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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

US Robotics supported by the U.S. President

Washington, November 23, 2009
President Barack Obama Robotics Timeline
November 23, 2009.
“As president, I believe that robotics can inspire young people to pursue science and engineering. And I also want to keep an eye on those robots in case they try anything.”
U.S. President Barack Obama watches on as the "Cougar Cannon" robot throws a ball at a student from Oakton High School following Obama's remarks on science, technology, engineering and math education initiatives "Educate to Innovate",  a campaign to get students excited about pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  


October 18, 2010: 
"I never miss a chance to see cool robots when I get a chance.”
U.S. President Barack Obama at the oppening of the (first ever) White House Science Fair.
November 15, 2010: 
At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Yokohama,Japan, U.S. President Barack Obama met Japanese robots such as female humanoid robot HRP-4C and therapy robot PARO, both developed at AIST. He took also a short ride with the latest version of Toyota's i-REAL personal mobility vehicle.

Thomas Jefferson High School, 2011
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
June 24, 2011:
"You might not know this, but one of my responsibilities as commander-in-chief is to keep an eye on robots," "And I'm pleased to report that the robots you manufacture here seem peaceful. At least for now."


U.S. President Barack Obama announces National Robotics Initiative, a nationally coordinated robotics technology R&D program across multiple government agencies, initially NSF, NASA, NIH, USDA. Budget: $40-$50 million year. there is a strong coupling with industry and startups, through small business innovation research (SBIRs), emphasis on common platforms & standard interfaces,  and sponsoring of national competitions and outreach. & education. 
September, 16, 2011:
President Barack Obama examines a robot created in the school’s prototyping and robotics senior research labs at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia after signing the America Invents Act. The school is  named for the first official to issue U.S. patents. 
Carnegie Mellon robotics Center on June 24, 2011
Behind the sceen: 
The U.S. President´s public interest in robotics seems to be the result of strategic lobbying and promoting by the US robotics community including acdemia, military and industry.
Robotics Caucus 
In 2007 the Congressional Bi-Partisan Robotics Caucus, chaired by Congressman Mike Doyle (PA) and co-chaired by Congressman Phil Gingrey (GA), was formed to focus on key issues facing the nation's robotics industry and related emerging technology. Members of Congress learned first hand about the use of robotics in agriculture, mining, logistics, defense, education, manufacturing and healthcare.
Inspired by European Robotics  
One of the brains behind the CCC initiativ was the Danish Prof. Henrik Christensen, who has served as the Founding Chairman of EURON(1999-2006) and as the research coordinator of ECVision (2000-2004). He has lead and participated in a large number of EU projects. In 2006 he became the KUKA Chair of Robotics and a Professor of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Director of Georgia Tech Center for Robotics and Intelligent Machines and served as a project leader for the CCC initiative.
Robotics Road Map
In 2008 the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) was approved through a grant from NSF a study to formulate a targeted R&D roadmap for robotics. The process was managed by a broad group of researcher across major US institutions. In August 2008 CRA/CCC sponsored a workshop to identify a focused set of major US research goals for Emerging Technologies and Trends, and to develop a roadmap for achieving these research goals in the coming decade. The definitive report on challenges and opportunities: “A Roadmap for US Robotics- From Internet to Robotics,” was presented in May 2009.

The Military-Robotics Complex
In 2008 the Robotics Technology Consortium, a non-profit industry organization with over 200 corporations, universities, and non-profit organizations was formed to speed up the creation and deployment of ground robotics technology for the Defense Department and other government organizations.

U.S. DRONE STRIKES 2004 - 2011

The military demand of unmanned vehicles is one of the big drivers of U.S. robotics. The number of drone strikes has high jumped in 2010 and been effective according to a  study of New America Foundationa nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute. The study shows that the 273 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, including 60 in 2011, from 2004 to the present have killed approximately between 1,667 and 2,614 individuals, of whom around 1,374 to 2,143 were described as militants in reliable press accounts. Thus, the true non-militant fatality rate since 2004 according to the analysis is approximately 20 percent. In 2010, it was more like five percent.


According to media reports U.S. President Barack Obama approved in early 2010 the targeted killing of the first U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, by the CIA. His targeted killing was carried out in a drone attack in Yemen on September 30, 2011.  


Under U.S. President Barack Obama, the frequency of drone strikes on terrorists in Pakistan’s tribal areas has risen tenfold, from one every 40 days during George Bush’s presidency to one every four according to The Economist Oct. 8th, 2011.


National Robotics Week
In April 2010 the first annual National Robotics Week was held recognizing robotics technology as a pillar of 21st century American innovation, highlighting its growing importance in a wide variety of application areas, and emphasizing its ability to inspire technology education.
The National Robotics Initiative 
In 2011, the Administration made robotics a priority to address a broad range of national needs such as advanced manufacturing, logistics, services, transportation,  homeland security, defense, medicine, healthcare, space exploration, environmental monitoring, and agriculture. Robotics technology is identified as technology at a “tipping point” and poised for explosive growth because of improvements in core technologies such as microprocessors, sensors, and algorithms. Robotics can also play an important role in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education because it encourages hands-on learning and the integration of science, engineering, and creative thinking. In the 2012 budget the President proposes specifically $30 million in next generation robotics.
Robotics Pro & Con
The Presidential support of US robotics has been applauded by many stakeholders and beneficiaries, primarily roboticists from academia and industry to overcome the economic crisis and to "revitalize the American economy" (Helen Greiner, president and CEO, CyPhy Works; president, Robotics Technology Consortium; co-founder, iRobot). Robotics is re-praised as technology for "repatriation of US manufacturing jobs" (John Dulchinos, president and CEO, Adept Technology), "to reviving our manufacturing industries, protecting the environment, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and helping provide quality care for our growing elderly population” (Jeff Burnstein, president, Robotics Industry Association).
Research Critics
But not everybody is impressed by the public funded robotics research. U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, a member of the Republican Party, from Oklahoma, has upset the US robotics community by critizising some robotics projects in his report "The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope", April 2011. Coburn mentions the launry-folding robot project, the Human Control of Bicycle Dynamics" project and "the Robot Hoedown & Rodeo" as examples of "wasteful" research that lack useful applications and shouldn't have received government funding.  Roboticsts have reacted with concern about Senator Coburn's critisim and lack of scientific communication.
Wasteful Robotics Research
Autonomously folding a pile of 5 previously-unseen towels


SIGCSE Robot Hoedown Grand Finale


Robotic Risks and Threats 
But there are even some scientists getting concerned about social and political consequences of broad application of robotics in our society. One of these is Sherry Turkle, the Director of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self. She has become deeply pessimistic about our digital future. In her controversial book, Alone Together, Turkle argues that the development of emotionally sympathetic robots like Tamagotchis and Furbies means that the “robotic moment” has arrived for the human race. She is worried about interaction that makes humans feel that robots care, when they only emulate emotions. She is also worried about the idea to use of social robots for child and elderly care, that could undermine human relations and dehumanize our welfare system.


In the report Autonomous Military Robotics: Risk, Ethics, and Design (2008) Patrick Lin, Prof. George Bekey, and Keith Abney, Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University recommend "not to unduly rush the process" of introducing robots in military affairs without a rigorous testing phase of robots. They discuss the challenge of creating autonomous military robots that can act reliably according the Laws of War and most Rules of Engagement, i.e. to distinguish enemy combatants from non-combatants. They conclude that military robots aimed to also replace human soldiers, especially in ‘dull, dirty, and dangerous’ jobs, raise novel ethical and social questions that should be raised "before irrational public fears or accidents arising from military robotics derail research progress and national security interests."


The International Committee for Robot Arms Control, ICRAC, has already proposed the regulation and control of armed military robots including a prohibition on the further development of armed autonomous robots and the setting of restrictions on armed tele-operated drones for applications such as targeted killings in sovereign territories not at war. ICRAC fears that advances in robotic systems will lead to more countries committing to war, since robots would be taking the place of humans on the battlefield. The biggest concern for the future is autonomous systems that select targets themselves.  

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