The Congressional Robotics Caucus held a briefing this morning on the Robotics Roadmap 2.0(PDF), a follow up report to the CCC-led Robotics Roadmap(PDF) published in 2009. Representative Phil Gingrey (R – GA) opened the briefing with remarks about the importance of science and technology to the future of the country and our economy. Bill Thomasmeyer of the Robotics Technology Consortium moderated the briefing.
Henrik Christensen of Georgia Tech and one of the original co-authors of the CCC-led report gave an overview of the roadmap in its second iteration. He noted that there was a 44 percent increase in the sale of manufacturing robotics in the US in 2011. Christensen spoke of the need for robotics in military action, disaster response, medical and rehabilitation settings, and personal robotics for an aging and disabled population. While the first Robotics Roadmap led to the National Robotics Initiative, the US cannot stop there if it wants to be globally competitive going forward. He mentioned a recent 500 million Euro investment in robotics that as well as similar efforts in Korea and China.
Three additional speakers, Rodney Brooks of Rethink Robotics, Pete Wurman of Kiva Systems, and Russ Angold of Ekso Bionics, spoke to their individual companies’ areas. Brooks stated that the source of inventions is academic research and that’s what made the US the leader in robotics when the field was brand new. Rethink Robotics is in manufacturing and he pointed out that robots do not replace workers as many fear but instead augment workers on the job. Wurman spoke to the ability to find efficiencies in logistics and that the growth of Kiva Systems has been primarily driven by the growth of e-commerce. In fact, Wurman said that Amazon purchased Kiva Systems last year after being one of the Kiva customers for several years. Angold had the most visually impactful presentation – he had a paralyzed veteran who put on Ekso Bionics wearable robot that allowed him to stand up and walk. Ekso Bionics was started with a DARPA grant and no has a few dozen wearable robots in rehabilitation facilities around the country and in clinical trials. Angold said that currently the robots are being used with patients with spinal cord injuries but they are working on robots to also help stroke victims.
The presentations of each speaker will be available here shortly.