Some of the top minds in the field have some advice for the next presidential administration on how to proceed with robotics.
Last week, a group of 150 experts from Google, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, UPenn, Yale, Georgia Tech, and Carnegie Mellon (to name a few) published the latest edition of the Roadmap for Robotics, a report that outlines the industry's future. The 100-page paper is meant to serve as a guide to what sorts of developments the tech industry should strive for and what types of technologies Congress should invest in.
The experts offer specific suggestions as to how the U.S. should allocate funds toward advancing robotics and lays out suggestions for regulation. For one, it suggests robotics companies be required to offer more transparency regarding the tasks that their machines can and cannot perform. The report specifically singles out robots meant for hospitals and other medical settings.
"There have been several instances," the paper says, without naming names, "of companies grossly exaggerating a robot's capabilities, understating the required amount of training time clinicians need to become proficient at using a robot, and substantially overcharging rural hospitals for technology that does not actually benefit health care workers or patients."
The paper cites delivery bots as an important area of development. Currently, Silicon Valley startup Savioke's Relay acts as a bellhop, making deliveries throughout hotels. London-based Starship Technologies manufactures bots that cruise down sidewalks and deliver food and parcels. The road map encourages the development of limbed robots that can deliver goods by climbing stairs, avoiding broken walkways, and negotiating crowded areas--much in the ways that humans do. "With such a solution," the authors say, "logistics will become fast, 24/7, on-demand, inexpensive, predictable, and well-tracked."
Another key suggestion: Invest in robotics for use in the manufacturing industry that are highly intuitive and require little training. The authors warn that China, South Korea, Japan, and India are all spending more on technology education than the U.S.--allowing their manufacturing industries to grow at a faster rate as tech is easily integrated into their factories.
Robotics can vastly increase the speed and efficiency with which goods are produced. A robot at Under Armour's new Baltimore facility, for instance, can produce sneakers at a rate 200 times faster than humans, while another can slice through 50 sheets of fabric at once while automatically cutting in the pattern that produces the least amount of waste.
The authors also predict that autonomous vehicles will be safer and more predictable than human-driven vehicles within 15 years. To get there, they recommend "significant investment" in the various software and hardware--cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors--that make self-driving possible.
The paper was partially sponsored by the National Science Foundation, a government agency that supports science and engineering research.
The first edition of this paper, published in 2009, inspired the U.S. government to launch the National Robotics Initiative, a program that provided $70 million for robotics research, in 2011. While it's not yet known what President Trump's position will be when it comes to robotics--he hasn't yet addressed the issue directly--it's not hard to imagine that someone who promised to add jobs in the auto and manufacturing industries might be resistant to machines that automate a good chunk of those jobs.