New U.S. “Roadmap” Lays Out Routes to Accelerate Robotic Technologies

Robotics technology is progressing faster than expected for self-driving cars, and drones are becoming ubiquitous throughout the United States, according to a lead scientist overseeing a robotics technology roadmap released last week.

But robotics is moving slower than expected in some key areas, such as the development of dexterous gripper technology, intuitive user interfaces, and in integrating software and hardware through the full chain of systems engineering, according to Henrik Christensen, director of UC San Diego’s new Institute for Contextual Robotics.

Christensen made his observations during a presentation at the 2016 Contextual Robotics Forum, a recent conference at UC San Diego focused this year on “new directions in human-machine interaction.”

His talk amounted to a state-of-the-industry report on robotics, and highlighted key findings of the 107-page update of the U.S. Robotics Roadmap. More than 150 scientists from around the nation contributed to the 2016 report, which was released ahead of the presidential election to lay the groundwork for whoever takes office early next year, Christensen said. He also called for improved education and training in robotics and STEM, especially among younger students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

“I’m the one who gets to [predict] that kids born today will never have to learn how to drive a car,” Christensen told the audience, which included leading roboticists, executives, and others.

Henrik Christensen

Henrik Christensen (UC San Diego photo used with permission)

Within the next decade, the roadmap predicts: “Autonomous vehicles will be capable of driving in any city and on unpaved roads, and exhibit limited capability for off-road environment[s] that humans can drive in, and will be as safe as the average human-driven car. Vehicles will be able to safely cope with unanticipated behaviors exhibited by other vehicles (e.g., break down or malfunction).” By 2026, self-driving vehicles also will be able to reach a safe state in the event of sensor failures, according to the report.

While the technology for autonomous navigation has been advancing rapidly, Christensen said a patchwork of government regulatory issues have become a significant drag on the pace of innovation. A concerted effort is needed to revise regulations and formulate policies to ensure that autonomous vehicles can safely share the road with vehicles driven by people.

Regulatory concerns over civil aviation also are holding back advances with drones, he added.

Apart from regulatory issues, Christensen said the … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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