WASHINGTON, June 28 (UPI)
The Obama administration has launched an ambitious new initiative that aims to shift focus on to robotic research and development to help Americans in all sectors, including defense and security, to interact with advanced technologies.
The $70 million Robotics Initiative, announced by President Barack Obama this week, will concentrate military and technological minds across a sector that is deemed to be fragmented and poorly uncoordinated.
The White House said the initiative would give top priority to developing robotics that could be deployed both for civilian and security uses.
"You might not know this, but one of my responsibilities as commander in chief is to keep an eye on robots," Obama said Friday in a speech at the Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center. "And I'm pleased to report that the robots you manufacture here seem peaceful. At least for now."
The president said the initiative would aim "to accelerate the development and use of robots in the United States that work beside, or cooperatively with, people."
Obama's initiative is part of a larger stimulus designed to boost U.S. manufacturing by combining the resources of government agencies, educational institutions and corporations.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which was involved in framing the new initiative, listed several reasons to make robotics a priority.
It said robotics could 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, the office said.
Robotics could also play an important role in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education by encouraging hands-on learning and the integration of science, engineering and creative thinking.
It said 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.
Industry reaction to Obama's initiative was welcoming, though guarded.
"If we want to end the talk of a 'jobless recovery,' we should increase our national investments in robotics and create millions of high-paying jobs in the process. How? By developing improved robotics technology that can be applied to reviving our manufacturing industries, protecting the environment, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and helping provide quality care for our growing elderly population," Robotics Industry Association President Jeff Burnstein said in comments cited by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers on its Web site, ieee.org.
"Investing in robotics is more than just money for research and development, it is a vehicle to transform American lives and revitalize the American economy," said Helen Greiner, president and chief executive officer of CyPhy Works and head of the Robotics Technology Consortium.
"Indeed, we are at a critical juncture where we are seeing robotics transition from the laboratory to generate new businesses, create jobs and confront the important challenges facing our nation. The nation's robotics community is collectively poised to advance the technology and at the same time accelerate the transition of these technologies from the lab into the market," Greiner added.