New Caucus Raising Robotic Awareness

Posted June 27, 2007 at 4:36pm

A new Congressional caucus just may be the best marriage of robots and politics since Arnold Schwarzenegger traded in his Terminator costume for a suit, a tie and some gubernatorial aspirations.

The aptly named Robotics Caucus is the bipartisan brainchild of Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) and will focus on educating Members of Congress and the public about this expanding area of science.

While for most Americans the field of robotics calls to mind images of R2D2 from “Star Wars” or Rosie from “The Jetsons,” the two Congressmen hope to raise awareness about its uses in an array of industries, including automotive, defense and medical.

“I don’t think a lot of people have even thought of all of the possible applications there can be,” Doyle said.

Already, robots can protect soldiers from improvised explosive devices, help doctors perform delicate surgeries and expedite the assembly of cars, and it is likely that with the advances in technology they will have far more uses in the future.

“I think there’s growing speculation that robotics can play an increasing role in how our society develops over the course of the next 20 [or] 30 years,” said Bill Thomasmeyer, the president of the National Center for Defense Robotics.

And as technology is improving, so are sales: According to statistics from the Robotic Industries Association, robotics companies in North America saw a 24 percent increase in orders during the first quarter of 2007 and brought in $274.5 million.

Both Doyle and Wamp are acutely aware of this, as the National Center for Defense Robotics as well as Carnegie Mellon University, which is a leading institution in robotics research, are located in Doyle’s district and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is in Wamp’s, but both Members hope awareness of the technology will spread throughout the country.

Currently, the United States is one of the robotics leaders on the global scene, and they want to foster the type of development that will keep the country competitive internationally, most notably with Japan.

“The key is to keep the United States pre-eminent in this field, in the development of robotics,” Doyle said.

While the caucus may eventually focus on legislation, its initial goals will be to educate and to expand its membership base. Currently, only around two legislators have joined Doyle and Wamp, but they are confident more will come on board.

“It’s a really hot thing right now,” Wamp said of the increasing familiarity that Americans have with robotics. “It’s going to have a lot of people exposed to it.”

Within Congress, some of this exposure will begin next month. “Our game plan is to really move this more earnestly when we get back from recess after the Fourth of July,” Doyle said.