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June 25, 2002

Michael Mewhinney

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Phone: 650/604-3937 or 650/604-9000


Anne Watzman

Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh

Phone: 412/268-3830




Thirty Bay Area high school students entering their senior year this fall will soon take part in a new robotics summer course. The unique program will be offered by Carnegie Mellon University at its west coast campus, in collaboration with NASA Ames Research Center and the National Hispanic University, San Jose, Calif.

Students in the ‘Robotic Autonomy’ program will build, program and operate their personal vision-based, mobile robots as they learn about the electronics, mechanics and computer science of robotic systems. The college-level class will culminate with an autonomous robot contest in August. Then, graduates of the program will take their robots home for more experimentation. The robots are worth more than $1,000 each.

"We are delighted to host the Robotic Autonomy program with Carnegie Mellon University, a renowned leader in computing and robotic technologies," said NASA Ames Director Dr. Henry McDonald. "This is an excellent opportunity to provide world-class instruction in robotics to these students, while furthering NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe’s goal of inspiring our youth. I am particularly gratified that more than half of this first class is comprised of minority students sponsored by the National Hispanic University."

The seven-week Robotic Autonomy course will be held from July 1 to Aug. 16 in Bldg. 17 at NASA Research Park. Media are invited to attend an opening day reception July 1 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. PDT in Bldg. 17. The class will be taught by Illah Nourbakhsh, assistant professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh. Nourbakhsh is co-founder of the institute’s Toy Robots Initiative and does research in electric wheelchair sensing devices, robot learning, theoretical robot architecture, believable robot personality, visual navigation and robot locomotion.

"Our students will be building sophisticated, vision-based mobile robots during the first two weeks of the course, and programming them to solve increasingly challenging problems throughout the summer," Nourbakhsh said. "Because these robots have vision capability, they will be able to move quickly both indoors and out, even over and around obstacles.

"At the end of the program, each student will take his or her robot home to keep. The robots will provide them with an unprecedented opportunity to continue to learn about and experiment with robotics," he added. Nourbakhsh noted that every student graduating from the robotic autonomy course will receive 12 units of Carnegie Mellon college credit, transferable to any university of their choosing after they complete their high school studies.

Nineteen of the robotics camp’s class of 30 students are Latino high school juniors and seniors from the San Jose area, including the new Latino College Preparatory Academy located on the National Hispanic University campus. Since May, the students have been preparing for the camp by attending classes in mathematics for robotics, C++ and JAVA at NHU from Professors William Cruz, Hugo Comparan and Rodolfo Scarpati to provide the students with the necessary educational skills to build the robots.

"The goal is to encourage Latino students to pursue careers in science and engineering," said Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Dr. Josephine Hawkins. "According to the National Science Board, the future of the nation depends on a strong, competitive science and engineering workforce."

The Robotic Autonomy course represents Carnegie Mellon’s first outreach program on its west coast campus at the NASA Research Park. Courses leading to master’s degrees in software engineering and e-business will begin in the fall.

"We are excited to begin this joint venture with NASA for community outreach in the Silicon Valley," said Raj Reddy, Carnegie Mellon’s Simon university professor of computer science and robotics and director of the west coast campus. "This program exemplifies our commitment to an active, stimulating and challenging educational process."

The west coast campus is a branch of Carnegie Mellon University, which is located in Pittsburgh, and known as one of the world’s premier institutions for information technology research and education. It also is known for its strengths in engineering, fine arts, business, public policy and computer science. Carnegie Mellon has been working to develop a presence in Silicon Valley since 1999 and it has been working with officials at NASA Ames as they develop the NASA Research Park at Moffett Field.

In other work with NASA Ames, Carnegie Mellon researchers have developed high-profile robots such as Dante, which explored the interior of a volcano, and Nomad, which discovered meteorites in Antarctica. In addition, Carnegie Mellon researchers also have worked with Ames researchers on projects such as formal methods for verifying digital circuitry, vision and navigation, machine learning and data mining.

For more information about robotic autonomy, check the Web site:

For more information about Carnegie Mellon West, see:

For more information about the National Hispanic University, see:

For more information about NASA Research Park, see:



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