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NSF leads interagency collaboration to develop advanced robotics

The National Science Foundation (NSF) will take the lead with three other federal government agencies to support the administration’s National Robotics Initiative (NRI) and released a solicitation for proposals today.

NRI complements the Obama administration’s Advanced Manufacturing Initiative (earlier post) and technology transfer efforts and supports the development and use of robots in the United States that work beside, or cooperatively, with people and that enhance individual human capabilities, performance and safety.

As per the initiative, NSF, along with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will advance the science and engineering of co-robotic systems that safely co-exist in close proximity to humans in the pursuit of mundane, dangerous, precise or expensive tasks.

Over the past five years, tremendous advances in robotic technologies have made possible a new generation of assistive systems and devices in industries as diverse as manufacturing, logistics, medicine, healthcare, agriculture and consumer products.

For example, state-of-the-art technology systems, such as the Intuitive Surgical daVinci robot, are already beginning to assist doctors with complex surgical procedures. The Independence Technology iBot safely propels wheelchairs over curbs and up stairs, and systems like Cyberdyne’s HAL augment body movement and strength for construction workers with wearable robot exoskeletons.

With the help of NRI, the functioning and performance of such systems will be multiplied by combining them with machine intelligence and wireless networks.

The primary purpose of this cross-agency initiative is to provide US leadership in science and engineering research and education aimed at the development of the next generation robotics. We have barely tapped the potential for devices and instrumented environments that augment human mobility, manipulation, perception and cognition in jobs ranging from those in the factory and office to those involved in the management and execution of search, rescue and recovery activities during emergencies and natural disasters.

—Farnam Jahanian, NSF’s Assistant Director for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorate

It is becoming increasingly evident that these early, next-generation products are a harbinger of numerous, large-scale, global robotics technology markets likely to develop in the coming decades, NSF says. NRI, which pays particular attention to fundamental research and education by academia and industry, seeks to engage the next generation of scientists and engineers in fields essential to the new global technology economy.

NSF’s Directorates for CISE; Education and Human Resources; Engineering; and Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences will work collaboratively with the other agencies to manage the NRI merit review process and select proposals.

The purpose of NRI is to encourage innovative collaborative research that combines computer and systems science with mechanical, electrical and materials engineering and social, behavioral and economic sciences to tackle the most important and challenging problems in producing this class of human-assisting co-robots.

One goal of the initiative is to stimulate the development and utilization of new computational algorithms, modeling, and analytical techniques in a range of human augmentation tasks. Another goal is to encourage the establishment of new cross-disciplinary research collaborations. Additionally, robotics science and technology together with the science of learning have the potential to play a very important role in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education as a unique, integrative discipline that brings together basic science, applied engineering, and creative thinking.

Appropriate scientific areas of investigation are those related to both fundamental and translational research that will benefit multiple segments of our industry and society while serving the missions and strategic objectives of the participating funding organizations.

Investments in NRI from NASA, NIH, NSF and the USDA may reach $40 to $50 million in the first year with anticipated growth in funding as other agencies and industry partners engage.



Future robots could make excellent (abuse resistant) teachers.


I always joked that NSF stood for Non Sufficient Funds.
What a modern society needs, among other things is resources, energy and automation. With those just about everything else follows.

Another side observation is almost everything we have came from science and engineering. From the clothes on your back to the car that you drive, those have been brought to you through science and engineering. That includes all the other items that would not be here otherwise.

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