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Innovation & Startups

CMU robotics researchers shoot for the moon and $30 million purse

Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute has joined a race to the moon certain to inspire the greatest robotics minds in the world as they vie for a $30 million purse.

The Google Lunar X Prize, touted as the richest international competition in history, goes to the team that reaches the moon first, drives a robot for at least 500 meters and transmits a “Mooncast” of its activity successfully back to Earth. It’s the kind of daunting challenge that CMU’s spirited Fredkin Research professor at the Robotics Institute, Red Whittaker, has dreamed of. 

“You only live once,” says Whittaker, who believes the race will usher in the next robotics generation. It won’t be the first time Pittsburgh has been on the on the cusp of a new era, he adds.

“All the great prizes change markets and products in a big way,” Whittaker reflects. The Orteig prize pushed Charles Lindburgh across the Atlantic. In 1987, CMU researchers built a computer named Deep Thought that beat a human chess opponent, winning a contest that forever changed the way we see computers.

“No one thought that a computer could defeat a good chess player,” says Whittaker. “And a gaming industry developed. Think about what it did for belief in artificial intelligence.”

Whittaker currently leads the Tartan Racing Team in a competition that involves the building of an automated SUV for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Urban Challenge to be held Nov. 3rd. Whittaker hopes to move from land to space, establish a lunar rover team at CMU and find partners in the enterprise.

For more information on the lunar challenge at CMU, click here.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Red Whittaker, Michele Gittleman, CMU’s Robotics Institute

Image courtesy of the Robotics Institute

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