The Road to Cutting-Edge Robots

Rethink Robotics "Baxter"

Rethink Robotics’ new robot “Baxter” is designed to work alongside humans. (Photo by Rethink Robotics)

Today, at a briefing for the Congressional Robotics Caucus, leaders from academia and industry unveiled A Roadmap for US Robotics: From Internet to Robotics—a new report on robotics research, development, and education in the United States. The Roadmap, funded in part by Federal grants, highlights recent American innovations in robotics and the critical role of robotics in manufacturing and healthcare in the United States. It also describes areas of opportunity in the robotics domain to create new markets and new jobs, and to improve the quality of our lives.

The new Roadmap is an update to an earlier version released in 2009 and builds on President Obama’s June 2011 announcement of the National Robotics Initiative (NRI)—a broad effort to develop robots that can work with humans to extend and augment human skills.

Following the President’s announcement, in 2012, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) jointly established a new NRI research program. Together, the agencies issued a solicitation of over $50 million to develop the science and technology for robots that can safely co-exist and operate in close proximity to humans.

The NRI team represents nine different funding agencies and number of our top notch national laboratories, including the Army Research Laboratory and the Naval Research Laboratory. Now in its second year, the NRI program is already advancing the development of robots that are able to:

  • increase the safety and productivity of workers in manufacturing;
  • assist astronauts in dangerous and expensive missions;
  • augment human skills and strengths in medical procedures; and
  • provide support to farmers and the agriculture industry by monitoring plant diseases, preventing food contamination, and increasing crop yield.

The NRI has also established the Robotics Virtual Organization (VO), a community networking platform dedicated to ensuring that robotics in the United States is the best in the world in terms of quality of basic research, economic impact, broad community engagement, and promotion of the field as a catalyst for additional advances in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).   

The Roadmap released today will inform NRI’s efforts to broaden its scope to include a wider range of applications and continue strengthening the Nation’s leadership in robotics science and technology worldwide.We thank our partners in industry, academia, and across government for working with the Administration on this important goal and for keeping the United States on the leading edge of robotics. 

Read the new Roadmap here.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at OSTP

Vijay Kumar is Assistant Director, Robotics and Cyberphysical Systems at OSTP

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