrive, and how automation continues to move from laboratory to life with its inevitable effects on ourselves, our world and our futures.

Red Whittaker is the Fredkin professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute. He has developed dozens of robots, breaking new ground in autonomous vehicles, field robotics, space exploration, mining and agriculture. He developed the robots that cleaned up the Three-Mile Island nuclear accident. His ground vehicles have driven thousands of autonomous miles. Whittaker won DARPA's $2 million Urban Challenge. His HUMVEEs finished second and third in DARPA's Grand Challenge desert race. Whittaker is competing for the $20-million Google Lunar X Prize for privately landing a robot on the moon.

Whittaker is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He is a fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. He received the Joseph Engelberger Award for outstanding achievement in robotics. Science Digest named Whittaker one of America’s top 100 innovators. He has been recognized by Design News, Aviation Week & Space Technology magazines for outstanding achievement. Fortune named him a “Hero of U.S. Manufacturing”. At Carnegie Mellon, Whittaker is a university professor, received the Alan Newell Medal for Research Excellence and the Teare Award for teaching excellence.


Whittaker poster [pdf]