Thorpe outlines national robotics vision

April 12, 2012

MHTA – Minnesota and the Midwest should continue to work to establish the region as a leading center for robotics activity. That is just some of the advice offered by Chuck Thorpe to an audience of more than 100 at an MHTA Leadership Insights breakfast at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Thorpe is a science and technology advisor to the White House.

Dr. Thorpe, who is a widely published expert in robotics and intelligent vehicle systems, began a fellowship in the White House last fall. During his one year term, he is offering technical input on research and technology, and manufacturing issues as well as other initiatives under consideration by the federal government. The goal of the National Robotics Initiative is to accelerate the development and use of robots in the United States that work beside, or cooperatively with, people.

In the past decade, robots have increasingly taken on duties now considered too dangerous or risky for humans. They include clean up at the Japanese nuclear reactor damaged in last year’s earthquake. Edina-based ReconRobotics has developed University of Minnesota robotics technology used by police SWAT teams and the military. Thorpe said that while industrial robots make up a small portion of all robots in use, they are poised for explosive growth.

“How can we make humans and robots work better together?” he asked his audience. “That is the threshold that will lead to the last stage of development.”

Schools and higher education institutions, particulary two-year colleges, will play an instrumental role in training a new generation of workers who can work alongside robots. Thorpe talked of unmanned factories, asking how many people does it take to run one. The answer is several, from robotic designers and developers to workers who can maintain and perform other support functions.

The event was sponsored by Robotics Alley, which is a joint initiative founded by ReconRobotics and the Minnesota High Tech Association designed to raise the profile of the central United States in the global robotics industry. A second annual Robotics Alley Conference will take place in Minneapolis, November 14-15. Early-bird regisgtration for the event is currently open.

Watch Thorpe’s Presentation – MHTA-TV