Considered the “father” of field robotics, William "Red" Whittaker propelled robots from research curiosities mostly found bolted to factory floors or relegated to laboratories to mobile, autonomous units capable of working outdoors in harsh and challenging environments. He pioneered the locomotion technologies, navigation and route-planning methods, and advanced sensing systems that make these robots successful. After the nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979, Dr. Whittaker and his team developed robots to inspect and clean the damaged reactor’s basement. He overcame challenges including the extreme environment and the high level of reliability needed due to the inability to introduce human assistance if maintenance was needed. This work led to the formation of the Field Robotics Center at Carnegie Mellon (the first research center dedicated to field robotics). Other innovations from Dr. Whittaker include a walking robot that explored an active volcano and robots that searched for meteorites in Antarctica and surveyed an 1,800-acre area of Nevada for buried hazards. He developed self-guided trucks and underground machines that operate autonomously without communication or GPS. He led teams that developed self-driving cars that achieve high speed and comply with traffic laws, including a vehicle that won the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Urban Challenge race in 2007. He is currently developing a lander/rover in pursuit of the Google X Prize for the first commercially funded venture to put a robot on the moon.
Dr. Whittaker is an IEEE Member and 2012 recipient of the IEEE Simon Ramo Medal “For pioneering contributions to mobile autonomous robotics, field applications of robotics, and systems engineering.” He is currently a University Professor with Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, Pittsburgh, Pa.