EM recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the National Robotics Initiative (NRI), which was originally chartered by President Obama in 2011 to accelerate the development and use of robots in the U.S. that work beside and in cooperation with people.
EM joins other federal agencies in the collaborative effort to advance robotics through university-led projects. The cleanup program infuses a new, unique focus of research to the NRI: the use of robotics in nuclear and radiological applications. This nuclear niche demands robotics that are radiation-hardened or radiation-tolerant.
EM’s mission and diverse problem-set crosscut almost all operating domains of robotics, including underwater, under or below ground, terrestrial, aerial, as well as the internal areas and spaces of facilities, systems, structures, and components. This provides opportunities for user-inspired technology development projects.
“EM stands to greatly benefit from the use of robotics, especially when it improves the health and safety of our nuclear workforce. Also, as an enabling technology, we will smartly deploy robotics to help reduce our lifecycle baseline costs,” EM Assistant Secretary Monica Regalbuto said. “Our active participation on the NRI gives EM direct access to expert roboticists and leading-edge technologies.”
The NRI is supported by multiple agencies of the federal government, including the NSF, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Institutes of Health, and the departments of Agriculture and Defense. Each agency provides funding for mission-relevant and mutually beneficial areas of investigations and technological maturation. NSF is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 to promote the progress of science, advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare, and secure the national defense.
“Leveraging and pooling the expertise, assets and resources of other federal agencies makes plain sense, particularly when American taxpayer funds are being used for common technology interests,” EM Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Mark Whitney said.
Collaboration among academic institutions, industry, and non-profit organizations, and other roboticists is a key feature of the NRI. By next month, the NSF expects to issue its next competitive solicitation for research and technology development projects, which will include nuclearized robotics. The memorandum of understanding is effective through fiscal year 2020.
EM Senior Technical Advisor Rodrigo Rimando championed the effort to partner with the NSF and with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which is part of the Executive Office of the President. He will represent DOE on the NRI interagency working group.