Government agencies invest $38 million in human-friendly robots

The National Robot Initiative launched in 2011 to encourage the development of robots that can augment human abilities. This week, the government agencies behind it announced an additional $38 million that will go toward 30 projects that touch on 3D printing, surgical procedures, assisting people with disabilities and more.

The projects are all meant to take on jobs too dangerous or difficult for humans or to improve robots’ abilities to work closely with humans, whether on an emotional or physical level.¬†Seven of the projects come out of Carnegie Mellon University, which received $7 million. One will equip drones to monitor bridges and other infrastructure for signs of wear.

Carnegie Mellon bridge robot

“Current inspection methods for bridges, dams and other infrastructure often require expensive, specialized equipment and are potentially dangerous for inspectors who must reach difficult-to-access areas,” project lead Sanjiv¬†Singh said in a release. “This project will use small, low-flying robots, coupled with 3D imaging and advanced planning, modeling and analysis, to provide safe, efficient and high-precision assessment of critical infrastructure.”

Additional projects funded nationally include:

  • A cloud platform that will allow anyone to teach robots domestic tasks over the internet.
  • A helper robot that is sensitive to people with Parkinson’s Disease, despite their commonly reduced ability to display emotion.
  • A device that makes it easier for surgeons to assess difficult-too-see locations in the body while performing minimally invasive surgery.
  • Artificial hands that can be controlled via brainwaves.
  • Bipedal robots that can better take on tough terrain.
  • Robots for harvesting and detecting disease in fruits and vegetables.

The National Robotics Initiative is funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Agriculture. They award roughly $40 million a year to approved projects. The program will accept proposals for the next round of funding through January 21, 2014.