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David Wettergreen - Carnegie Mellon University. Pittsburgh, PA, US

David Wettergreen

Research Professor | Carnegie Mellon University


David Wettergreen is well known for deploying robots in locations that compel scientific investigation without human presence.


David Wettergreen is perhaps most well known for deploying robots around the world in polar and desert environments, and into volcanoes, caves and locations that compel scientific investigation without human presence. His research focuses on robotic exploration and has included leading teams of researchers testing the wheels of the rovers that have explored Mars. For nearly 20 years, he has created robotic vehicles and technologies in navigation and autonomy and pioneered techniques for robotic investigation and automated scientific data analysis. Field investigations with innovative robots in challenging environments is a hallmark of his experimental method.

Areas of Expertise (7)

Human-Robot Interaction

Underwater Robotics

Space Robots and Systems

Robotics for Scientific Discovery

AI Reasoning for Robotics

Human-Centered Robotics

3-D Vision and Recognition

Media Appearances (5)

CMU Leaves Marks on Mars

Carnegie Mellon University  online


The partnership has created a pathway into the high bay in CMU's Gates Center for Computer Science. For years, students led by Robotics Institute Research Professor David Wettergreen (pictured at left) have tested wheels for rovers that have explored Mars. [...] "We did extensive tests to determine a baseline for design of the Perseverance wheel," said Wettergreen. "JPL tasked us with increasing the tractive performance — the slope climbing — and durability without increasing the wheel's mass."

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Watch NASA’s new autonomous helicopter take flight on Mars

Vox  online


“One of the fundamental constraints of any kind of space exploration — whether you’re going to Mars or Europa or the moon — is that you have limited bandwidth, which means a limit on the amount of information you can send back and forth,” David Wettergreen, research professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, told Recode. “During the periods of time when the robot can’t communicate, autonomy is important for it to enable it to keep doing tasks, to explore on its own, to make progress, rather than just sitting there waiting for the next time it hears from us.”

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NASA's Ailing Robonaut 2 Will Return from Space for Long-Overdue Repairs

Space  online


"Errors in properly grounding circuits can lead to really strange symptoms that initially appear unrelated to the root cause," David Wettergreen, a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, told IEEE Spectrum. "It can take a long time to debug because the problem is not easily reproducible and may not occur often, or even in the same way every time," said Wettergreen, who specializes in autonomous robots for planetary exploration. [In Photos: Robonaut 2, NASA's Robot Butler for Astronauts]

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NASA begins testing drilling Mars rover in Chilean desert

The Verge  online


Zoë is explicitly designed to search for signs of microbial life, which experts say would likely exist well below the Martian surface. "Direct evidence of life, if it exists, is more likely underground, beyond the current reach of rovers," David Wettergreen, research professor at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, said in a statement earlier this month. "Chances improve with greater depth but we are first developing one-meter capability and integrating with a mobile robot."

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Rover Explores Chile Desert to Aid Mars Life Hunt

Space  online


"Scientifically, the study helps us understand how life survives in extreme environments with implications to both Earth and Mars," said David Wettergreen, research professor in Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute and principal investigator for the Life in the Atacama project. "Technologically, we are learning about the mechanisms and the algorithms that will enable us to explore the subsurface of other planets." [The Search for Life on Mars (A Photo Timeline)]

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David Wettergreen (CMU): Field Testing Science Autonomy For Robotic Explorers



Industry Expertise (2)

Computer Software

Computer Hardware

Education (3)

Carnegie Mellon University: Ph.D., Robotics

Carnegie Mellon University: M.S., Software Systems

Carnegie Mellon University: B.S., Mathematics and Computer Science

Articles (5)

Orbit-to-ground framework to decode and predict biosignature patterns in terrestrial analogues

Nature Astronomy

2023 A nested orbit-to-ground approach for microbial landscape patterns at different scales, tested in the high Andes, provides a machine learning-based search tool for detecting biosignatures on terrestrial planets.

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Planetary Mapping using Deep Learning: A method to evaluate feature identification confidence applied to habitats in Mars-analog terrain


2023 The goals of Mars exploration are evolving beyond describing environmental habitability at global and regional scales to targeting specific locations for biosignature detection, sample return, and eventual human exploration. An increase in the specificity of scientific goals—from follow the water to find the biosignatures—requires parallel developments in strategies that translate terrestrial Mars-analog research into confident identification of rover-explorable targets on Mars.

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An approach to science and risk-aware planetary rover exploration

IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters

2022 This work grapples with the challenge of directing autonomous decision making by planetary rovers conducting science investigations. Most of the related work addresses obstacle avoidance and traversabilty, while less work seeks to directly improve science yield.

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Surface Morphologies in a Mars-Analog Ca-Sulfate Salar, High Andes, Northern Chile

Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences

2022 Salar de Pajonales, a Ca-sulfate salt flat in the Chilean High Andes, showcases the type of polyextreme environment recognized as one of the best terrestrial analogs for early Mars because of its aridity, high solar irradiance, salinity, and oxidation. The surface of the salar represents a natural climate-transition experiment where contemporary lagoons transition into infrequently inundated areas, salt crusts, and lastly dry exposed paleoterraces.

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Using Remote Sensing and in situ Measurements for Efficient Mapping and Optimal Sampling of Coral Reefs

Frontiers in Marine Science

2021 Coral reefs are of undeniable importance to the environment, yet little is known of them on a global scale. Assessments rely on laborious, local in-water surveys. In recent years remote sensing has been useful on larger scales for certain aspects of reef science such as benthic functional type discrimination.

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