FR25: Celebrating Pioneering in Robotics
  Red Whittaker  

Red Whittaker
University Professor & Fredkin Professor of Robotics
Carnegie Mellon

Robotics Institute Seminar
Friday, October 24
Wean Hall 7500, 3:30PM

Robots at Work

Listen to a recent interview with Red Whittaker.

Read a news story that kicked off the event.


In the mid 1980s when robotics was still in its infancy and relegated to the laboratory, Red was one of the first to push robots outside. He is widely known as a pioneer in an area now known as “Field Robotics”, the set of technologies applicable to the rugged, unstructured and dynamic world outdoors. Since 1986 he has led the Field Robotics Center at Carnegie Mellon and was responsible for the creation of the National Robotics Engineering Center. More than anything, Red Whittaker is known for a large number of groundbreaking robots.

Remote Reconnaissance & Inspection

The first machines that initiated “field robotics” (1982) addressed a need to remotely inspect the aftermath of a nuclear accident at Three Mile Island. The Remote Reconnaissance Vehicle brought back the first footage from the flooded basement of the damaged reactor. The Remote Core Sampler returned samples of the walls and the Remote Work Vehicle was built to do a large number of tasks inside the basement. Pioneer (1998), a mobile mapping and reconnaissance machine for structural assessment was deployed at the damaged Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Tesselator (1992) was developed for automated inspection and waterproofing of the tiles on the Space Shuttle. Tugbot (2006) surveyed an 1800-acre site in Nevada for hazards and buried objects.

Robotic Exploration

Ambler (1987), a novel walking robot intended for a Mars sample-return mission, was built to navigate over large obstacles while operating on very low power. Skyworker (2002), is a similarly motivated robot that walks on the trusses of space structures. Dante I & II (1992, 1994) were unmanned robots for volcano exploration deployed at Mt. Erebus, Antarctica and Mt. Spurr, Alaska. Nomad (1996) is a novel robot mechanism designed to operate in rough terrain. It was first extensively deployed in the Chilean Atacama Desert in 1997 and was subsequently used for the first robotic search for Antarctic meteorites (2000). A branch from this line of work developed Hyperion (2001) and Zoe (2005), solar-powered robots for extended deployment in the arctic tundra and the Atacama Desert. The latest development is a lander/rover combination intended to address the Google X Prize for the first commercially funded venture to put a robot on the moon.

Outdoor Navigation

Terregator (1983) was one of the earliest outdoor mobile robots and served as a testbed for much of the early work in autonomous road following and mine modeling. Its successor, Navlab (1985), a converted van, was the first full sized vehicle to house researchers and computing and served as a testbed for unmanned ground vehicle research. Navlab founded a series of autonomous outdoor vehicles with a variety of configurations.


Demeter (1997) demonstrated the first autonomous harvesting of broadland crops of 200 acres by driving 600 miles in total. Demeter has spawned a family of agricultural robots.

Subterranean Robotics

A family of robots have been developed to explore and map subterranean tunnels and voids. Groundhog (2003) and Cave Crawler (2005) map large networks of corridors like tunnels and mines. Ferret (2006) maps voids, descending through small bore holes.

Robotic Racing

Sandstorm (2003) and Highlander (2005) were Carnegie Mellon entries to the DARPA Grand Challenge Races. In the first race, Sandstorm was the machine that traveled the furthest. In the second DARPA Grand Challenge race, these robots placed second and third out of a field of 20 robots that competed in the final competition, completing a course of 132 miles through the Nevada desert. Boss (2007) won the DARPA Urban Challenge.

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