Surprise! The US Doesn't Fund Robotics!

Posted 22 Sep 2005 at 15:06 UTC by The Swirling Brain Share This has a scathing article in an interview with George Bekey, emeritus professor of computer science at the University of Southern California. The article states how US robotics builders are scrambling for cash for robotics because besides funding military and space robotics the US just ain't putting out. The article says the United States is falling behind Europe and Asia in robotics research, and unlike many other developed countries, the United States lacks a coordinated strategy to cultivate robotics development. Robotics research funding has been dropping in the United States for at least the last decade, with the National Science Foundation's funding now at less than $10 million per year. In contrast, Japan's government will spend nearly $100 million in 2005. And over the next three years, Europe plans to spend nearly $100 million on a new program called Advanced Robotics. South Korea, meanwhile, spends $80 million on robotics research annually. Perhaps if US robot builders want grant money, they should look into robotic art? The article also has some great pictures from the exhibits displayed during the NSF gathering. You can also watch a boring 40 minute video (skip the first 4 or 5 ultra-boring minutes) press briefing about the NSF study.

Since when does Dollars equate to Knowledge ?, posted 23 Sep 2005 at 11:40 UTC by Ragooman » (Apprentice)

I think somebody there is blurred from the bragging budgets. Since when does dollars euate to knowledge ? Did they ever measure how much knowledge is attained from the supposedly low budgets that the U.S. has ? They should take a closer look and measure what has actually has been learned from the research over the decades rather than counting dollars. An obvious observation from the large budgets being consumed elsewhere typically involves the enormous expenditures on building prototypes. Anyone can throw dollars at something and say they are making progress.

The Morality of Corporate Wellfare, posted 23 Sep 2005 at 14:38 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

In MY opinion, Corporate Wellfare is ALWAYS wrong, unless I'm the one on the receiving end. :-)

dollars -> knowledge, posted 23 Sep 2005 at 16:42 UTC by steve » (Master)

I think's probably not as direct a path as that but there is a connection. To get to the knowledge you need to do the science. Doing research is very expensive and somebody has to pay for it. Corporations don't pay for as much research as they used to because they have very short-term outlooks these days. Stockholders generally won't stand for long term planning. They want a short term profit next quarter. So very little corporate money is funding basic science. That leaves non-profits and government. There's relatively little non-profit money for basic science research, particularly in the field of robotics. And our current government leaders actually seem to be anti-science unless there's a direct application to war.

Aside from money, the other thing you need for scientific research and development is educated scientists. The US education system seems to be having major problems these days. What little money is available in schools gets wasted on sports and what little science still gets taught seems to be under constant attack by special interest groups. And aside from all that, we live in a culture that seems to have a growing distaste for science and education in general. I stumbled across an answer Carl Sagan gave when asked about why science has such a bad name and what we can do about it. He said:

I think one, perhaps, is to present science as it is, as something dazzling, as something tremendously exciting, as something eliciting feelings of reverence and awe, as something that our lives depend on. If it isn't presented that way, if it's presented in very dull textbook fashion, then of course people will be turned off. If the chemistry teacher is the basketball coach, if the school boards are unable to get support for the new school bond issue, if teachers' salaries, especially in science, are very low, if very little is demanded of our students in terms of homework and original class time, if virtually every newspaper in the country has a daily astrology column and hardly any of them has a weekly science column, if the Sunday morning pundit shows never discuss science, if every one of the commercial television networks has somebody designated as a science reporter but he (it's always he) never presents any science, it's all technology and medicine, if an intelligent remark on science has never been uttered in living memory by a President of the United States, if in all of television there are no action-adventure series in which the hero or heroine is someone devoted to finding out how the universe works, if spiffy jackets attractive to the opposite sex are given to students who do well in football, basketball, and baseball but none in chemistry, physics, and mathematics, if we do all of that, then it is not surprising that a lot of people come out of the American educational system turned off, or having never experienced, science. That was a very long sentence.
Reading that made me think Sagan would have liked Stargate SG1. It's the only TV show I can think of in recent memory in which a heroine was a scientist doing a lot of basic science who also took time out to save the world every week. ;-)

There have been several articles in the past talking about the introduction of robotics related curriculum into schools that may actually be helping to change some of this. Robots are something kids can understand and seem to be excited about. In many cases they're showing the same level of interest that has been shown for non-educational activities such as sports.

If anyone is interested you can read the Sagan Q&A in full here:

It includes a question about whether or not he every really said "billions and billions". ;-)

Dollars <> Knowledge, posted 24 Sep 2005 at 15:22 UTC by Ragooman » (Apprentice)

I think most of us know whole heartedly how we are sometimes short in man-power and materials for research, both corporate and academic. But there are many sources of research dollars that this article fails to identify. This article falls short in awareness of significant research what goes on nationwide. This article is just another classic tabloid example of 'look at the small country that can do better than the big US'. IMHO, this article has no place here.

good articles and bad articles, posted 24 Sep 2005 at 15:55 UTC by steve » (Master)

I've posted plenty of articles promoting theories of consciousness that I thought were downright looney but my experience has been if you ever want to find out what's really going on, you have to listen to a lot of ideas, debate their strengths and weaknesses, look for ways to test their validity, and sometimes you eventually arrive at the truth. I think the same thing applies here.

We've posted quite a few articles in the past on Japan's lead in robotics research, particularly in biped hardware design. One article we posted last year described a single city in Japan that had over 150 for-profit companies doing specifically robotics research, not including the many research facilities of schools and government. I can't think of anyplace in the US with that level of research going on. Robotics research in Japan is at the level of the Apollo moon program in US in 1960s.

So, I guess this article just doesn't seem that controversial. Sadly, the general conscenus of many researchers in many countries right now is that the US is losing it's edge and falling behind in many fields, not just robotics.

Maybe they're wrong. I don't want it to be true. I'd like the US to be the leader science. But I think I'd be doing a disservice if we only posted articles I agree with or only articles that support what I wished were true. And, if you disagree, that's why we can post discussions under the articles and write blogs here - so you can tell us we've posted a stupid article. ;-)

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