Carnegie Mellon University:
Building Technology for the Moon and Adverse Conditions on Earth
For two decades, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has been a significant player in creating Pittsburgh’s new economy around robotics technology and education. The advent of self-driving cars, robots for advanced manufacturing, and robotic arms to assist individuals with disabilities all trace their origins to CMU’s campus and the efforts of faculty members, students, and entrepreneurs.
In 2019, the Foundation awarded CMU a $500,000 grant to build upon its expertise in manufacturing, computer science, and robotics to reinvigorate Pittsburgh’s legacy in space exploration by creating NewSpace, a robotics program whose primary goal is to land a rover on the moon by 2021. Under the direction of CMU robotics professor and entrepreneur Red Whitaker, who pioneered CMU’s self-driving car research and technology, NewSpace will convene faculty, students, and employees from local robotics companies to design, build, test, and, with the support of Astrobotic, launch a rover to explore the moon.
Once on the moon, CMU will test the rover’s capability to navigate the landscape and perform other functions to prepare for another launch in 2023—in partnership with NASA. As part of the latter launch, CMU’s rover will explore subterranean holes on the moon’s surface that contain water ice. With access to water ice, NASA could establish an outpost on the moon for deeper space exploration, including travel to Mars.
In 2007, Red Whitaker led the CMU team that, in partnership with General Motors and Caterpillar, won the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Urban Grand Challenge, which included a $2-million prize for creating a self-driving vehicle that could navigate traffic lights and other vehicles. In light of CMU’s desire to build on that success, in 2019, the Foundation awarded the university a $750,000 grant to compete in DARPA’s new Subterranean (SubT) Challenge, which will explore new approaches to map, navigate, and search human-made tunnel systems, urban underground, and natural cave networks. Like other DARPA programs, the SubT Challenge has potential to create new intellectual property and start-up companies, particularly related to wireless communications in adverse environments and first-responder technologies.