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Universities Partnering to Create National Robotics Strategy

Citing the critical importance of the continued growth of robotics to U.S. competitiveness, 11 universities are taking the lead in developing an integrated national strategy for robotics research. The Computing Community Consortium (CCC), a program of the National Science Foundation, is providing support for developing the roadmap which will be a unified research agenda for robotics across federal agencies, industry and the universities.

The effort began last year and includes representatives from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University and the universities of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, California- Berkeley, Southern California, Utah and Illinois, as well as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Stanford University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Henrik I. Christensen, the KUKA Chair of Robotics at Georgia Tech and a principal investigator for the CCC, is leading the group effort to develop the roadmap with the involvement of industry. This spring, a series of workshops are being organized and this fall a National Robotics Senior Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., will take place. The conference will review the preliminary results from the workshops and take steps toward an integrated national research agenda. The roadmap will then be reported to the year-old Congressional Robotics Caucus, headed by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.).

"It is essential that the United States begins to solidly outline a leadership position in robotics," said Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon. "Robotics already is having a transformative impact on the workplace, from the factory floor to hospital operating rooms. In the decades ahead, this impact can be extended to our homes and our highways to increase our ability to live independently and to save lives."

"The planning process now getting under way is a historic opportunity to build upon broad-based collaboration among industry and academic leaders in the field of robotics," said Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough. "We want to create a plan that will keep this nation competitive in a technology that is rapidly advancing."

The failure of the robotics community to previously speak with one voice has resulted in inconsistent funding and missed opportunities, said Matthew T. Mason, director of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute. "The technology is finding wider application, but its full potential is not fully appreciated by policy makers," he explained. "We need to develop a common vision so that we can work effectively with the Congressional Robotics Caucus and with funding agencies."

Christensen noted that all of the planning events are designed to focus on the research needs that are vital to the development of a growing robotics industry.

"Several key competencies are not available today," Christensen said. "Through a community effort that includes end-users, industry and academia, the key challenges and opportunities will be identified. The workshops and conferences will allow us to develop a mature plan."

"The key to the workshops will be the collaborative discussions between representatives from both academia and industry," stated John Reid, Director, Product Technology and Innovation at John Deere's Moline Technology Innovation Center. "We need to proceed in a market-driven fashion to envision key future robotics-enabled capabilities and then map these capabilities to the required robotics technologies that we need to be researching and developing today."

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