Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

Robotics Research a Pillar of New $500M Advanced Manufacturing Partnership

June 24th, 2011 / in big science, policy, research horizons / by Erwin Gianchandani

(This post has been updated; please scroll down for the latest.)

CCC:  A Roadmap for US Robotics:  From Internet to RoboticsIn just a few minutes, President Obama will announce the launch of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) in a speech on U.S. innovation and competitiveness at Carnegie Mellon University, saying his administration will provide $500 million to encourage the Federal government, industry, and academia to work together to develop new technologies that spur high-tech manufacturing and boost job creation. (Watch the announcement live here.) A key pillar of this new initiative is a $70 million investment for major advances in robotics being made available today.

According to advance press reports, the President will note that information technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology are critical enablers — providing essential tools that manufacturers in a variety of application areas can use to reduce costs, improve quality, and accelerate product development. He is expected to say:

Today, I’m calling for all of us to come together — private-sector industry, universities, and the government — to spark a renaissance in American manufacturing and help our manufacturers develop the cutting-edge tools they need to compete with anyone in the world. With these key investments, we can ensure that the United States remains a nation that ‘invents it here and manufactures it here’ and creates high-quality, good paying jobs for American workers.

As part of the AMP, “the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Health and the Department of Agriculture are coming together to make available today $70 million to support research in next-generation robots.” The goal is to establish U.S. leadership in robotics by investing in the development of new “robots that will work closely with human operators — allowing new ability for factory workers, healthcare providers, soldiers, surgeons, and astronauts to carry out key hard-to-do tasks.”

As Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, just wrote on the OSTP blog:

One exciting element of the President’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership is the National Robotics Initiative. Robots are working for us every day, in countless ways. At home, at work, and on the battlefield, robots are increasingly lifting the burdens of tasks that are dull, dirty, or dangerous.


But they could do even more, and that’s what the National Robotics Initiative is all about. So today, four agencies (the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the United States Department of Agriculture) are issuing a joint solicitation that will provide up to $70 million in research funding for next-generation robotics.


The focus of this initiative is on developing robots that work with or beside people to extend or augment human capabilities, taking advantage of the different strengths of humans and robots.  In addition to investing in the core technology needed for next-generation robotics, the initiative will support applications such as robots that can:


  • Increase the productivity of workers in the manufacturing sector;
  • Assist astronauts in dangerous and expensive missions;
  • Help scientists accelerate the discovery of new, life-saving drugs; and
  • Improve food safety by rapidly sensing microbial contamination.


The initiative will also accelerate progress in the field by requiring researchers to share the software and robotics operating systems they develop or contribute to, and funding the purchase of robotics platforms.


The Administration has decided to make robotics a priority because:


  • Robotics can 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;
  • Robotics can play an important role in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education because it encourages hands-on learning and the integration of science, engineering, and creative thinking…

It’s clear this effort will involve considerable fundamental research in a number of CISE areas, such as advanced sensing, control, and power sources; dynamical system mechanics; optimization, design, and decision algorithms; problem-solving architectures; hybrid architectures that integrate or combine methods (deductive, case-based, symbolic, etc.); safe and soft structures and mechanisms with reactive surfaces and elastic actuators; computational models of human cognition; and integration of artificial intelligence, computer vision, and assistive robotics.

The AMP will be led by Andrew Liveris, Chairman, President, and CEO of Dow Chemical, and Susan Hockfield, President of MIT, and comprise a broad cross-section of major U.S. manufacturers and top U.S. engineering universities, to include initially MIT, CMU, Georgia Tech, Stanford, Berkeley, U of Michigan, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, and Northrop Grumman, among others.

To learn more about the AMP, view the full White House press release about today’s announcement.

CCC Robotics Roadmap

The National Robotics Initiative being announced today was borne out of the efforts of Henrik ChristensenGeorge BekeyVijay Kumar, and Matt Mason, who recently led a CCC visioning exercise to gather the input of the broader U.S. robotics community and prepare a National Robotics Roadmap.

As Kalil wrote on the OSTP Blog this morning:

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.

Yesterday, Christensen wrote to me:

We need to empower the workforce to grow the economy — and robotics is an ideal technology to make that happen. Robotics has the potential to change our lives in much the same way the Internet already has. It can empower American workers to achieve unparalleled efficiency, making them competitive with workers in other countries while manufacturing better, more customized, higher-quality products.


The [NRI] will consider robotics technology that will enable wider adoption of robot technology in manufacturing, to ensure our competitiveness. The robots will be used to secure basic production of products that otherwise would be outsourced, and to secure quality and availability of complex products such as airplanes, cars, etc. In addition, the robot technology will be further utilized in healthcare to improve quality of care. Finally the robots will be used by first responders both domestically and when our people are deployed elsewhere, as seen with U.S. robots deployed in Japan recently. The new program will cover deployment in manufacturing, new robotics products, and research to secure our leadership position.

Aside from the great research today’s announcement will fuel, it also illustrates how, working together, the computing research community can help define and shape long-term research directions that significantly advance the frontiers of computing and address key national priorities.

Editorial note: Randy Bryant, Dean of the School of Computer Science at CMU and a member of the CCC Council, is attending today’s event — and we’ll have a recap from him here afterward.


Updated at 11:33 am EDT: Following the President’s remarks, the NSF has posted the National Robotics Initiative solicitation calling for cross-agency investments of about $40 to $50 million in the first year with anticipated growth in funding as other agencies and industry partners emerge. “The primary purpose of this cross-agency initiative is to provide U.S. leadership in science and engineering research and education aimed at the development of the next generation robotics,” said Farnam Jahanian, Assistant Director for the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorate.


Updated at 12:38 pm EDT: The White House has posted the President’s remarks from this morning. Here are two paragraphs of particular interest:

…Throughout our history, our greatest breakthroughs have often come from partnerships just like this one. American innovation has always been sparked by individual scientists and entrepreneurs, often at universities… But a lot of companies don’t invest in early ideas because it won’t pay off right away. And that’s where government can step in. That’s how we ended up with some of the world-changing innovations that fueled our growth and prosperity and created countless jobs — the mobile phone, the Internet, GPS… was all because we were able to, in strategic ways, bring people together and make some critical investments.


I’ll take one example. The National Science Foundation helped fund Stanford’s Digital Library Project in the 1990s. The idea was to develop a universal digital library that anybody could access. So two enterprising Ph.D. students got excited about the research that was being done at Stanford — this is funded by NSF. So these two Ph.D. students, they moved from campus to a friend’s garage, and they launched this company called Google. And when the private sector runs with the ball, it then leads to jobs, building and selling, that is successful all over the world…


Updated at 4:03 pm EDT: Still more details in the official NSF press release titled “NSF Leads Interagency Collaboration to Develop Advanced Robotics”:

“It’s exciting to be on the forefront of creating new knowledge and to play a catalytic role in the development of smart technology that enhances America’s productivity and ultimately the quality of life of Americans,” said NSF Director Subra Suresh. “It’s also an opportunity to harness the expertise of our colleagues in several government agencies to tackle a major challenge and to bolster creative science and the U.S. economy. NSF is proud to lead this effort.”


Updated Tuesday, June 28, at 11:33am EDT: IEEE Spectrum has published an article about the new initiative, featuring reactions from leading roboticists such as Helen Greiner, Jeff Burnstein, Ken Goldberg, and Vijay Kumar, among others.

“Robotics is a game-changer! President Obama’s National Robotics Initiative will lead to new innovative technologies that will invigorate America’s manufacturing economy by creating new opportunities and new jobs, improve our quality of life by revolutionizing health care and medicine, and make our nation safer with the development of robots for defense, security and emergency response.”

— Vijay Kumar, professor, University of Pennsylvania

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)

Robotics Research a Pillar of New $500M Advanced Manufacturing Partnership