US May Lose Lead in Biomedical Robotics

Unless the government boosts funding for robotics research, the United States – the world leader for research and manufacturing of robotic systems for tasks such as surgery and DNA sequencing – will likely have to start relying on technology from other countries, said Yuan F. Zheng, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State.

He is one of six authors of the World Technology Evaluation Center International Study of Robotics, a two-year look at robotics research and development in the United States, Japan, Korea and Western Europe. They conclude that American scientists lack a “culture” for robotics – a nationwide community that supports work in this specialty, with an overarching philosophy to guide it.

Most American scientists who develop biomedical robotics belong to one academic department on a university campus, and perform interdisciplinary research that crosses over into other departments. Some are engineers who know a little biology; others are biologists who know a little engineering. Still others are chemists, physicists, or physicians. They are scattered around the campus, without a formal robotics program to unite them.

If more universities had such programs, the United States could grow the culture it needs to sustain its role as a robotics leader, Zheng and his colleagues suggest. Universities will need more funding to establish these programs, Zheng said. It’s an essential step that has to happen before robots can do for the American laboratory and operating room what they did for the factory nearly 50 years ago.

While the United States has reduced its support of robotics research in recent years, other countries are boosting resources in this area, Zheng noted. “I remember a few years ago when American research accounted for 80 percent of papers presented at robotics conferences. Now we’re tied with Japan at less than 30 percent, followed by Korea,” he said.; Source: Ohio State University