Are we ready for an American Robotics Network?
The last week I have started a discussion on the organization of an American Robotics Network. The issues as I see them involve:
- Creation of American Robotics Network – AMRON
- Research Coordination.
- Technology Transfer
- Educational Efforts
- Press Relations / Club of Journalists
- Liaison with other organizations
- Getting off the ground
- Questions to be considered. Need input
1. Creation of AMRON
We have come a long way with the CCC / National Robotics Effort in terms of defining a roadmap for robotics, getting it implemented in DC, raising awareness in US about robotics and starting to build a community across institutions. It may be time to move on to the creation of an American Robotics Network (AMRON)
Earlier efforts that have been successful include the European Robotics Network – EURON, that I was part of setting up. One could see AMRON as having 5-6 main trusts:
- Maintaining the roadmap and promoting it to agencies, …
- Consultations to US agencies on research, education and societal impact
- Tech Transfer and Best Practice for setting up new companies in robotics
- Educational initiatives and resources
- Organization of a press club on robotics
- Liaison with other organizations (internationally and nationally)
2. Research Coordination – Roadmap and Agency Consultations
We have already defined the first version of the roadmap. It will be important to maintain the roadmap over time and to work with agencies to see how the roadmap can be implemented. As initiatives are launched and results emerge the roadmap should be updated. Over time it would be helpful to have a number of benchmarks defined to have quantitative progress – beyond “we are doing great send more money”. Various benchmarks are emerging such as the manufacturing/logistics benchmarks, the perception challenge by Willow, … It would be great to have more measures. It makes it much easier to argue for resources with grand challenges and metrics to evaluate progress. It will be essential to make sure that the revision of the roadmap is carried out in close collaboration with the key industrial players such as RTC, RIA but also companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Motors, Motorola, C&S, iRobot, Willow,
It is also important to provide support to organizations as to how they can implement part of the roadmap and how their programs relate to the wider effort. Within Cyber Physical Systems NSF is sponsoring a virtual organization – www.cps-vo.org that provides such coordination and support. We should have a similar effort within robotics.
3. Technology Transfer
It would also be helpful to have an effort to study ways to improve technology transfer and to discuss the main obstacles to transition of results to industry or start-ups. What are the main challenges and can we document a number of successful examples of how results can be achieved. EURON has an annual tech transfer competition where primarily
start-up competed to win the tech transfer award. The companies that win received a trophy, a small cash award, but also significant press / media coverage. The latter is a major attractor for companies. If you are a small start-up and you can get major coverage by CNN, NY Times, … it makes a big difference. The process of acquiring/generating the
IP, getting access to VC funding, building the product, marketing, … can be exemplified for other to learn from. Only when we build more successful examples of how robotics is more widely used can we expect to have major impact and acquire more support for robotics in general.
4. Educational Efforts
Big institutions have major educational programs. However, a majority of the researchers in robotics are from small
institutions where it may be difficult to organize a large coherent program and there is often a degree of isolation. It would be desirable to build up an educational repository with example lectures, example exercises, pictures of systems and robotics, a channel on youtube with robots, … maybe even a national robotics twitter stream. …. The purpose is to provide inspiration for others as they prepare new courses, to provide easy access to educational resources, and reference examples. It is evident that companies such as National Instruments, MapleSoft, Mathworks, …. all would love to provide support for such an effort. In the longer term one could also imagine organizing “summer schools/short courses” on specific topics. This has been done in Europe with great success. By definition not everyone can have direct access to to the best lecturers and world experts. For graduate students senior/prominent researcher are often difficult to
access at conferences as we go to N>>1 meetings, socialize with our peers, …. At focussed schools/courses it is possible for students to get access and to talk to these researchers on a one on one basis, which is very valuable. At the same time these events creates a social network across junior researchers, which is extremely valuable to their future career in robotics. AMRON should provide and promote mechanisms to make this possible.
5. Press Relations / Club of Journalists
It is of interest to all of us to build a press club with journalists from Scientific America, New Scientist, CNN, NY Times, Washington Post, Gizmodo, … to generate more awareness of robotics, but also to give them first access to the latest news. This has been done in Europe with success. We had a group of journalists with an inside track to launching stories and they knew they would get first access. As an example at GT we have had CNN HQ in Atlanta and we have had 3 major robotics stories as part of the “The big-I” segment over the last 6 months. Such stories generates very significant awareness. AMRON should include a press club to make sure that new autonomous cars, the latest medical robot, … are features in the best media. This is an efficient way to make decision makers aware that robotics is a big part of the future and not a job killer.
6. Liaison with other organizations
Obviously AMRON would not exist on its own and it will be essential to build relations with other organizations such as IEEE RAS, EURON, RIA, RTC, … This is important to build stronger international awareness but also to make sure that there is no unnecessary replication of effort.
7. Getting of the ground
It is anticipated that start-up of the effort will be on a voluntary basis. It may be unrealistic to wait for a funding agency to sponsor such and effort, at least not initially. In the long term it may be possible to attract support from agencies, but also have industrial support from companies such as NI, Maplesoft, … To get AMRON off the ground we need at least:
- a global mailing list (being set-up as firstname.lastname@example.org but to moved to an official domain)
- a web site with basic information
- a way for new people to get engaged (to register for membership)
- have area leads for each of the areas mentioned above
Once we have that we can start to build a professional organization. We would have to think about:
- admission procedure for new member (simple models are OK)
- organization of a board
- election procedures to make it democratic / transparent
For now I propose that we make it a relatively simple / lean organization to get things underway.
8. Questions – Need your input on
As people register I would like to use a web based mechanism to create yellow pages of all the groups involved so that we have a catalogue of research groups in the US. This is a valuable resource in its own right and would as an example help in mustering support for and by the congressional caucus on robotics.
A question that has been posed is the possible scope of this. Should we make this a purely US organization or should we try to engage research groups from Canada, Mexico, …. Love to hear your opinion about this.
I have had a number of discussions with people about this. Bill Thomasmeyer has indicated that RTC might be able to host an organization such as AMRON. What are your feelings about this? How do we build a relation to RIA to make sure that we are connected to some of the big industry players?
QUESTIONS THAT I WOULD LIKE FEEDBACK ON
a) Is AMRON a good idea?
b) Is the outlined set of activities mentioned above the right ones
c) Are any of you ready to volunteer to be area leads?
d) Are you ready to assist in getting more people involved?
e) Should AMRON be American in a wider sense of US focussed?
f) Any opinions about managing AMRON through an organization such as RTC?
I would like to get this underway as soon as possible to make sure that we can leverage the momentum from a National Robotics Initiative. It will also be an important mechanism to make sure that we can maintain a push forward. Looking forward to hearing your feedback.