Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Update on Robotics

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is taking the lead with NIH, NASA, and USDA to support the National Robotics Initiative (NRI). Investments in NRI from NASA, NIH, NSF, and USDA may reach $40 to $50 million in the first year with anticipated growth in funding as other agencies and industry partners take part.

On June 24, 2011, NSF released a Request for Proposals to advance the science and engineering of co-robotic systems and to use robots to work beside, or cooperatively with people to help with individual human capabilities, performance, and safety.

The plan is to encourage innovative collaborative research that combines computer and systems science with mechanical, electrical, and materials engineering, along with social, behavioral, and economic sciences to tackle the most important and challenging robotic problems.

For example, state-of-the-art technology such as the Intuitive Surgical daVinci robot is already assisting doctors with complex surgical procedures. The Independence Technology iBot safely propels wheelchairs over curbs and upstairs, and systems like Cyberdyne’s HAL is able to augment body movements and strength for construction workers with wearable robot exoskeletons.

So far, NIH has used robotics for DNA sequencing, the rapid screening of potential drugs, and the subsequent discovery of new drugs. Now NIH Institutes will be able to develop robotic applications to assist in surgery, prostheses, rehabilitation, behavioral therapy, personalized care, and wellness/health promotion. One important issue that needs to be studied involves the safety of robotics used in the home or in surgical settings where the integration of complex systems is required.

NIH is very interested because of the potential impact on healthcare in the future as human assistive devices will revolutionize healthcare in the next 20 years as much as personal electronics have changed daily lives in the past two decades.

Research will be pursued in topics ranging from cognition and knowledge representation, control mechanisms, perception, human-robot interaction, language understanding, multi-networked agents, mobility, and human-connected cognitive prosthetics.

There are other ideas for robotic research available through a joint agency FOA released in 2010 for both the SBIR and STTR programs. For these thoughts and ideas go to

In the future, NRI expects to establish open system robotics architectures and common hardware and software platforms, create a repository of software, hardware, and data to encourage sharing of results, sponsor a range of projects from one or more investigators to produce multi-faceted collaborative efforts, create test beds to integrate the output of multiple activities and their testing, establish competitions among funded projects for the best performance of tasks, and produce findings that will educate and contribute to knowledge about the use of robotics.

The letter of intent for the NRI program solicitation is due October 1, 2011 with full proposals due November 03, 2011.

NRI expects to fund two project sizes under this program solicitation:

• Small projects—Projects are expected to range from approximately $100,000 to $250,000 per year in direct costs with durations of one to five years
• Large projects—Projects are expected to range from $250,000 to $1,000,000 per year in direct costs for one to five years, not to exceed $1,500,000 in total costs per year

To view the solicitation, go to Public webinar briefings on the solicitation will be held beginning September 2011.

The program contact at NSF is Howard Wactiar at or Kishna S. Ford at For further information at NIH, email John Haller PhD, at NIH at or call (301) 594-3009.