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William Whittaker - Carnegie Mellon University. Pittsburgh, PA, US

William Whittaker

Founders University Research Professor | Carnegie Mellon University


A field robotics pioneer, William "Red" Whittaker's research interests centers on mobile robots in unpredictable environments.


Dr. William "Red" Whittaker's research interests centers on mobile robots in unpredictable environments, such as natural terrain and outdoor worksites, including computer architectures to control mobile robots, modeling and planning for non-repetitive tasks, complex problems of objective sensing in random or dynamic environments, and integrations of complete field robot systems.

His work encompasses core research, prototyping, and experimentation with the view that all are important to the evolution of field robots. Increasingly, his research interests are manifested through the work of the Field Robotics Center (FRC), which he directs. He has particular agenda in integrating component technologies into complete systems that prove themselves in both research and real world contexts. At FRC, they developed the remote work systems that explored and remediated the basement of the crippled Three Mile Island reactor containment basement. The Remote Reconnaissance Vehicle performed recovery tasks such as inspection, radiological mapping, material sampling, sludge transport and wall cleaning in a highly radioactive environment. Its successor, the Remote Work Vehicle (RWV), a telerobot of unprecedented capability and nuclear qualification, was developed for a broad agenda of clean-up operations. The RWV can wash contaminated surfaces, remove sediments, demolish radiation sources, apply surface treatments, and package and transport materials.

Dr. Whittaker is the Fredkin Professor of Robotics at the Robotics Institute and the Chief Scientist of the Robotics Engineering Consortium at Carnegie Mellon University. He is also the Chief Scientist of RedZone Robotics.

Areas of Expertise (11)

Multisensor Data Fusion

Robotics in Hazerdous Application

Industrial Robotics

Field & Service Robotics

Outdoor Mobile Robots

Robotic Exploration


Computer Software


Robotics for Scientific Discovery

Space Robots and Systems

Media Appearances (7)

Robotics pioneer Red Whittaker wants to put a robot on the moon, and land Amazon in his backyard

Geek Wire  online


Asked if he will eventually land a robot on the moon, William “Red” Whittaker doesn’t hold back.“Oh, hell yes,” says the Carnegie Mellon University roboticist, showing the enthusiasm and determination that have fuelled his career, leading the development of robots that have changed the nature of what machines can accomplish...

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Not NASA, this university's students will send the first American lunar rover to the Moon on May 4

Interesting Engineering  online


"In space, what matters is what flies, and soon you'll see irrefutable proof that what Carnegie Mellon has accomplished in planetary exploration matters a great deal," said William "Red" Whittaker, the Founders University Research Professor in the Robotics Institute and a planetary robotics pioneer...

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Students will send the first American rover to the moon, ahead of NASA

ZME Science  online


“In space, what matters is what flies, and soon you’ll see irrefutable proof that what Carnegie Mellon has accomplished in planetary exploration matters a great deal,” said William “Red” Whittaker, the Founders University Research Professor at the Robotics Institute...

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CMU finalizes plans to put rover on moon

CBS Pittsburgh  online


"Carnegie Mellon Robotics has pioneered land, sea, air, underwater, underground, and now space is our next frontier," said CMU research professor William L. "Red" Whittaker, the "godfather of extraterrestrial rovers..."

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A new CMU exhibition tells the story of Pittsburgh’s robotics innovation

Technical.ly  online


William “Red” Whittaker, a CMU professor who spearheaded innovation on autonomous vehicle development, was one of the first to suggest a systematic archival process for robotics at the school. His interest in doing so culminated in his founding of the university’s Field Robotics Center in 2018, which focused on transferring photographs and slides from the early 21st century into digital files...

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Pittsburgh's Moonshot

PittsburghInno  online


The story behind Astrobotic's plans to send its Peregrine Lunar Lander to the moon

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The First U.S. Lunar Rover is Headed to the Moon (and Students Made It!)

Popular Mechanics  


We’ve never sent a rover to the Moon. We’ve sent what’s called a lunar roving vehicle, which astronauts drove around the surface. But never just a rover. Now, the first lunar rover is almost ready to launch. But it’s not being sent up by NASA. The whole project—from design to construction to eventual off-world mission—is being run by college students.

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Industry Expertise (3)

Computer Hardware



Accomplishments (1)

Engelberger Technology Award (professional)

Engelberger, known throughout the world as the founding force behind industrial robotics, the Engelberger Robotics Award is the world's most prestigious robotics honor.

Education (3)

Princeton University: Civil Engineering, Civil Engineering 1973

Carnegie Mellon University: M.A., Civil Engineering 1975

Carnegie Mellon University: Ph.D., Civil Engineering 1979

Affiliations (3)

  • Field Robotics Center, Robotics Institute: Director
  • Robotic Engineering Consortium, Carnegie Mellon University: Chief Scientist
  • RedZone Robotics: Chief Scientist

Patents (4)

Autonomous Inspector Mobile Platform


An autonomous inspector mobile platform robot that is used to inspect a pipe or network of pipes. The robot includes a locomotion device that enables the device to autonomously progress through the pipe and accurately track its pose and odometry during movement. At the same time, image data is autonomously captured to detail the interior portions of the pipe. Images are taken at periodic intervals using a wide angle lens, and additional video images may be captured at locations of interest. Either onboard or offboard the device, each captured image is unwarped (if necessary) and combined with images of adjacent pipe sections to create a complete image of the interior features of the inspected pipe. Optional features include additional sensors and measurement devices, various communications systems to communicate with an end node or the surface, and/or image compression software.

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Obstacle Detection Arrangements in and for Autonomous Vehicles


An arrangement for obstacle detection in autonomous vehicles wherein two significant data manipulations are employed in order to provide a more accurate read of potential obstacles and thus contribute to more efficient and effective operation of an autonomous vehicle. A first data manipulation involves distinguishing between those potential obstacles that are surrounded by significant background scatter in a radar diagram and those that are not, wherein the latter are more likely to represent binary obstacles that are to be avoided. A second data manipulation involves updating a radar image to the extent possible as an object comes into closer range. Preferably, the first aforementioned data manipulation may be performed via context filtering, while the second aforementioned data manipulation may be performed via blob-based hysteresis.

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Methods, Devices and Systems for High-Speed Autonomous Vehicle and High-Speed Autonomous Vehicle


The invention comprises an autonomous off-road vehicle capable of traveling at high speeds. Preferred embodiments of the invention comprise a system for sensory instrument stabilization comprises three axis assemblies movable about three orthogonal axes. The invention also comprises novel methods for generating a high accuracy route for a robotically controlled vehicle. Other aspects of the invention include drive time, perception-based path adjustments to steer a robotic vehicle within an intended corridor. Another embodiment of the invention comprises the consideration of vehicular dynamics in generating a high accuracy route and in steering a robotic vehicle within an intended corridor.

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Method for Epipolar Time of Flight Imaging


Energy-efficient epipolar imaging is applied to the ToF domain to significantly expand the versatility of ToF sensors. The described system exhibits 15+ m range outdoors in bright sunlight; robustness to global transport effects such as specular and diffuse inter-reflections; interference-free 3D imaging in the presence of many ToF sensors, even when they are all operating at the same optical wavelength and modulation frequency; and blur- and distortion-free 3D video in the presence of severe camera shake. The described embodiments are broadly applicable in consumer and robotics domains.

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Articles (6)

Fundamental Science and Engineering Questions in Planetary Cave Exploration

Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets


Nearly half a century ago, two papers postulated the likelihood of lunar lava tube caves using mathematical models. Today, armed with an array of orbiting and fly-by satellites and survey instrumentation, we have now acquired cave data across our solar system—including the identification of potential cave entrances on the Moon, Mars, and at least nine other planetary bodies...

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A roadmap for planetary caves science and exploration

Nature Astronomy


Part of this research was conducted at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (80NM0018D0004). Images of planetary bodies were adapted from three-dimensional models available on NASA’s Solar System Exploration website. Satellite and rover silhouettes were rendered and modified from images of NASA’s Cassini and Perseverance spacecraft, respectively.

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Terrain Mapping and Pose Estimation for Polar Shadowed Regions of the Moon

Robotics and Automation in Space


Lunar ice, likely to be found in the highest abundance near the poles, could be a source of water for drinking, oxygen for breathing, and for producing propellants for venturing beyond the moon to deep space. Viability depends on specifics of the accessibility, depth, and concentration of the ice, which can only be determined by surface missions of repeated robotic explorations over time. Remote sensing indicates that ice concentrates in low, shadowed depressions that may or may not be close to safe landing sites [1]. Navigating through polar shadows and darkness necessitates capability for sensing in the dark. This paper profiles the perception system of MoonRanger, a micro-rover manifested on a 2022 NASA CLPS flight [2], which will be the first polar mission to perform in situ measurement of lunar ice.

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Agile Depth Sensing using Triangulation Light Curtains

Proceedings of (ICCV) International Conference on Computer Vision


Depth sensors like LIDARs and Kinect use a fixed depth acquisition strategy that is independent of the scene of interest. Due to the low spatial and temporal resolution of these sensors, this strategy can undersample parts of the scene that are important (small or fast moving objects), or oversample areas that are not informative for the task at hand (a fixed planar wall).

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Ray Tracing and Use of Shadows as Features for Determining Location in Lunar Polar Terrain

Field and Service Robotics


Ice is the most valuable resource on the Moon. It exists only at the poles where shadows are extensive and drivable routes are short. Robot routes to reach this ice are tenuous. Sun-synchronous lunar polar routes offer order-of-magnitude greater duration and range, if such routes are achievable. Sun-synchrony is brittle in the sense that a rover must be at precisely scheduled time and place, so special localization techniques are warranted.

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Belief Space Planning for Reducing Terrain Relative Localization Uncertainty in Noisy Elevation Maps

Institute of Electric and Electronic Engineers


Accurate global localization is essential for planetary rovers to reach mission goals and mitigate operational risk. For initial exploration missions, it is inappropriate to deploy GPS or build other infrastructure for navigating.

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