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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Obama Announces National Robotics Initiative of $70 Million Per Year

With the possibility of graduation actually within the horizon, I thought it might be a good idea to start a new topic in my blog: Robotics Jobs. This will help me research on what kind of robotics jobs are out there since I don't plan to be a professor and stay in Academia. It is encouraging to see more and more robotics jobs in the industry emerging and start to make a difference for people's lives, although most of them are small start-up companies. Hopefully this series of blog posts will be interesting and helpful for other people who are also searching for the right robotics related jobs. I see a new great era of robotics applications just about to knock on our doors, and it is great to be a part of this effort to transform new technologies developed at university research labs into the real world and change the world! Good luck to me and all robotics job hunters out there! And I'll start the series with the positive news that U.S. President Obama is allocating funding to create more robotics jobs!

Obama Giving a Speech at Carnegie Mellon
(Credit: White House)
In a recent visit to Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center, Obama announced a new National Robotics Initiative seeking to advance "next generation robotics." The new initiative will provide $70 million per year to fund new robotics projects, focusing on robots that can work closely with humans. The funding will be squeezed out from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the Department of Agriculture.

Obama Meeting Japaneses Android (Credit: AIST)

Obama loves robots (see photo on the left) and has a strong belief that advancing technology makes US companies more competitive and creates more jobs. But in order to help the economy grow, one important factor is how technology can be transitioned from research labs (the Academia) into the business world (the industry). Therefore, it is likely the money will be spent on research projects that are in a sense more applied than fundamental research, and private companies working in collaboration with university research labs will also have access to this funding and the money can be spent on developing real commercial robots -- really creating more robotics jobs!!

In the past, private robotics companies have had opportunities to get funding from the government mostly through military agencies to develop robotics weapons. Some also get a bit of money through the program called Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR). The new initiative focuses on how humans and robots can work as a team where humans can supervise and advice robots using human expert knowledge. This is very different from programming an industry robot to perform dull repetitive tasks that required precision and speed, for example, in a food processing plant. This is especially good news for me because my research focuses on how human can better manage AI/robot autonomy leveraging their rich experience and domain expertise in dynamic tasks and environments. The program solicitation states:
This theme recognizes the emerging mechanical, electrical and software technologies that will make the next generation of robotic systems able to safely co-exist in close proximity to humans in the pursuit of mundane, dangerous, precise or expensive tasks. Co-robots will need to establish a symbiotic relationship with their human partners, each leveraging their relative strengths in the planning and performance of a task. This means, among other things, that for broad diffusion, access, and use (and hence, to achieve societal impacts), co-robots must be relatively cheap, easy to use, and available anywhere. As the US population ages and becomes more culturally and linguistically diverse, these co-robots may serve to increase the efficiency, productivity and safety of individuals in all activities and phases of life, and their ubiquitous deployment has the potential to measurably improve the state of national health, education and learning, personal and public safety, security, the character and composition of a heterogeneous workforce, and the economy, more generally.
I applaud Obama's effort in advancing robotics technology and creating more robotics jobs! Although the funding is still very small compared to, for example, the $20 billion per year the government is spending in air conditioning for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially when robots are expensive (e.g., a Honda UAV Copter costs $300K and a humanoid robot costs $300K-millions). But it is certainly a good start. Let's hope whoever gets elected as the next president will keep such initiatives alive!

Obama's speech about robots and technology.

You can listen to Obama's entire speech (above) if you are bored. You can also check out the IEEE Spectrum article for more details. The speech mentioned about Obama's visit to a local company called RedZone Robotics, who makes robots to explore water and sewer pipes. Guess I'll have to check this company out and then post a blog about it next time. Enough for this one. Ciao!

Video of the Day:

A funny robot video from the Portal 2 game.