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Navigating the Future: Update of the National Robotics Roadmap

By Annie Perrin Grisham

The accelerated evolution of robotics technologies continues amidst shifting global dynamics, prompting an update to the U.S. National Robotics Roadmap. Published every four years since 2009, the Robotics Roadmap is a collaborative project identifying megatrends, opportunities, challenges, and societal impacts in robotics technologies. The 2024 update was released in April 2024 and announced at an event on Capitol Hill sponsored by Carnegie Mellon, IEEE-USA, and Computing Research Associates. The roadmap is supported by the Engineering Research Visioning Alliance (ERVA) and the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) and reflects the changing landscape of robotics, automation, and emerging technologies like generative AI.

Since the last release in September 2020, significant developments, such as the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, changes in political administration, and shifts in international trade have necessitated the 2024 update. This edition addresses leveraging advancements in artificial intelligence, tackling workforce shortages, and prioritizing sustainability.

Updating the Roadmap involved soliciting contributions from experts in the AI and robotics community, culminating in a discussion session in Washington, D.C. The resulting document integrates these insights, ensuring its relevance to current challenges and future goals.


Prior to 2009, robotics technology research and development programs were scattered across and within federal agencies. To address this lack of cohesion, the robotics community — including both academics and industry members — came together under the new National Science Foundation-initiated Computing Community Consortium (CCC) to develop a comprehensive roadmap. This Roadmap aimed to cover everything from basic research to industry needs. At the same time, the U.S. House of Representatives formed the Congressional Robotics Caucus to facilitate the exchange of ideas and debate robotics-related policy issues.

Each edition of the Roadmap has had a specific focus, with the initial 2009 edition targeting productivity after the economic downturn. The latest 2024 iteration emphasizes leveraging advancements in artificial intelligence, addressing workforce shortages, and prioritizing sustainability.

Despite continued investments in robotics research from agencies like the NSF, DoD, and NIH, concerns about fragmented initiatives and the need for a cohesive national vision persist. Internationally, the United States faces significant competition from countries such as China, which has made notable advancements in robotics. This underscores the need for a unified national strategy to maintain and enhance U.S. leadership in robotics innovation and application.

Updates to the Roadmap

The Roadmap offers recommendations to address emerging challenges, including reestablishing robotics as a national priority, fostering cross-agency collaboration, and streamlining funding mechanisms. Implementing these recommendations will enable the United States to leverage robotics technology to address societal needs, spur economic growth, and maintain global competitiveness.

The following are the recommendations laid out by the Roadmap:

  • Robotics technology will transform society and is likely to become as ubiquitous within the next decade as computing technology is today. As it stands, this development will not occur in the United States. As such, robotics ought to be a national government priority (again).
  • There should be cross-agency coordination for R&D, innovation, and utilization of robot technology. The need for a holistic vision across industry, academia and government is critical to the nation.
  • The Congressional Robotics Caucus should be reinvigorated to ensure appropriate prioritization at all levels.
  • There is a need to unify funding programs across agencies to make it easier for researchers, developers, and entrepreneurs to access these opportunities.
  • There is a need to consider mechanisms to support the US industry to be competitive across regions and nations.
  • Increased attention is needed on workforce training to address the shortage and to ensure adaptation to new technology.
Henrik Christensen
Henrik Christensen, Director of Contextual Robotics at UC San Diego and co-author of the report, speaks at the 30 April 2024 AI Robotics Showcase at the Hart Senate Office Building. Credit: Charlotte Geary/NSF

Henrik Christensen, Director of Contextual Robotics at UC San Diego and co-author of the report, states, “The Roadmap is a synthesis of input from 100+ community members pointing to how robotics addresses the current workforce shortage, and robot technology for an aging society. It is about economic growth, retraining our workforce, and technology leadership. Today, the rest of the world is getting ahead of us. We need to organize the resources we have for competitiveness and technology leadership.”

The mid-cycle update of the National Robotics Roadmap is a crucial step in guiding the future of robotics research and innovation in the United States. Staying informed and responsive to emerging trends allows the country to fully harness robotics’ potential, paving the way for a brighter future for all. IEEE-USA encourages its members to read the Roadmap and share its insights with colleagues.


Annie Perrin Grisham

Annie Perrin Grisham is IEEE-USA's Policy Associate.

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