Carnegie Mellon University
Red Whittaker


One small step by CMU alumnus and University Professor Red Whittaker's robots is one giant leap for mankind.

In 2007, a Chevy Tahoe crossed the finish line of a 55-mile race on a former air force base in California. It averaged 14 miles per hour and followed all the traffic laws. It changed the world.

Led by William “Red” Whittaker (E 1975, 1979), Fredkin University Research Professor of Robotics and director of the Field Robotics Center, the Carnegie Mellon University Tartan Racing team did something no one thought possible. A driverless, autonomous car named Boss drove swiftly and safely, sharing the road with human drivers and other robots.

A legend in the field of robotics, Whittaker’s life is a bit like a sci-fi novel — for one thing, there are a lot of robots in it. He has more than 60 robots to his credit, including the robot that performed reconnaissance before the cleanup of radioactive material at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, a place from which humans were banned.

After decades with earthbound robots, Whittaker has turned his gaze to the sky. In 2007, he co-founded Astrobotic, a lunar logistics company, with the aim of taking payloads to the moon and beyond. He’s done work on the Google Lunar XPrize, a competition with $30 million in prizes for the first privately funded team to land on the moon, travel 500 meters, and send video to Earth. Astrobotic and CMU are at work on a small rover for NASA that could reduce space exploration costs. 

“Robots sometimes stun the world, inspire a lot of people and change the belief of what is possible,” Whittaker says. For more than 40 years, Whittaker has done the same.