Tech to join manufacturing initiative

At the request of U.S. President Barack Obama, Tech will be participating in a new national initiative to promote domestic manufacturing research and technology. Institute President G.P. “Bud” Peterson and CoC professor Henrik Christensen will play key roles in the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), a $500 million investment in emerging technologies intended to improve the U.S.’s future manufacturing capabilities.

Obama announced his plans for the AMP on Friday, June 24, in a speech given at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn.

“We’ve…got to reinvigorate our manufacturing sector so that it leads the world the way it always has–from paper and steel and cars to new products that we haven’t even dreamed up yet. That’s how we’re going to strengthen existing industries; that’s how we’re going to spark new ones…This new partnership that we’ve created will make sure tomorrow’s breakthroughs are American breakthroughs,” Obama said in the June 24 speech.

Tech is one of six universities participating in the AMP, along with Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Stanford, California-Berkeley and Michigan. Peterson will be one of seven members on the AMP’s steering committee, which will work to determine long-term objectives and to guide the efforts conducted under the initiative. MIT President Susan Hockfield and Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris will serve as co-chairs of the committee, which will also include the presidents of the other universities involved.

“This is all part of [Tech’s] overall effort to take a leadership role in helping to shape the national agenda, particularly as related to engineering, science and technology policy,” Peterson said. “The fact that Tech has been invited to serve…on the steering committee is recognition of the history of leadership provided by the faculty, staff and students here at Tech.”

The AMP is primarily intended to encourage collaboration between universities, industry leaders and government agencies.

To this end, 11 prominent companies from diverse industries tied to manufacturing will be involved in the beginning, including Caterpillar, Dow Chemical, Ford and Northrop Grumman. A wide range of government departments will also play key roles.

“By partnering with industry and government, we will be able to develop solutions that can be applied broadly—breakthroughs that individual manufacturers would not be able to reach by themselves,” Peterson said.

One of the primary areas of interest within the AMP will be next-generation robotics, and the new National Robotics Initiative (NRI) is a significant component of the initiative.

Four government agencies—NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Agriculture—will contribute $70 million to fund the NRI, which will place an emphasis on robots capable of working alongside humans to perform various tasks. Based on this emphasis, various robotic applications that will assist factory workers, surgeons and astronauts will be among the points of focus.

While comparatively less funding will be provided for NRI research relative to the other focal points under the umbrella of the AMP, robotics will still be a major focus for U.S. research interests in the immediate and distant future.

The Obama administration cited four key reasons for the decision to make robotics a priority. These included the ability to apply robotic technology to industries in all walks of life; the strong influence of robotics in STEM education, particularly with the massive growth of programs such as FIRST Robotics; an increasingly united vision among researchers for a future in human-assisting robots; and the likelihood that the field of robotics will witness significant growth in the near future due to advances in related fields.

Christensen, the KUKA Chair of Robotics at Tech, will be a leading figure in the robotics research conducted through the NRI. He considers progress in robotics to be vital to the advancement of the nation.

“Robotics technology addresses a number of our nation’s most critical needs, including reinvigorating the U.S. manufacturing base, protecting our citizens and soldiers, caring for our aging population, preserving our environment and reducing our dependence on foreign oil,” Christensen said in a press release by the Institute.

Along with next-generation robotics, three other areas involving long-term technologies related to manufacturing disciplines will form key points of focus for the AMP.

National security is a primary concern within the initiative, and thus several government agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, will work with industry leaders to develop technology that can be used toward both short-term and long-term national security applications.

In addition, improvements in materials and energy efficiency will be priorities. The Materials Genome Initiative will play a similar role to that of the NRI, committing over $100 million toward researching the fast and inexpensive production of advanced materials. Meanwhile, the Department of Energy will make a sizable investment primarily directed toward improving the energy efficiency of manufacturing processes.

According to Peterson, the primary objectives of the AMP suit Tech’s strengths well.

“The AMP initiative is aligned with a number of Georgia Tech programs and initiatives, including everything from defense applications to energy efficiency and helping to reduce the time to develop and deploy advanced materials,” Peterson said.

Peterson has requested that Executive Vice President for Research Steve Cross also take over a leading role in the AMP, and he anticipates that other experts within the Tech community will be influential as well.

“For a number of years, Tech has been an economic powerhouse in Georgia. We’re looking forward to playing a leadership role in creating a manufacturing renaissance in America,” Peterson said.

 

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