Carnegie Mellon University
August 31, 2021

CMU Spinoff RobotWits Helps Pave Waymo's Way in Pittsburgh

By Aaron Aupperlee

Aaron Aupperlee
  • School of Computer Science
  • 412-268-9068

When Waymo opens its office in Pittsburgh, it will do so partly with the team and expertise of a Carnegie Mellon University spinoff company.

Waymo announced last month it would open an engineering office in Pittsburgh and bring on board RobotWits, a robotics company focusing on autonomous vehicles that was founded by Maxim Likhachev, an associate professor in the School of Computer Science's Robotics Institute.

"Pittsburgh is one of the main hubs for autonomous driving technology development in the U.S.," said Tushar Chandra, head of Waymo's Behavior team, noting the city's top academic institutions and long history of autonomous vehicle innovation. "You can see why we'd be excited about Pittsburgh's engineering and technology talent and world-class expertise in robotics." 

Waymo was Google's self-driving car project before it branched off as an independent company in 2016. The Silicon Valley-based company intends to hire about 20 employees for its Pittsburgh's office by the end of the year, including Likhachev and much of the RobotWits team. Waymo will join other self-driving and autonomous vehicle companies with a presence in Pittsburgh, including Argo AI, Aurora, Motional and Locomation.

RobotWits provides planning and decision-making technologies for self-driving vehicles. The company's algorithms help passengers stay safe and comfortable in self-driving vehicles traveling at high speeds; negotiate difficult situations; analyze nearby vehicles, pedestrians and other dynamic objects; and plan for uncertainty in the intentions of other vehicles and pedestrians — all in real time. These technologies will help autonomous vehicles maintain consistent speed and driving; handle sharp turns; pass slower vehicles; merge; and manage unexpected stops, changing light and road conditions, and other variables encountered on the road.

In addition to its work on self-driving vehicles, RobotWits teamed with the Pennsylvania Rural Robotics Initiative and WQED/PBS in 2020 to create "The Robot Doctor," an eight-episode regional Emmy-nominated TV series aimed at increasing interest in STEM careers among high-school students by showing how mathematics is used in robotics. The 14-minute episodes aired multiple times on PBS stations across Pennsylvania.

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