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FRC Seminar: William "Red" Whittaker
Landing the Lunar X Prize: Rovers and Rockets from CMU to the Moon

William "Red" Whittaker
Robotics Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

January 22, 2013, 4:30pm-5:30pm, GHC 4307

Moon exploration was once a space race and pinnacle of human adventure. Technology has now brought that within reach of agile, resourceful robotics. Missions once characterized dust and rocks, but completely missed the treasures of ice and caves. These invaluable and very new discoveries are compelling next-step missions for robots to reach and characterize these great resources. We are embarked on those explorations as contexts for discovery, enterprise and technical inquiry. The ice lies under, not on the polar surface, and the caves are accessible only by descent of immense holes. The technical and operational robotics challenges are profound and worthy.

This talk presents the motivations and means for robotic exploration of lunar ice and caves, then delves into the enabling technologies and related research we are pursuing to address them. Our lander is a robot with rockets that is guided with unprecedented accuracy and economy by terrain-registered navigation. Our rover is fast, durable and feature-rich by any exploration standard. Polar operations require innovative navigation in grazing light, night survival, and autonomy for
Earth-shadowing and recoveries. Cave exploration is even bolder technology.

Our launch is in 2015 - about a thousand days from now. The research is meritorious in its own right, but much future opportunity and enterprise hangs on success of the first exploration. Success requires robustness and reliability, but without the heavy process, top-down resources, or decade-long timeframe of traditional missions.

Speaker Biography

William “Red” Whittaker is the Fredkin University Professor of Robotics at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute. He has developed dozens of robots, breaking new ground in autonomous vehicles, field robotics, space exploration, mining and agriculture. Whittaker developed the robots that cleaned up the Three-Mile Island nuclear accident. His ground vehicles have driven thousands of autonomous miles. Whittaker won DARPA's $2 million Urban Challenge. His HUMVEEs finished second and third in DARPA's Grand Challenge desert race. Whittaker is competing for the $20-million Google Lunar X Prize for privately landing a robot on the moon.