I captured this video clip this week at Carnegie Mellon University, home of the Astrobotic Google Lunar X PRIZE team in Pittsburgh.
Red Rover is the name of the team’s moon-robot-in-development. Its namesake, CMU robotics professor and Field Robotics Center director Red Whittaker, led the first-place team to victory in the DARPA Urban Challenge robot car race in 2007. Even before winning that prize, Whittaker was already hatching plans to take home this new prize as well.
If you’re lucky enough to be a CMU student—undergrad, graduate, Ph.D., science or arts major, it doesn’t matter—you can take Whittaker’s Advanced Mobile Robot Development course. That rather staid title belies a supremely ambitious goal, as defined in the course description:
The context for spring 2011 is robotic pursuit of the Google Lunar X-Prize. The prize calls for soft-landing on the moon, mooncast, and robot trek. The course will detail, analyze and simulate a robotic lunar lander, field-test a lunar rover prototype, tackle enterprise challenges, and communicate mission progress through writing, photography and video.
Instead of envying his students their experience helping to build what may become the first commercial planetary rover, Whittaker advised me to commiserate with them instead. “These things don’t just happen,” he said. He pushes them, and pushes them hard.
Still, these folks don’t look like they need commiseration. The seemed to me to be having a ball, as exemplified by team member and student Michelle Ruiz, in this video conveying her excitement for the program to a group of visiting kindergarteners.