Advancing Robotic Capabilities

Researchers from the University of California Berkeley are creating smart robots that are teachable and able to learn new skills without pre-programming, The research team led by Pieter Abbeel has also formed a startup called “Embodied Intelligence” to develop Artificial Intelligence (AI) software with the goal to enable robots to learn from humans to perform complex tasks.

So far, researchers have been programming robots to handle each step of a task. Now instead of programming robots to handle each step of a task, the team has programmed them to observe and mimic humans demonstrating a task. According to Peter Chen, Co-Founder and CEO of Embodied Intelligence, “Anyone who can use a VR headset can teach a robot new skills quickly.”

In another project taking place at Arizona State University (ASU), researchers in collaboration with researchers from the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have successfully programmed nanorobots to shrink tumors by cutting off their blood supply.

Hao Yan, Director, for ASU’s Biodesign Institute’s Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, reports, “The challenge of advancing nanomedicine has been difficult because scientists wanted to design, build, and carefully control nanorobots to actively seek and destroy cancerous tumors while not harming any healthy cells. The international team overcame this problem by using a seemingly simple strategy to very selectively seek and starve out a tumor.”

With Yan’s expertise, the nanomedicine design is now a fully programmable robotic system able to perform entirely on its own. Today, nanorobots can be programmed to cause on-site tumor blood supply blockages, which can lead to tissue death and shrink the tumor.

In the federal sector, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has a program titled “National Robotics Initiative 2.0 Ubiquitous Collaborative Robots” or referred to as (NRI 2.0). The goal is to accelerate the development and use of collaborative robots that will work beside or work cooperatively with people.

The next step is to integrate co-robots to assist humans in every aspect of life. The NRI-2.0 program is supported by several agencies including NSF, USDA, Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense.

NSF’s National Robotics Initiative announces 40 to 60 awards each year subject to the availability of funds. NSF has released their NSF 18-518 program solicitation with project funding ranging from $250,000 to $750,000 in total costs for up to three years with integrative projects ranging from $500,000 to $1,500,000 in total costs for up to four years.

Anticipated funding is $25,000,000 to $35,000,000 per year subject to the availability of funds. Eligible applicants may include universities and colleges, non-profits, non-academic organizations research labs, professional societies.

Go to for information on NSF’s NRI 2.0 solicitation. Proposals are due each year on the first Tuesday in February. The due date for 2018 has passed but the next due date will be February 5, 2019.

For more information, contact Reid Simmons at or call 703-292-4767.

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