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DARPA Program Manager on Robotics, Commercial Investments

March 24th, 2014 / in Uncategorized / by Shar Steed

DARPA LogoIn an article on Robohub, Gill Pratt, Program Manager of DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, shares his thoughts on advances and changes in the robotics field.

Pratt talked about the importance of cloud computing in robotics:

Perhaps most exciting for the future of cloud computing in robotics is that when one robot learns how to perceive something, or learns how to do a particular task, that learning can be instantly shared with other robots. This sharing could have a catalytic effect on the capabilities of robots, particularly in structured environments.


If you look at the research being done we see a lot of possibilities with cloud computing for robots. In the commercial world, I think we are going to see it applied first to structured environments where there are lots of human artifacts — things like doors, stairs, furniture, tools — and where a large database of stored examples of these artifacts can help the recognition problem.


The editors asked Pratt to share DARPA’s thoughts on Google buying up some of the technologies that DARPA has spent years building:

We are thrilled to see commercial interest. It’s one of the signs of success for the investments that we have made in future technology.


We think that it takes commercial investment to drive down the cost of technology. A very well known example is the cellphone. Cellphones have microprocessors in them that many years ago began with investments by DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office and others. Cell phones have inertial measurement units to figure out the tilt of the cellphone. They have displays; they have GPS receivers; they have radio devices that work at low power. I can point to any number of DARPA investments that helped start those technologies, and of course cellphones now talk to the Internet, which is probably the best known output of all of DARPA’s investments. But if the Department of Defense wanted to produce a cellphone without the commercial world having picked it up and turned it into a product that billions of people use, it would cost many orders of magnitude more than it does now. It’s really because of the commercial world that we’ve seen the price of cellphones go down.


But DARPA is not only interested in seeding technologies with these early investments; we are also committed to solving real problems for national security. In fact, we have a variety of programs that use cellphones. One of these is called TransApps, where soldiers use smart phones to plan and carry out missions and layer and share data between teams. This is an example where investment by the commercial world made possible a national security capability that otherwise might not be feasible because of excessive cost.


By analogy, what’s going on in robotics is that we’ve seen some interest in the commercial world in taking this to the next step. And they have resources far beyond what DARPA has to further develop a technology and, most importantly, to drive down cost.

DARPA Program Manager on Robotics, Commercial Investments

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