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10 . Exploratory Workshop on the Social Impacts of Robotics

4. Small entrepreneurial firms that devel- op new, innovative robots. This type of firm has been important in many sec- tors of the information industry, and could well play an important role in robotics.

The relative importance in the market- place of these different types of firms will de- pend on and, in turn, influence the evolution of robotics technology. The history of the microelectronics market suggests that many

innovative new types of robots will come from the entrepreneurs, while the large firms will have the capital and capacity to produce and market large quantities of heavy equip- ment. Also significant in this regard is the trend, common with most high technology firms, toward acquisition of small, innova- tive firms by larger industrial firms seeking either to diversify or to integrate their tradi- tional product lines with new technologies.

Technology and Market Issues

A number of issues concerning the robot industry were identified in this project:

  • Industrial organization.—What types of firms will play the most significant role in the production of robots and in innovation? Will robot use and produc- tion be concentrated in a few large com- panies? Will a variety of robotics prod- ucts be available for many applications by diverse types and sizes of users? What will be the effects on the financial health of different types of potential producers and users?

  • Research and development (R&D).– Should R&D stress applications or should it focus on fundamental work aiming at significant new breakthrough in the state of the art? What role should the Federal Government play in fund- ing this research via agencies such as the National Science Foundation? What type of work should be pursued in Government research labs such as the National Bureau of Standards, and at what level should it be funded? What additional policies, if any, would be re- quired to stimulate R&D in the private sector?

- Government use. —Are there particular- ly important applications of robots in the Federal Government that should be explored and developed? Experts at the workshop mentioned in particular de- fense applications and uses of robots for space exploration and oceanograph- ic work. Definition. –The question of defining robotics and their context, while not a policy issue per se, is an important problem if any Federal action is con- templated to encourage their use or de- velop any R&D program. How the tech- nology is defined may well determine the type of industry that will be helped by the programs, and influence the structure of the U.S. robotics industry. Standards. –Should the Government encourage the establishment of tech- nical standards for robotics devices and components? Should standards be set for interfacing between robots and other automation and information tech- nology? Would standards encourage the development of the robot industry and the diffusion of the technology, or would they prematurely freeze the state of the art?

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