Capitol Hill event welcomes revised robotics roadmap

Georgia Tech's Dr. Henrik Christensen introduces the 2013 edition of the U.S. Robotics Roadmap.

Georgia Tech’s Dr. Henrik Christensen introduces the 2013 edition of the U.S. Robotics Roadmap.

The Congressional Robotics Caucus welcomed the release Wednesday of a follow-up revision to the highly influential 2009 report, A Roadmap for U.S. Robotics: From Internet to Roboticswhich inspired the U.S. government’s first cohesive robotics research funding strategy in the $50 million National Robotics Initiative. The report outlines the progress of robots in multiple industries over the last five years, identifies goals for the coming decade and emphasizes the importance of the robotics research pipeline to maintaining U.S. innovation.

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Robotics year in review: Top 10 stories of 2012

The past year was a watershed moment for robotics. From defense to exploration, startups to legislation, we saw products, laws, and investments that have shifted robotics out of the lab and into our lives. They have built on decades of basic and applied research, taking advantage of plummeting component costs and maturing core technologies such as batteries and communications. Below are the top 10 stories of 2012. And choosing only 10 from so many successes, research, and new products was extremely difficult. Perhaps that’s really the best story of the year. Continue reading

Robots in the field: Three takeaways from unmanned systems conference

The 2012 AUVSI Unmanned Systems Conference held in Las Vegas two weeks ago was an incredibly useful measure of the current state of the art for deployed robots in defense, security, and surveillance arenas. Coming from a research background in academia, it’s definitely eye-opening but also important to see and understand the industry perspective when it comes to robotics. Systems need to be robust, maintainable, cost-effective, plugged into existing socio-technical systems, and most critically, deliver performance and added value to the customer.

Here are my top three takeaways from the conference:  Continue reading

Defense Spending and Robotics Research

Rachel Maddow had an interesting segment the other day about the effects of significant defense spending on robotics research in America:

It’s not every day you see a news/pundit show on a major cable network dedicate 10 minutes of airtime to funding of research. Of course, if anyone would do it, it would be Rachel Maddow (I love her Moment of Geek segments).

History has shown us that R&D investments for military missions can lead to significant leaps in technological innovations. WWII gave us the field of Operations Research, radar, the computer. Of course, the most well known advancement in recent times is the Internet, which spun out of a need to link together various early networks.

Returning to Rachel’s segment, she compares military and commercial advancements in robotics over the past decade. Without a doubt, many of these advancements will eventually make it into commercial and industrial applications as viable markets emerge. Superhuman exoskeletons will lead to advanced assistive technologies for the growing elderly population. Surveillance and autonomous vehicles will transform the security, transportation, and manufacturing industries. Eventually.

So what’s the problem? Plenty of robotics research is happening under Defense programs led by ONR, DARPA, AFOSR, Army, etc., and a lot of papers, algorithms, designs, and patents are tangible outcomes. In fact, the U.S. is the unparalleled leader in military robotics. The problem is that we aren’t a leader in any other major area of robotics. Not even close.

A government-funded 2006 report entitled “International Assessment of Research and Development in Robotics” compares policies and research priorities in robotics around the world. The authors of the report find that Japan, Korea, and Europe are all investing significantly more than the U.S. in various areas of robotics, both government AND private sector funding. Additionally, all three have overarching robotics initiatives that lay out long-term roadmaps for making robotics technology the next driver of economic development.

Fortunately, the new National Robotics Initiative and Advanced Manufacturing Partnership are set to foster economy-boosting technologies that have already been targeted by the other research initiatives abroad. The NRI is focusing on co-robot technologies, which will generate a major push in getting robots in human environments, like homes, offices, and the roads. The AMP aims to leverage automation techniques to make American manufacturing competitive again.

It’s certainly a great start, and I agree with many others in robotics who feel that the emergence of some standards and common platforms, along with falling robot component prices, are paving the way for more and more private R&D and commercial products. The next few years should be interesting indeed.