The IEEE awarded its 2012 Simon Ramo Medal to William “Red” Whittaker for his work in robotics. He was recognized “for pioneering contributions to mobile autonomous robotics, field applications of robots, and systems engineering.” Whittaker is the Fredkin Professor of Robotics at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute and director of its Field Robotics Center and founder of the National Robotics Engineering Consortium.
Over the course of his career, Whittaker has produced more than 60 robots to function and perform tasks in inhospitable places where humans cannot, such as contaminated nuclear plants, active volcanoes, abandoned mines, Antarctic glaciers and the moon and Mars. In the mid-1980s, he and his team at Carnegie Mellon developed robots to inspect and perform repairs at the damaged Three Mile Harbor nuclear reactor near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This led to the founding of the Field Robotics Center. His current projects are as diverse as creating robotic tours guides for museums and an autonomous mobile robot and sensors to locate and recover meteorites in Antarctica to organizing a commercial venture to land a robot on the moon in 2015.
Whittaker’s BSE, from Princeton in 1973, is in civil and geological engineering. He earned his Ph.D. in civil engineering from Carnegie Mellon University six years later. Carnegie Mellon named him a University Professor in 2007.