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Angel Jordan, Robotics Pioneer And Former CMU Provost, Dies At 86

Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh's reputation as a center for engineering innovation is largely due to Angel Jordan, according to his friends and colleagues.

Jordan, the former Provost of Carnegie Mellon University and founder of its Robotics Institute, died Friday at the age of 86. 

A native of Spain, Jordan was a professor and researcher whose work focused on topics like intelligent machines and software engineering. He came to Pittsburgh in 1956 to enroll in CMU, became a professor of engineering in 1966 and became Dean of the College of Engineering in 1976. During his time as dean, he founded the world's first robotics institute, which has since become a world leader in robotic engineering.

Red Whittaker, professor of robotics at CMU, was a close friend of Jordan.

"Angel Jordan was always a big presence," Whittaker said. "Because he was a co-founder of the Robotics Institute, he was a godfather of that field."

Whittaker said he and Jordan built the very first self-driving and self-thinking machine together, which he described as a slow-moving driving desk. This technology was the foundation for the modern self-driving car.

When he became CMU's provost in 1983, Jordan focused on making the university's engineering programs as robust as possible. That meant hiring the best professors and creating the School of Computer Science, which is now consistently ranked as one of the best in the country. He became a professor emeritus in 2003.

Andrew Moore, dean of computer science at CMU, said Jordan was responsible for not only making the university a worldwide leader in robotics, but the city of Pittsburgh.

"Tens of thousands of engineers and technologists would not be living here doing all the crazy things that they're doing in Pittsburgh today if we hadn't seen that spurt of growth in the 1980s, which he was responsible for," Moore said.

Moore and Whittaker both said Jordan was a warm presence at CMU, and went above and beyond to make those new to the field feel welcome.

"He was one of the giants who set up the whole environment of the School of Computer Science and the Robotics Institute," Moore said. "I was intimidated when I first met him because of what he'd done, but he was so friendly and calming that I soon began to feel like I was really a part of robotics and computer science at CMU."

Services for Jordan will be private.