This article is published in the September 2009 issue.

A National Roadmap for Robotics

Over the last year, as part of CRA’s CCC program, a group of researchers has formulated a national roadmap for robotics.

Robotics programs over the past decade have been scattered across agencies with little or limited cohesion. In 2006, a group of senior community members requested support from the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) to generate a roadmap that would address not only basic research, but national needs ranging from basic research to industrial needs. A series of four workshops were organized during the summer of 2008 to formulate the roadmap. Topics covered application domains, including: 1) Manufacturing, Automation and Logistics; 2) Service Robotics; 3) Medical and Healthcare Robotics; and 4) Emerging Applications and Technologies.

More than 140 people from industry, national laboratories and academic institutions participated in the discussions. Attendees were selected based on an open call for proposals/ideas (~2 pages) that were reviewed by workshop organizers. The workshops were organized to identify major application/economic drivers, obstacles to progress, and required R&D to remove/address obstacles and generate real progress. Workshop results were recorded in topical summary reports. Initially these reports were made available to participants for comments, and later to the broader research community requesting input and feedback.

An editorial group composed of the workshop organizers has compiled the roadmap. The complete report was also made available for community feedback. The final roadmap and the associated workshop reports are available at the community website –

It is clear from the report that there are a number of opportunities to exploit robotics for the economic growth in manufacturing which is essential for continued economic growth. At the same time, it is clear that society is facing major challenges resulting from changes in our demographics. Robotics will play an important role as Quality of Life technology to ensure that people can retain autonomy and gain access to necessary medical services. Increasingly our economy is based on service industries and transformative processes; even here there is use for robot technology. However, to have an impact in these areas there is a need for progress on a number of component technologies such as perception systems, hybrid control, human-robot interaction, and others. The relationship between application domains, core competencies and basic R&D challenges is included in the national roadmap.

As part of the rollout strategy for the roadmap, a national leadership panel in robotics has been created with participation of academic leaders from more than fifteen leading academic institutions, chaired by the Presidents of Carnegie Mellon University and the Georgia Institute of Technology. In addition, a Congressional Caucus on Robotics has been organized by Congressmen Doyle and Gingrey.

On May 21, 2009, the findings of the roadmap report were presented to the Congressional Caucus. The session included presentations from the process leader, Henrik Christensen; a presentation about manufacturing from R. Brooks, MIT/Heartland Robotics; a presentation on medical robotics from Dan Jones, Intuitive Surgical International; and a presentation on service robotics from Eric Close, Red Zone Robotics.

As a follow-up, efforts are underway with several government agencies to determine the best strategy for implementing the national roadmap described in the report.

Henrik I Christensen is the KUKA Chair of Robotics at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

A National Roadmap for Robotics