The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting today that Carnegie Mellon University is planning to build a hi-tech robot research and development facility called Robot City on the site of a former steelworks plant. With the stated mission of moving “robots from laboratory to life,” Robot City will be populated by robots built to handle relatively mundane day-to-day tasks like cleaning, landscaping, snow removal, and security.
The full 178 acre parcel of land, located near CMU’s Robotics Institute, was purchased by nonprofit partnership ALMONO in 2002 from steel company LTV. It is not yet certain how much of the property will be acquired by Carnegie Mellon, but current development is focused on a 40 acre section of the former Hazelwood Works that used to be home coke ovens.
ALMONO had previously allowed the Robotics Instituter’s Red Team use of the property to prepare for DARPA’s Grand Challenge, the autonomous robotic vehicle race held in the Mojave Desert at which the team’s two entrants finished second and third this year.
The property is raw, strewn with the waste left over from decades of smelting iron ore and converting it into a research center the scale of Robot City will be expensive. CMU plans to seek financial partners, but in the meantime the Red Team has already begun moving into a roundhouse where steam locomotives had once been serviced.
Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, Fredkin Research Professor at CMU’s Robotics Institute and leader of the Robot City development effort, admits they have a long road ahead but sees the value of diving in now. “It’ll take years to fulfill the vision of Robot City, but that doesn’t get in the way of starting now and having real machines and people on the ground and in action,” he says in today’s article.
Matt Mason, director of the Robotics Institute, however, feels that Whittaker’s involvement alone is enough to ensure timely success. “Red Whittaker is like a force of nature,” he said. “Usually, when he does something, it happens a lot faster than you imagine that it could.”