A "Robotics and Intelligent Machines for the U.S. DOE" Roadmap was created in 1998 to identify RIM (robotics and intelligent machines) goals and the research needed to achieve those goals by the year 2020. A national initiative called for focusing and strengthening research in intelligent systems to strengthen the entire industry-currently, U.S. companies lead the world in sensory devices and algorithms. Intelligent machines use advanced sensory devices to collect information about their environment and use sophisticated algorithms to respond to the information. The initiative to build a U.S. intelligent machines industry stemmed from the U.S. Department of Energy's missions needs related to energy, environment and defense. RIM science also will benefit industry and society.

Four basic technology areas of DOE-sponsored RIM research are perception, action/motion, reasoning and integration systems. RIM R&D will require scientists and engineers from widely cross-cutting technological disciplines including computer science, mathematics and physics, as well as environmental, electrical and mechanical engineering. Bringing together various segments of the robotics industry including researchers, developers, materials experts, components and equipment suppliers, manufacturers and distributors, as well as defense and commercial customers is the job of the Robotics and Intelligent Machines Cooperative Council (RIMCC). The council also hopes to open new market opportunities for producers and suppliers. Intelligent machines are expected to be an all-new multibillion-dollar industry for the U.S.

There are concerns about whether advanced robotics and intelligent machines are a threat to U.S. workers. The initiative is not about replacing workers, but about creating a high- learning, high-participation, high-performance workplace. Intelligent systems assist workers, alleviating them of monotonous and strenuous work and tasks that are dangerous to their health and safety. Also, intelligent systems allow manufacturers to integrate design with production and to ensure on-time delivery.

...Intelligent machines can provide value to companies in all segments of manufacturing. An important question to ask is: What can RIM help you do better? For example, high-value consumer electronics manufacturers want intelligent production systems that can rapidly and easily accommodate new product lines; they want intelligent systems to ensure the manufacturability of a product line and autonomously reprogram themselves when a new design is introduced. The auto industry, faced with fierce competition, wants systems having human-like dexterity for assembly and materials handling. Semiconductor manufacturers want machines that can handle large diameter wafers in each step of the manufacturing process. Precision machine tool manufacturers want robotic systems that are readily adaptable in a variety of applications and precise to microscopic levels of precision. The welding industry wants an intelligent machine that will result in a repeatable, high-quality, structurally reliable weldment (see Trends in this issue, p 12). There probably is an area of your manufacturing process that would benefit from incorporating an intelligent machine. They're just around the corner.