William L. "Red" Whittaker, Carnegie Mellon University's Fredkin Research Professor of Robotics and founder of the Robotics Institute's Field Robotics and National Robotics Engineering centers, has been named a University Professor, the highest rank the institution confers upon its faculty. He is the first research-track professor to receive such an honor.
Whittaker is known worldwide for developing mobile robots that work in unpredictable environments, like the interiors of abandoned coal mines, the craters of live volcanoes or inside the damaged nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island.
During his 24-year career, Whittaker, his colleagues and students have developed more than 60 robots, breaking new ground in space exploration, hazardous waste remediation, agriculture and the development of autonomous vehicle technology that ultimately will impact the traffic on our nation's highways. He is also an outstanding teacher who has inspired countless students and shepherded more than 23 of them through the Ph.D. process.
Whittaker leads Tartan Racing, Carnegie Mellon's team that will compete this fall in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Urban Challenge, the third in a series of races to foster development of autonomous robot vehicles. He is also the chief scientist of Workhorse Technologies, a company that pioneers the development of mobile robots for hazardous work environments.
"Red breaks all the stereotypes of an academic researcher," said Randal E. Bryant, dean of Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science. "He's shown that university people can solve the difficult engineering problems required to develop real machines that work in difficult environments and communicated his ideas through working prototypes. I'm pleased that the university has recognized his unique talents and contributions, naming him the first University Professor among our research faculty.
"While other universities have research professors, ours is one of the few that view the research and tenure tracks as complete parallels in terms of the level of achievement we expect and the level of respect we give to both types of faculty members," Bryant continued. "Red is a clear example of this level of respect. He holds an endowed faculty chair, and now he is a University Professor. I do not know of anyone outside Carnegie Mellon who has received these forms of recognition as a research faculty member."
"Red Whittaker is a true visionary, and one of the great leaders in our field. He is often called the 'Father of Field Robotics,'" added Robotics Institute Director Matthew T. Mason. "It was Red who first saw the potential for robotics in space exploration, mining, agriculture and other field applications. And, most important, he assembled the teams and the resources to push the field forward — one outstanding robot after another. Red is an inspiration to everyone in the Robotics Institute."
Whittaker earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Princeton University and his master's and doctor's degrees in civil engineering from Carnegie Mellon. He is a fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, and a member of the Robotics and Remote Systems Division of the American Nuclear Society, the Center for the Commercial Development of Space and the National Academy of Sciences Space Studies Board.
Science Digest named Whittaker one of the top 100 U.S. innovators for his work in robotics. He has been recognized by Aviation Week & Space Technology and Design News magazines for outstanding achievement. Fortune named him a "Hero of U.S. Manufacturing" in a 1999 feature story. And in 2002 he received the Joseph Engelberger Award for outstanding achievement in robotics.
Whittaker has also been recognized with a Pittsburgh Vectors Award and a Catalyst Award from Pittsburgh's Carnegie Science Center. He is a recipient of Carnegie Mellon's Teare Award for teaching excellence and the university's Alumni Merit Award for outstanding achievement.
Whittaker is one of two outstanding Carnegie Mellon faculty members to be named University Professors this year. The other is Robert Page, the Paul Mellon Professor of Music and director of choral studies in the College of Fine Arts.
About Carnegie Mellon: Carnegie Mellon is a private research university with a distinctive mix of programs in engineering, computer science, robotics, business, public policy, fine arts and the humanities. More than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students receive an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration, and innovation. A small student-to-faculty ratio provides an opportunity for close interaction between students and professors. While technology is pervasive on its 144-acre campus, Carnegie Mellon is also distinctive among leading research universities for the world-renowned programs in its College of Fine Arts. For more, see www.cmu.edu.