Levin: Robotics technology 'is our ticket to an awful lot of good'
The rapidly emerging robotics ecosystem in southeast Michigan means the region is poised to become a leader in this paradigm-shifting field. That's the message that industry, academic and government leaders delivered at Michigan Robotics Day 2012 at the North Campus Research Complex on Monday.
More than 400 people attended the event, which showcased cutting-edge robotics research going on at U-M, at other Michigan universities and in government and industry.
"The growth in robotics here is astounding," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. "The size of this conference is twice the size it was just last year."
Levin looked to history to convey the excitement of the field's future. He recalled he French writer Alexis de Tocqueville, who was struck in the mid-19th century by the freedom to create that he witnessed in America.
"He used the word 'innovate' repeatedly. He saw the determination in America to get things done and to overcome problems and get around obstacles," Levin said. "That spirit remains here. It's contagious again. Tech is our ticket to an awful lot of good."
Advances in robotics could improve unmanned vehicles to keep soldiers out of harm's way. Self-driving cars could potentially make highways safer and alleviate parking congestion. They could lead to new mobility options for the disabled, and help humans overcome laborious tasks, among many other applications.
Anchored by the College of Engineering, the Detroit automotive base, the Army's Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, as well as the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, southeast Michigan will play a major role in moving these technologies forward.
"Michigan has an emerging robotics ecosystem that requires collaboration of academic research institutions, private industry, our schools, and a cooperative state and local government," said Rick Jarman, president and CEO of the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences. "All of those things are present today."
Among the technologies U-M researchers and students showcased are: a next-generation wheelchair that is being designed to avoid obstacles and travel programmed routes; an autonomous quadrotor aircraft that will compete this summer to stealthily descend into an arena, retrieve a thumbdrive and leave a decoy in its place; and CARL (short for Car Lab), a brand new SUV testbed for autonomous systems in passenger vehicles.
"I’m proud of the role academic institutions are playing in contributing to the growth of robotics," said David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering. "Universities offer long-term horizons, resources that can be employed with significant independence, the tradition of exchanging ideas with peer institutions, and a commitment to education — all factors that can enhance the progress of robotics development."