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Annual event celebrates advancements in robotics

James Coller/Daily
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By Allana Akhtar, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 10, 2014

Robots invaded campus Thursday when government agencies, businesses and students showcased the latest in robotic and automated vehicle innovations at the fourth annual Robotics Day event.

The event highlighted local advancements in robotics with demonstrations by students from the College of Engineering, local high schools and representatives from local businesses. The conference also featured panel discussions on topics ranging from the commercial applications for drones to the future of robots in aiding health and rehabilitation.

Many small businesses showcased their latest products, including Cybernet Systems Corporation, an Ann Arbor business that invented today’s fastest selling robotic consumer technology, and SkySpecs, an Ann Arbor drone-making operation.

Though the event placed an emphasis on private innovation, it did not ignore the role that government agencies have played in the development of robotic technology.

In a speech at the event, state Rep. Gretchen Driskell (D–Saline) recognized the state’s involvement in developing robotics at the University and establishing a partnership between industry and the government.

Dawn Tilbury, associate dean for research and graduate education at the College of Engineering, said the University frequently combines public and private funding to launch research projects.

She said 75 percent of College of Engineering research is funded by federal and state governments and businesses contribute a fraction of the overall budget as well.

“Sometimes you can’t get the money just from the University, you need to partner with industry to get the federal funds,” Tilbury said. “It’s complicated, but a lot of times those projects are very successful in transferring the results of the research into industry because you’re partnering with the company right up front.”

The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, a non-profit organization that fosters collaborations between businesses, government and researchers, co-hosted the event with the College of Engineering.

NCMS director Phil Callihan said the role government plays in partnering with businesses is not solely to advance innovation, but to ensure industry continues to produce innovative products within the country. He said federal and state governments are looking closely at robotics innovation in Michigan — a budding hub for the field — to create local jobs and restore the weak economy.

Callihan added that government and business involvement in the University’s robotics program will increase in the coming years thanks to the “fertile” environment for innovation in the area.

“When we’re talking about this kind of robotic innovation and autonomous vehicle innovation, they’re not waiting for us,” he said. “Innovation will march forward. We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to drive industry and to allow the work to happen that will help that grow.”