March 01, 2012      

Take it as a sign of just how quickly the robotics industry is maturing that we already have efforts underway to legally integrate robots in non-factory and non-military environments.

Last June, for example, as we reported, Nevada took steps to make driving robotic vehicles legal on public roads.

Then last month, we noted that President Obama signed an FAA bill, which included a measure requiring the agency to integrate unmanned aerial craft into the public airways by 2015.

The challenges of allowing robots to operate safely in unpredictable public environments are huge, of course. It?s hard to know in the end, which will prove more complicated: the technical or legal hurdles.

However, a new way of studying and overcoming these challenges is emerging ? and it?s in the form of communities designed for the specific purpose of testing how robots and other technologies perform untethered. Two such communities are in the process of forming, right now.

RobotTown is described on its Web site as ?a living laboratory for Robotic Technology in the Detroit area. The goal is to provide an environment where people can come to learn, play, test, create, socialize, innovate, discover, and share knowledge about robotics.? Think of a theme park tied to a serious research center, add in the synergies between robots and Michigan?s reborn auto industry and the continuing dire need for economic development in that state, and you?ve got a project that sorely deserves to succeed.

Then, just yesterday, KOB.com TV station in New Mexico, wrote about a soon-to-be-built community called CITE, short for “Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation,” in that state, backed by a group called Pegasus Global Holdings.

According to the KOB article, Pegasus ?envisions a place where innovators from around the world will come to test their ideas in a realistic city setting.? And robots are part of the master plan. ?CITE will have its own highway? Testing unmanned vehicles could eventually lead to unmanned trucking that could revolutionize the way cargo is moved across the country.?

Bottom line
The takeaway here is that these communities could become catalysts for innovation in robotics and many other industries, speeding the day when robots in particular form part of our everyday lives. Partnering opportunities will be plentiful, no doubt. So put these projects on your radar.

It?s worth mentioning, that the idea for such experimental tech communities is hardly new. Back in the 1960s, Walt Disney originally envisioned Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), as just such a testing ground, a fact that?s discussed at some length in our article on robotic pod transport systems.

Seems at long last, Disney?s dream is about to come true. And for the robotics industry, the timing couldn?t be better.