The National Science Foundation (NSF), together with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NASA, and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), yesterday issued a new solicitation for the National Robotics Initiative (NRI), seeking small (one or more investigators, funded at a rate of up to $250,000 in direct costs per year for up to five years) and large (multi-disciplinary teams, up to $1 million in direct costs per year for three to five years) proposals that support fundamental research enabling “the realization of co-robots acting in direct support of individuals and groups.” Up to $50 million in funds are available in the coming year. Small proposals are due Dec. 11th; large proposals by Jan. 23, 2013.
According to the solicitation (after the jump):
The goal of the National Robotics Initiative is to accelerate the development and use of robots in the United States that work beside, or cooperatively with, people. Innovative robotics research and applications emphasizing the realization of such co-robots acting in direct support of and in a symbiotic relationship with human partners is supported by multiple agencies of the federal government including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This solicitation describes the goals and features of this National Robotics Initiative (NRI) with particular attention to fundamental research and education by academia and industry built on open platforms, enabling demonstration systems and transfer to commercial exploitation. Proposers more focused on development activities should consider SBIR, STTR, and other related solicitations…
[Prior community] reports suggest ways in which robots in the future can serve as our co-workers, our co-protectors, and our co-inhabitants. 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 U.S. 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. Widespread deployment may also pose ethical issues and exacerbate disparities among social, linguistic and demographic groups. Thus, basic social, economic, and behavioral research is a critical element in understanding and modeling both the individual and aggregate human/co-robot interactions.
In particular, the solicitation emphasizes key technology and application areas to be explored:
The breadth of fundamental robotics research to be pursued is illustrated in Figure 1, NRI Technology Space. Topics range from cognition and knowledge representation to architectures and control mechanisms; perception; human-robot interaction, cooperation and adaptation; language understanding and production; multi-networked agents; mobility and manipulation; and human-connected cognitive prosthetics, exo-skeletons and soft (non-rigid) structures. These areas are inclusive to this program, but by no means exclusive of others. The scope of the application domains perceived as worthy and viable adopters of this technology is illustrated in Figure 2, NRI Application Space. They exemplify the application of robotic systems as co-workers, co-inhabitants, co-explorers and co-defenders. Again, the list in the graphic is inclusive, but by no means exclusive.
In contrast to current systems that use limited-reasoning strategies or address problems in narrow contexts, new co-robot systems will be characterized by their flexibility, resourcefulness, varied modeling or reasoning approaches, and use of real-world data in real time, demonstrating a level of intelligence and adaptability seen in humans and animals. Research on relevant aspects of human cognition, perception, and action has the potential to be especially useful in this regard. This type of research may enhance the design of robotic systems by mimicking human reasoning and action planning. This approach may also be helpful for designing co-robotic systems that will be able to fruitfully collaborate with humans. Thus, the research program is necessarily cross-disciplinary engaging basic research in the behavioral and social sciences, education, as well as computer science and engineering.
To learn more, including details about mission-specific research priorities specified for NIH, NASA, and USDA, see the rest of the NRI solicitation as it was released yesterday.
(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)