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Assessment of International Research and Development in Robotics

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Final report

The final report on Robotics is now available in PDF format. (Updated Feburary 16, 2006)


Robotics has since undergone a major transformation in the last decade. Long accepted by Japanese industry to improve factory efficiency and augment human performance, robots are now being welcomed into Japanese homes, schools, and a variety of public institutions. Advanced research in the new generation of robots focuses on flexible engineering design and intelligent software, combined with the revolutionary changes in micro and nano technologies. As a result, new robotic technologies are poised to usher in a wave of new applications from manufacturing, computer-assisted surgery, learning and entertainment, to homeland security and human/medical services. Similar advancement in robotics is also occurring in Europe. There the main strengths lie in their strategic planning and implementation of EU-wide and national programs for university-industry project consortia bringing research into application effectively and quickly. In the United States, robotics has been historically a key strength of interdisciplinary research in academic institutions, mainly supported by government agencies. There have been new interests in making robotic systems an integral part of human activities ranging from personal services, space exploration, to homeland security. Pursuit of these novel and unique applications of robotics, however, requires us to maintain a first rate research program across public and private sectors as well as to involve our researchers and laboratories in collaborative efforts with the leaders in the field wherever they may be in the world. Thus, with new advances abroad and renewed domestic interests, an international assessment of robotics R&D activities in the U.S., Japan and Europe at this juncture will be both desirable and timely.


The purpose of this study is to gather information and disseminate it to government decision-makers and the research community on worldwide status and trends in robotics R&D. The study panelists will gather information on robotics R&D abroad useful to the U.S. government in its own R&D programs, and to critically analyze and compare the research in the United States with that being pursued in Japan and Europe. This information will serve the following purposes:


Robotics is a versatile, multi-disciplinary field, spanning a number of scientific and engineering areas where the latest knowledge and technological advances dictate in part how we determine the scope of this study. In addition, various R&D programs across the Federal government focus on different priorities according to their agency missions. As a guide for us to converge on to a set of common goals and define the proper scope, it is useful to envision a 2-dimensional assessment matrix. In one dimension is the grouping of core technologies that form the foundation of robotics R&D: e.g., kinematics, sensing, learning and adaptation, coordination, teleoperation, intelligence, human interface, and programming. A second dimension is the grouping of various characteristics unique to advanced or novel applications of robotics. These include:

Personal and Service Robotics

The focus of this application is for the robots to perform a service function with a human (or a group of humans) and in the public space (as opposed to the highly structured professional space below). Among the examples of this application are those robots used for learning, education, and entertainment, house keeping, office automation, and aids for physically challenged individuals. Research issues emphasize friendly and cooperative interfaces, simple but flexible structures, and adaptability to human needs.

Medical Robotics

This application spans the broad areas of robotic devices and systems that can be used to improve clinical practice in the medical settings under the strict rules of a professional space (as opposed to the public space above). Examples of this application include computer-assisted surgery, telemedicine, robotic devices for the handicapped, and micro or nano devices for drug intervention. Safety, reliability, and real-time feedback are the priority research issues.

Industrial Robotics

This is a more mature application for robotics and by far the most market-driven. The majority of the robots deployed worldwide are of this type. Typical uses for industrial robots are material handling, automated assembly, and other labor-replacing tasks in such manufacturing settings as semiconductor, electronics, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, food processing and automotive industries.

Military, Environmental, and Space Robotics

This application is for use in land, undersea, space, and crisis or security management. The focus here is for the robots to function in a hostile, tedious, or hard-to-access environment, usually unknown, very complex or poorly structured. Priority issues for research include reliability, safety, and versatility.

Using the above description of a 2-dimensional matrix - technology vs. application, it is possible to converge onto a list of topics from which to choose the areas of emphases and to define the scope of this study. These include:

Other topics are possible if the sponsors so choose, and if the priorities change.

Finally, beyond the above technical issues, the study may also address the following non-technical issues:


George Bekey
George Bekey
(panel chair)
  • Gordon Marshall Professor
    Computer Science Department
    University of Southern California
    941 W. 37th Place SAL 218
    Los Angeles, CA 90089-0781
Rob Ambrose
Rob Ambrose
  • Robert Ambrose
    Chief, Robotics Systems Technology Branch
    NASA JSC Mail Code ER4
    2101 NASA Parkway
    Houston Texas 77058
Vijay Kumar
Vijay Kumar
  • Professor Vijay Kumar
    School of Engineering and Applied Science
    University of Pennsylvania
    Towne 111, 220 S. 33rd. Street
    Philadelphia, PA 19104-6315

[photo: Art
Art Sanderson
  • Vice President for Research
    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
    110 8th St.
    Troy, NY 12180
Brian Wilcox
Brian Wilcox
  • Brian Wilcox
    Manager, Solar System Exploration Mobility Technology Program
    Supervisor, Robotic Vehicles Group
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory
    California Institute of Technology
    M/S 107-102
    4800 Oak Grove Dr.
    Pasadena, CA 91109 
Yuan Zheng
Yuan Zheng
  • Professor and Chairman
    Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering
    205 Dreese Labs; 2015 Neil Avenue
    Columbus, OH 43210