Agencies Investing in Research for Next-Generation Robotics

Today, four federal agencies announced $40 million in grants to university researchers across the country to advance the National Robotics Initiative, unveiled by President Obama at Carnegie Mellon University on June 24, 2011.

The initiative, led by the National Science Foundation, is also supported by NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the United States Department of Agriculture.  These agencies have also issued a new joint solicitation to fund an additional 25-40 awards.

The research projects that are being funded vividly illustrate the broad potential of robotics to help achieve important national goals, such as:

  • Improving search and rescue operations in large-scale disasters;
  • Helping infants at risk of developing Cerebral Palsy learn how to walk and move;
  • Increasing the productivity of America’s manufacturing workers; and
  • Developing new capabilities for future planetary rovers.

Other agency announcements related to robotics that that have been made since the President’s speech include Department of Defense’s support for equipment for university robotics research, the opening of the Navy’s cutting-edge Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research, and DARPA’s Robotics Challenge to improve disaster response operations.

The Administration decided to launch the National Robotics Initiative 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 science agencies 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.

Congratulations to the researchers that will be conducting this important research, and to the agencies that are providing the funding that will keep the United States at the cutting-edge of robotics technology.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy at OSTP


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