Supporting the President’s National Robotics Initiative

At a speech at Carnegie Mellon University on June 24th, President Obama launched the National Robotics Initiative as part of a broader effort to promote a renaissance of American manufacturing through the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.  Four agencies (the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the Department of Agriculture) have issued a joint solicitation that will provide research funding for next-generation robotics.

This initiative focuses 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.

Today we are pleased to announce that the Department of Defense is also supporting the National Robotics Initiative through the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program.  This $40 million program, supported by the Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, strengthens the capability of universities to conduct research and educate scientists and engineers in areas that are important to national defense.  The FY12 solicitation specifically encourages proposals for purchases of equipment that can support research in robotics, “given the continuing priority of that research area to a wide range of defense technologies and applications, including unmanned ground, air, sea and undersea vehicles and autonomous systems.”

This announcement is critical to the success of the National Robotics Initiative, given the role that equipment can play in enabling researchers to develop next-generation applications.  We hope that the Defense Department’s investments will serve as a catalyst for additional partnerships between the robotic industry and the academic research community.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP

Chuck Thorpe is Assistant Director for Advanced Manufacturing and Robotics at OSTP

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