President Champions Gov.-Industry High Tech Manufacturing Partnerships
$70 million will be allotted to a federally administered robotics program.
By Mark Ingebretsen - Filed Jun 24, 2011

President Barack Obama observes the Cybernetic Human Robot prior to the start of the APEC dinner at the Pacifico Yokohama Conference Center in Yokohama, Japan, Nov. 13, 2010. In a speech at the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University on June 24, the President noted the importance of America's robotics industry to the nation's future economic competitiveness. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Speaking to an audience of reporters and invited guests at the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University, President Barak Obama announced the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, a $500 million plan to boost this nation's high-technology manufacturing sector as a way of emerging from the long-running recession and insuring the nation's economic leadership in the years ahead.

The plan will involve a collaboration with CMU and five other universities. Additionally, 11 major U.S. manufacturers,  among them Ford Motor Co., Caterpillar Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp., will take part in the effort.

Some $70 million in funding has been earmarked specifically for a so-called National Robotics Initiative, tasked with developing advanced robotics technologies. Federal agencies, including NASA, the Department of Agriculture,  the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health will oversee the initiative.

Commercializing government-developed technology

Alluding to the economic potential residing within the wealth of technological know-how available at U.S. research centers, the President noted that advanced simulation software originally developed at Los Alamos National Lab for the defense establishment was now being used by Procter & Gamble to create baby diapers, saving that company $500 million as a result. In an arrangement that is likely indicative of the kinds of cooperative agreements that could take place within the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, the President said P&G will share the technology with smaller firms, with the result that the company's suppliers will be able to manufacture their products less expensively - enhancing profits and reducing consumer costs.

The President also noted that shortening product development lead times was critical to America's continued economic strength. He cited a trial program in which the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) working with a small company, Local Motors,  developed a prototype new generation military SUV within one month via a kind of contest that solicited ideas from a large number of design teams throughout the country.  

Self driving cars, an ongoing program within DARPA and Google, was one program the president specifically noted during his speech in connection with robotics and its ability, together with other advanced technologies, to insure that in America, "We set the pace for changing times."

Industry reaction

Industry supporters were quick to heap praise on Obama's recognition of robotics' critical role in America's economic future.

“A well- coordinated National Robotics Initiative will provide the leadership and investment necessary to accelerate the advancement of next generation robotics technologies and knock down the regulatory and technological barriers necessary to lead to wide spread adoption and repatriation of US manufacturing jobs,” Robotics Industry Association Board Member John Dulchinos of Adept Technology said in a statement from his organization lauding the Administration's plan.

Elsewhere, Helen Greiner, president and CEO of CyPhyWorks, president of the Robotics Technology Consortium, and co-founder of iRobot, commented in a statement from the National Robotics Roundtable that “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.  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."

Greiner also brought up the proliferation of "recent man-made and natural disasters [that] have further exemplified the new and emerging uses for robotics and unmanned systems."

Robotics' response to the recent Japanese earthquake was a subject at a virtual event organized by Robotics Trends earlier this week (Click here to begin the registion process in order to review the archived presentations; note all presentations are free).

One roundtable member compared the robotics industry's potential to that of the early Internet. “While the last 25 years saw tremendous progress due to the Internet, the next revolution is considered to be robotics. Robotics has the potential to be a real-game changer for job growth and quality of life," Henrik Christensen, KUKA Chair of Robotics at Georgia Tech University noted in the same prepared statement.

Yet another roundtable member, Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University, was equally effusive about the industry's future. “Robotics is at the heart of the race for 21st century global economic leadership."

Cohon cited one example of how robotics can spark growth in even the smallest companies, pointing to a Baltimore area maker of wire baskets that saw its revenues grow six-fold after investing in robotics. The added efficiencies also enabled the firm to expand from 18 to 30 employees and up employees' hourly wages from $6 to $24. The firm's products are currently exported to China.


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