U.S. Holds First National Robotics Week
The first-ever National Robotics Week kicked off on Saturday to help keep America at the forefront of worldwide robotics research and development.
The week – actually nine days long, running from April 10 to April 18 – is highlighted by events in at least 13 states including robotics open houses, seminars, bot competitions and robot block parties.
The overall goal of the week is to raise awareness and support for robotics research and industrial applications. "We want to let people know that robotics aren’t just the future, they are here now," said Kristen Stubbs, the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) outreach program manager for the iRobot Corporation, one of the chief sponsors of National Robotics Week.
The initiative grew out of a "national roadmap" crafted last year by leading U.S. robotics researchers that lays out five-, 10- and 15-year targets for the advancement of robotics technology.
The roadmap envisions how the "first generation" of robots, which largely did repetitive jobs over the last 50 years such as welding, painting and other "dirty, dull, and dangerous " work, will gave way to a diverse robotech industry that will eventually affect every member of society in some way.
Governmental endorsement has come from the recently created Congressional Robotics Caucus chaired by Representative Mike Doyle (D–Pennsylvania.) and co-chaired by Representative Phil Gingery (R–Georgia). The caucus' first briefing of 2010 will be held this Thursday, April 15, and per a House Resolution the second week of April from now on will be National Robotics Week.
Staying ahead of the robot curve
According to an overview document prepared for National Robotics Week, the U.S. leads globally when it comes to the number of programs dedicated to advancing robotics at the university and research organizational level.
But as a 2009 Georgia Tech study pointed out, gears are grinding to halt in the U.S. spending-wise for robotics technology compared to other world governments. Japan, South Korea and the European Union have recently pledged $350 million, $550 million and a cool billion, respectively, to future robotics research and development.
The U.S. government, meanwhile, through such agencies as the National Science Foundation has invested basically diddly-squat – about $50 million or so – into pure robotics research when excluding defense-related spending .
And now is not the time to fall behind, according to the National Robotics Week campaign: Over the next few years, the market for service robotics in healthcare, energy, manufacturing, logistics, transportation, agriculture, education, consumer goods, as well as national defense and homeland security, is expected to grow annually at 20 percent.
That means a lot of jobs that will need filling, the week's advocates argue, especially as only 3.5 percent of U.S. college students declare a STEM major.
Accordingly, iRobot's Stubbs said she and her company are particularly keen on "getting kids excited about science and technology" and that there will be a major push during the week through robotics competitions and hands-on demos at museum events.
"We hope that in three to five years this will be a big deal and that kids all across the country will know when it's National Robotics Week," Stubbs told TechNewsDaily.
Let the festivities begin
The contests going on this week include the annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) championship held at the Georgia Dome that has run for more than two decades, and the New England Botball Regional Tournament in Massachusetts. Later this month, the RoboGames – essentially the Olympics for gearheads – will also commence.
Other sponsors and partners in the inaugural week include companies such as Adept Technology, QinetiQ North America and VEX Robotics Design System, and academic institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and MIT, among many other organizations.
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