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Introduction

Background

The topic of industrial robots has recently been given increased attention. Articles in the technical and popular press have dis- cussed the potential of robots to boost U.S. industrial productivity and enhance interna- tional competitiveness (1,2). Others have concentrated on the effects of robots on em- ployment and their potential to change the workplace environment and alter the nature of work (3,4).

the need for new and different skills, and ef- fects on the work environment.

Abroad, interest in robotics has been in- tense. England, Japan, Germany, Norway, Italy, and Sweden have initiated govern- ment and private efforts to develop robotics technology and stimulate its use in manufac- turing. Some of these countries have also undertaken studies to assess ways in which automation may create or eliminate jobs.

This same interest in robotics technology has been expressed informally to OTA by congressional staff from several committees. Other OTA studies in such areas as informa- tion policy, educational technology, innova- tion, and industrial competitiveness have touched on the impacts of robotics technol- ogy in light of those issues.

To date, a primary thrust of domestic U.S. interest in robotics seems to be the belief that robots, along with other new automa- tion technology will be an important tool for improving the competitiveness of U.S. man- ufacturing. The use of robots may lower pro- duction costs, improve the quality of manu- factured goods, and reduce workplace haz- ards. A clear theme has been the concern that foreign competitors may be gaining a significant edge over the United States both in using this new production technology and in establishing a competitive position in the potentially major export market for robots.

In response to congressional interest in public policy issues related to robotics, the rapid advances in computer technology and its applications, and public concern about the state of the U.S. industrial economy, OTA sponsored an exploratory workshop to discuss the future of industrial robotics and its likely impact on public policy. The pur- pose of this paper is to summarize the re- sults of this effort and to make available sev- eral informal papers prepared for that work- shop. Most of the information is based on

discussions at the workshop, commissioned papers, * and other material collected prior to

the workshop.

The summary presents background infor- mation and identifies key questions and is- sues that were raised to the OTA staff dur- ing the course of the project. It does not con- tain analysis or evaluation of these issues. It also does not present any options for Federal policy or analysis of such options.

Some writers have also expressed concern about possible impacts of this technology on workers as it becomes more widely used. They have stressed possible unemployment,

*Attached to this report as app. B.

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