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Carnegie Mellon signs up for robot space race

The Google Lunar X Prize, a robotic race to the moon, has drawn its first contestant.

LOS ANGELES--The Google Lunar X Prize, a robotic race to the moon, has drawn its first contestant.

Not even an hour after the prize was announced here Thursday at the Wired NextFest, Carnegie Mellon University robotics pioneer Red Whittaker said he's putting together a team to build a rover that can snag the $20 million prize. To win the $20 million, a robotic rover must land on the moon, travel 500 meters and send data and video back to Earth by 2012. The total prize money is $30 million, including $5 million for second place and another $5 million in bonuses.

"Planetary exploration is a dream we pursue and a technology we create," said Whittaker, a professor in Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, referring to several robotic rovers that his group has built. For example, CMU developed Dante II, an eight-legged robot that retrieved gas samples from inside the Mt. Spurr volcano.

"We have spent decades building and testing robotic technologies for just this purpose--so combining lunar rovers with a competitive race to the moon is a great opportunity."