Monday, 18 August 2014

US robot experts win again

A curious trend appears to have evolved in the world of robotics.

For the seventh time in 37 years, three US citizens in a single year have won the Engelberger Robotics Award, named after the worldwide “father of robotics”, Joseph F. Engelberger, the founder in 1956 of Unimation Inc.

The Awards are the robotics industry’s highest honour and presented annually by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), the industry’s trade group, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. The Awards cover the fields of Application, Education, Leadership and Technology.

This year, Engelberger Robotics Awards were presented to Dr. Rodney Brooks, Dr. Rory Cooper and Dr. Vijay Kumar on 2 June in Munich, Germany. The ceremony was held in conjunction with the joint 45th International Symposium on Robotics (ISR 2014) and 8th German Conference on Robotics (ROBOTIK 2014). The events formed part of AUTOMATICA, the International Trade Fair for Automation and Mechatronics.

Each recipient received a special plaque, commemorative medallion and a $5,000 honorarium.

According to the RIA, beginning with the initial presentation in 1977, 119 industry leaders from 17 nations have now been selected for this honour.

What the RIA does not point out however is that in this period since 1977, no fewer than 68 of the Award winners have come from the US and Canada, more than twice the combined number from Europe (33) and Asia and Australia (16).

That the Awards this year were presented in Germany (eight past Award winners) may have been somewhat galling to many Germans in and around Munich as the country is seen as one of Europe’s robotic technology centres. The German automotive industry is noteworthy for its robot applications with KUKA the country’s leading supplier.

In Sweden (three past Award winners), ABB claims to have installed over 200,000 robots worldwide, while in Britain, (with just two past Award winners) it is well known that a high number of robots are installed across the Japanese and Indian-owned motor industry with Jaguar next month (8 September) set to introduce its new aluminium Baby Jaguar that will make heavy use of ABB robots in a state-of-the-art facility in Solihull.

Britain's poor performance in the Engelberger Robotic Awards – the last Award was in 1985, nearly 30 years ago – may raise the question: Has the UK lost its dynamism in advancing robot automation technology or could it be that, along with other countries, the UK has slipped below the RIA's radar? And what of the Chinese?

And could the preponderance of US winners somehow have something to do with the fact that the Engelberger Robotic Awards are organised by the RIA which is based in the US?

According to forecasts from the International Federation of Robots (IFR) in Stockholm, some 90,000 robots will be installed in Asia this year, another 40,000 in Europe and 30,000 in the US.

Bearing in mind these figures it seems strange that more nominees for the four Awards were not forthcoming from Europe and Asia, especially as German robot builder KUKA, for example, noted “China is the world’s second-largest robot market” - see next news item.

Of this year’s Award winners, Dr. Rodney Brooks, awarded the 2014 Engelberger Award for Leadership, is the Panasonic Professor of Robotics (Emeritus) at MIT. He is a robotics entrepreneur and Founder, Chairman and CTO of Rethink Robotics, Inc.

Dr. Rory Cooper, awarded the 2014 Engelberger Award for Application, is from the University of Pittsburgh. He is Founding Director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, a VA Rehabilitation Research and Development Center of Excellence in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.  He is also the Co-Director of the NSF Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center, a joint effort between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.  

Dr. Vijay Kumar, awarded the 2014 Engelberger Award for Education, is the UPS Foundation Professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Pennsylvania.  He has been on the faculty there since 1987, serving many roles including Deputy Dean for Education in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

No comments: