Eight universities have been granted a collective $2.5 million Partnerships for International Research and Education grant from the National Science Foundation. Five U.S. universities and three Korean universities make up the partnership. The grant is designed to be consumed over five years. The universities that make up the partnership are:
- Bryn Mawr
- Drexel University
- University of Pennsylvania
- Virginia Tech
- Swarthmore College
- Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology
- Seoul National University
- Korea University
The resources will be used to develop three component technologies intended to assist the progress of humanoid robot research and extend work already begun on HUBO, a humanoid robot developed in Korea. The three areas in which the resources will be applied are:
- A virtual environment in which virtual humanoid robots can be built. This would provides a nimble and inexpensive environment within which robots can be built and designs can be evaluated and reimplemented. Bryn Mawr will be principally focused on this tier.
- A small humanoid robot approximately 2 feet in height. Because you can’t expect a virtual environment to perfectly reflect the real world, this robot, presumably, would be used to validate assertions made and previously validated within a virtual environment. Ie., “Let’s see how this works in the real world.”
- A larger humanoid robot approximately 4 feet tall. Again, presumption dictates that even more refined and validated algorithms would be further validated or simply demonstrated in this platform.
From an academic perspective, the rounding-out of the research and development environment pertinent to HUBO as designed makes perfect sense. The virtual environment allows many students to experiment with the robot without having to provide each student with a physical and expensive platform, for example.
However, the assertion that “the project fills a critical gap that has so far prevented further advances in robotics” is controversial at best, and grossly incorrect at worst. What has prevented further advances in humanoid robotics is about business and the market. If a demand existed for humanoid robots then the market would be incented to deliver–and it would.
If the goal is genuinely about advancing robotics, then perhaps some of the $2.5 M will be used for market research. Without Steve Jobs driving the business for Wozniak’s crazy inventions, chances are slim that I’d be typing this article and that you’d be reading it.