As mentioned in an earlier posting the US National Robotics Roadmap was published the past week. The roadmap is a revision of the First US Robotics Roadmap that was released May 2009 based on a CCC sponsored study. The second version of the roadmap contained an update to three sections i) manufacturing, ii) healthcare/medical robotics, and iii) service applications (domestic and professional). In addition, new sections covering defense and space were added to the roadmap.
During 2011 we saw a 40+% increased in robot sales in the US for manufacturing. We also saw significant growth to service and healthcare applications. Overall the sector experienced fantastic growth. We have also seen how utilization of robotics and automation has enabled companies such as Apple, Lenovo, GE, Foxconn, … to setup new manufacturing facilities on US soil. Robotics has become an important catalyst to drive forward jobs, the economy and building stronger communities. An important challenge is to ensure education of our workforce. This includes all levels of the enterprise from design to manufacturing and from factory floor to board room. We have a significantly shortage of people to staff the manufacturing enterprise.
Press release from Georgia Tech – March 20:
Robots are being used more widely than expected in a variety of sectors, and the trend is likely to continue with robotics becoming as ubiquitous as computer technology over the next 15 years.
That is the message Henrik Christensen, Georgia Tech’s KUKA Chair of Robotics in the College of Computing, will bring to the Congressional Robotics Caucus on March 20 as he presents, “A Roadmap for U.S. Robotics: From Internet to Robotics – 2013 Edition.”
The report, which outlines the progress of robots in multiple industries over the last five years and identifies goals for the coming decade, highlights robotics as a key economic enabler with the potential to transform U.S. society.
“Robots have the potential to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., to improve our quality of life and to make sure our first responders and warfighters stay safe,” said Christensen, who is also the coordinator of Robotics VO, sponsor of the report. “We need to address the technical and educational needs so we can continue to be leaders in developing and using robotic technology.”
A group of more than 160 experts from universities, industry and government came together for five workshops over the last year to fully evaluate the use of robotics across various applications and create a roadmap to the future. Christensen is presenting that report to lawmakers as a guide on how to allocate resources to maximize progress.
Most notably, the group found using robots in manufacturing could help generate production systems that are economically competitive to outsourcing to countries with lower wages.
Already companies like Apple, Lenovo, Samsung and Foxconn have begun to “reshore” manufacturing by using robotics in production systems. The sale of robotics in manufacturing grew by 44 percent in 2011 as robots have become cheaper and safer. The use of robots is shifting from big companies like GM, Ford, Boeing and Lockheed Martin to small and medium-sized enterprises to enable burst manufacturing for one-off products, the report found.
But Christensen notes that automation in manufacturing will not lead to job losses for U.S. workers, but will create new high-value jobs.
“Some jobs will be eliminated but they are the ‘dirty, dull and dangerous’ jobs,” Christensen said. “Those jobs will be replaced with skilled labor positions. That’s why one of the goals in the roadmap is to educate the workforce.”
In addition to manufacturing, robots are helping businesses, such as Amazon, improve logistics and reduce delivery costs, a savings that could be passed onto the consumer. In agriculture, robots are being used to precisely deliver pesticide onto crops, reducing unnecessary exposure of chemicals on produce. The report recommends that progress in both areas be expanded.
With advances in human-like manipulation, robots are increasingly assisting individuals with disabilities with tasks like getting out and preparing meals. They are also being used in 40 percent more medical procedures than a few years ago in a greater number of surgical areas such as cardiothoracic, gynecology, urology, orthopedics, and neurology. The use of robots for surgery can reduce the complications by 80 percent, the report found.
Robots have proven their value in removing first-responders and soldiers from immediate danger. More than 25,000 robotic systems were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan for ground and aerial missions. More than 50 percent of pilots in the U.S. Air Force operate remotely piloted systems and never leave the ground.
Robots are also becoming integral part of space exploration, such as Opportunity and Curiosity on Mars. A “robonaut” is on the International Space Station helping with menial but important research tasks.
As impressive as the progress in robotics has been, the report outlines 5-, 10- and 15-year goals to take robotics to the next level. Critical capabilities that should be developed for robotics include 3-D perception, intuitive human-robot interaction and safe robot behavior.
The report is an update to the initial robotics roadmap, which was published and presented to Congress in May 2009. That roadmap led to the creation of the National Robotics Initiative, an effort jointly sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Institutes of Health. It also established Robotics VO, an umbrella organization that brings all robotics players together to focus on joint initiatives.
“Robotics is one of a few technologies capable of building new companies, creating new jobs and addressing a number of issues of national importance,” said Christensen. “We hope this report will help foster the discussion on how we can build partnerships and allocate resources to move the robotics industry forward.”
About a year ago IFR (International Federation of Robotics) contracted the company Metra Martech to study the impact of robotics on employment. Typically people predict that introduction of robots result in loss of jobs. Recent publications such as the “Make it in America” by Andrew Liveris, CEO and Chairman of Dow Chemical have suggested that through adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies the industrialized nations can compete with countries where low-salary workers are responsible for the manufacturing.
The recent Metra Martech study estimates that close to 3 million jobs today are enabled by use of 1 million robots. In addition the report predicts that over the next five years another 1 million jobs will be created due to adoption of robotics technology for applications in consumer electronics, solar & wind, and advanced fuel cell technology.
Both Japan and Germany are leaders in use of robotics technology and this has resulted in increased employment in sectors such as automotive, that traditionally have been heavy users of robotics technology.
The report predicts that robots will continue to be major players in automation of factories, but that the new application areas will include elderly care and medical applications. In addition homeland security and defense will maintain its position as a high value market.
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.
This morning US FIRST announced the design of the competition during the 2011 season. FIRST is an organization that encourages students (K-12 & Highschool) to engage in engineering challenges, such as building robots to develop their analytical / engineering skills. A FIRST team is required to provide all their own support to launch a successful entry. This implies that they need to organize a team, do fundraising to sustain their effort, develop a team website, design a robot, deploy it for the competition, do public relations work to promote their project and preferably do community outreach.
The competitions are designed to have groups of 3 teams compete another group of 3 teams. As part of a game the robot is required to initially do autonomous operation and subsequently it can be tele-operated. The design of the game is each year announced by early January. The teams then have 6 (six!) weeks to design their robot, built it, program it and test it. They are then shipped off the regional competitions. It is a major challenge to design these robots in minimum time and make them robust enough for participation in a significant number of matches. The teams are judged on aspects such as team spirit, sustainability, web design, outreach, … and the bots are judged on engineering inspiration, design, quality, … so there are many aspects to consider in the operations of a team and in the design of a new robot.
This years competition is termed – LOGOmotion – The robots are required to collect “rings” in different colors and mount them on a wall – preferably in the shape of the FIRST logo. At the end of a match they teams are encouraged to launch a mini-robot that can climb a pole to light up a marker. The mini-robots are to be built from parts from the FIRST FTC game. Teams that mentor an FTC teams thus have a serious advantage, and as such there is a promotion of broader engagement in the community. It is going to be very interesting to see how the teams approach this years challenge.
As usual the Georgia FIRST launch was hosted at Georgia Tech and had massive participation with more than 500 people in participation and more than 30 new rookie teams. The Peachtree Regional will take place 17-19 March 2011 at the Gwinett Center. More details at the Georgia FIRST web site