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Executive Summary The increasing globalization of industry in developed countries is rendering international collaboration more desirable from both economic and technological perspectives. Robotics technology, in particular, is at a crossroads. Growing con- sumer demand for individualized products is forcing many manufacturers to shift to smaller production runs of greater varieties of products, a move that relies on highly flexible factory automation systems; for robots this means higher-level intelligence. Further development of robotics technology holds the promise of robots capable of working in less structured environments-outdoors and in the home. The advances in sensing and control technology as well as mechanisms needed to realize the next generation of robots will rely on programs of basic research too extensive for any one company or institution to fund. Major gaps in sensing include cost-effective range sensors for constructing three-dimensional range maps, vision systems capable of interpreting three-dimensional scenes, and tactile sensors capable of detecting both patterns and force distributions. Needed in the area of control are geometric reasoning and control software; techniques for acquiring process and environmental knowledge; and significant developments in navigation, control of flexible structures, and control of forces rather than position. Greater understanding of neural networks as applied to control also is needed. In terms of the mechanisms that will be required, lighter-weight actuators and improved transmissions, particularly variable-rang transmissions, will be essential. Research has been under way in many of these areas for more than 20 years; to make real headway, it may well require an effort on the order of that for the space program. In theory, U.S.-Japanese collaboration could both fill the technology 1
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2 gaps identified above and yield important cultural benefits in the form of knowl- edge of how to better set up and manage collaboration within our respective economies and improved understanding of each other's R&D systems. The history of U.S.-Japanese collaboration in robotics, however, has left many U.S. firms skeptical. Because of this, any attempt to identify appropriate areas for joint research must consider the difficult questions of how to ensure that both U.S. and Japanese companies are afforded equal opportunity to turn the research into products and what mechanisms might be devised to afford U.S. companies the same access to Japanese markets as Japanese firms have to U.S. markets. Several Japanese initiatives are in place. Japan is promoting international col- laboration through the Symposium for International Cooperation on Industrial Robots, the International Robotics and Factory Automation Center, the International Joint Research Development Program for Next Generation Production Technology, and the Law for Facilitating Governmental Research Exchange. A Japanese proposal for an international project, Intelligent Manufacturing System, was under discussion in early 1990. The United States, for its part, faces significant challenges in securing needed cooperation among various funding agencies and making non-defense-related funding available. Several criteria have been advanced for identifying mutually attractive areas of cooperation. Projects in areas without prospects for immediate commercialization are appropriate for consideration as first steps; the benefits of collaboration should be clear to both sides (neither should have a commanding position; capabilities should be complementary); and projects should produce concrete outputs in a rela- tively short (1- to 3-year) period of time. Several areas of collaboration that might yield projects that meet these criteria have been identified. Both Japanese and U.S. policymakers are interested in nuclear emergency and disaster response technologies, which are still in their infancies. Needs in these areas include radiation-hardened electronics and autonomous locomotion in human-scale spaces. Robotic applications in health care, another area of potential collaboration, will rely on the development of Polaroid range sensors and require greater reliability and precision than have heretofore been achieved. Collaboration could also be aimed at assessing the socioeconomic impacts, for example, of man-machine interactions. Potential sub- jects might include future-oriented issues, such as comparative views of invest- ment, training, and laboratory-to-factory technology transfer required by corpora- iions doing business around the world. New approaches needed by both countries for training and retraining managers and workers in the rationale for and use of robotics, automation, quality programs, value engineering, and computer technolo- gy constitute an area of potential collaboration. This report relates past experience, suggests areas of cooperative effort and cri- teria for evaluation, and discusses existing and needed frameworks for supporting collaborative efforts. It will be the challenge of the governments and industrialists of the United States and Japan to frame additional questions and to initiate steps toward realizing the next generation of robots.