White House Launches $70 Million Robotics Initiative

By: By Shelly Palmer
By: By Shelly Palmer

At least we know that Skynet still has a bit more work ahead of it before the walking, shooting cyborgs from James Cameron's Terminator 2 become reality. And you can thank President Obama for that.

"You might not know this, but one of my responsibilities as commander-in-chief is to keep an eye on robots," said Obama in a speech at Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center Friday. "And I'm pleased to report that the robots you manufacture here seem peaceful. At least for now."

Let's hope that stays true, as Obama also announced that the U.S. is launching brand-new $70 million initiative "to accelerate the development and use of robots in the United States that work beside, or cooperatively with, people." Dubbed the National Robotics Initiative, the plan is backed by a smattering of important governmental acronym-agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The end goals of the program are a little nebulous so far, as it's unclear whether the ultimate purpose of the initiative is to try and integrate robotics into consumer lifestyles or accelerate the use of robots in industrial lines of work. The initiative will partly research just how robots and humans can work together in innovative and symbiotic ways –perhaps even how they could become friends?

"Methods for the establishment and infusion of robotics in educational curricula and research to gain a better understanding of the long term social, behavioral and economic implications of co-robots across all areas of human activity are important parts of this initiative," says the NSF.

Obama's unveiling of the initiative came as part of a larger stimulus announcement: A $500 million package designed to boost America's manufacturing industry by combining the resources of government agencies, educational institutions, and corporations to spearhead new research and development opportunities.

The idea is to invest in what the government calls "critical enablers," or anchor technologies that, once released, could allow a wide variety of manufacturers to make their own processes and products more cost-competitive, speed up their time to market, and ultimately increase the strength of what they've created. Think nanotechnology, for example, where new breakthroughs could lead to lighter and stronger materials for use in automobile development—a car that maintains its safe design, but using a lighter form that could increase its overall fuel economy.

And maybe—just maybe—a robot could be working alongside a human during the car's development and manufacturing.

"Investing in robotics is more than just money for research and development, it is a vehicle to transform American lives and revitalize the American economy," said Helen Greiner, president of the Robotics Technology Consortium "Indeed, we are at a critical juncture where we are seeing robotics transition from the laboratory to generate new businesses, create jobs and confront the important challenges facing our nation."


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