Developing the Next Generation of Robots

Today, in a speech at Carnegie Mellon University, President Obama is launching the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, a research initiative that will promote a renaissance of American manufacturing.

One exciting element of the President’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership is the National Robotics Initiative.  Robots are working for us every day, in countless ways.  At home, at work, and on the battlefield, robots are increasingly lifting the burdens of tasks that are dull, dirty, or dangerous.

But they could do even more, and that’s what the National Robotics Initiative is all about. So today, four agencies (the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the United States Department of Agriculture) are issuing a joint solicitation that will provide up to $70 million in research funding for next-generation robotics.

The focus of this initiative is on developing robots that work with or beside people to extend or augment human capabilities, taking advantage of the different strengths of humans and robots.  In addition to investing in the core technology needed for next-generation robotics, the initiative will support applications such as robots that can:

  • Increase the productivity of workers in the manufacturing sector;
  • Assist astronauts in dangerous and expensive missions;
  • Help scientists accelerate the discovery of new, life-saving drugs; and
  • Improve food safety by rapidly sensing microbial contamination.

The initiative will also accelerate progress in the field by requiring researchers to share the software and robotics operating systems they develop or contribute to, and funding the purchase of robotics platforms.

The Administration has decided to make robotics a priority because:

  • Robotics can address a broad range of national needs such as advanced manufacturing, logistics, services, transportation,  homeland security, defense, medicine, healthcare, space exploration, environmental monitoring, and agriculture;
  • Robotics technology is reaching a “tipping point” and is poised for explosive growth because of improvements in core technologies such as microprocessors, sensors, and algorithms;
  • Robotics can play an important role in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education because it encourages hands-on learning and the integration of science, engineering, and creative thinking; and
  • Members of the research community such as the Computing Community Consortium and program managers in key sciences have developed a shared vision and an ambitious technical agenda for developing next-generation robotic systems that can safely work with humans and augment human capabilities.

We want to thank the team of agency program managers that worked on development of this solicitation.  We also want to encourage leaders in industry and academia to partner with the Administration as we work to promote U.S. leadership in next-generation robotics and its applications.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP

Sridhar Kota is Assistant Director for Advanced Manufacturing at OSTP

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