Sep. 14, 2012 at 3:28 PM ET
What are robots good for? Most of us hope they’ll work with us in various ways to make our world a better place. On Friday, the U.S. government announced $50 million in grants intended to nudge robotics down that helpful path.
The projects receiving grants under the National Robotics Initiative are all for what are considered next-generation collaborative robots, or co-robots. They include robots that will be useful to everyone from soldiers on the battlefield to factory workers, deep-sea explorers and restaurant chefs.
Consider, for example, a project led by James Bagnell at Carnegie Mellon University that aims to teach robots “to anticipate and adapt to the activities of their human co-workers based on perceptual cues,” according to a project abstract.
Robots with such smarts would be a delight to work with on a factory floor or have as a chauffeur to drive you around without accidently running over distracted pedestrians.
A project led by Chengyu Cao at the University of Connecticut aims to develop a robust network of autonomous underwater robots that humans can dispatch for tasks such as safety inspections of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico or search for survivors swept out to sea in a tsunami.
Some robots already under development hint at how things could go wrong. There’s the surrogate soldiers backed by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for example. While they might help the good guys win a battle, you’d hate to see one of these things turn on you.
Then again, many robots really are being developed to make life a bit easier for us humans. A quick rundown of some we’ve covered here include robots that will clean your room , scoop poop, pour beers, cook dinner, and keep you company while you jog.
The initiative is led by the National Science Foundation and the grants are doled in partnership with NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The government’s initiative seems keen on keeping robotic innovation on the right track in its ongoing bids to spur economic engines so that we'll be able to find work alongside our robot helpers well into the future.