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News Release
October 21, 1996
New Facility Geared to Take Robotics Research and Development to Next Level of Technological and Industrial Achievement

Note to Editors: The Oct. 28 dedication will include a media tour at 1:30 p.m., news conference at 2:15 p.m., and the dedication ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. Those scheduled to attend the event and available for interviews include Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Charles Curtis, the depart-ment's No. 2 person; Rep. Steve Schiff, R-NM; and Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez. Please call media contact, Chris Miller, if you plan to cover the event. The robotic needs workshop will be held at the Albuquerque Marriott Hotel, 2101 Louisiana Blvd. NE, in the city's Uptown area.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. –Manufacturing, environmental cleanup, weapons production and dismantlement, and other industries with automation needs all stand to benefit from the opening of a state-of-the-art facility for intelligent systems and robotics research development at Sandia National Laboratories.

The $33-million, 73,000-square-foot Robotic Manufacturing Science and Engineering Laboratory (RMSEL) will be dedicated Oct. 28. The facility houses staff and equipment of the Labs' Intelligent Systems and Robotics Center (ISRC), the largest robotics research and development program in the United States.

"This is one of the finest facilities in the nation for intelligent robotic systems research and development," said Mike Zamorski, manager of Department of Energy's Kirtland Area Office in Albuquerque. "It will help DOE meet a variety of needs for smart robotics and automation technologies in areas such as environmental cleanup and nuclear weapons disassembly."

Although the center's key customer is the DOE, with a focus on advancing national security, the center's 150 multidisciplinary researchers work closely with industry and universities to develop applications for the nation's growing industrial and technological needs. The center is unique in its integrated approach to developing application solutions, and is a world leader in research and development of system software and information architecture, automated planning and programming, and sensor and model-based control for intelligent systems.

"We work in such diverse applications as manufacturing, materials handling, remediation of environmentally contaminated sites, and battlefield robots," said Pat Eicker, director of Intelligent Systems and Robotics at Sandia. "Our work in manufacturing and materials handling is intended to make robots and other machines cost-effective in less-than-mass-production operations. This is what our customers' needs demand."

In the area of industrial applications, Sandia has developed intelligent machines to carry out such diverse tasks as packaging, painting, chemical and physical characterization, cleaning, assembly, disassembly, soldering, explosive powder dispensing, and deburring/edge finishing.

The facility dedication will be coupled with a National Science Foundation/DOE National Needs Workshop on robotics (Oct. 28-30) that will bring together industrial users, vendors and laboratory and university researchers from throughout the United States to identify barriers that impede progress in the development of robotics and intelligent machines. The workshop is sponsored by the Robotics and Intelligent Machines Coordinating Council, a joint committee of the Robotic Industries Association and the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. Workshop attendees will propose research and development agendas to overcome those barriers, and develop plans for the United States to become world leaders in the industry.

"This meeting will be a tremendous opportunity for industry to see Sandia's new robotics center, and to discover the significant advances in hardware and software being made there," said Phil Monnin, president and chief executive officer of Motoman Inc., one of the largest robot manufacturers in the United States. "A major portion of Sandia's developments have direct applications in industry."

Sandia's new robotics facility has significant equipment and staff resources available to industry, including two large gantry robots with extensive computer control environments, a simulation laboratory, a robotic edge-finishing laboratory, a telerobotics laboratory, and an all-terrain vehicular robot that is able to remotely locate, excavate, and remove unknown and potentially hazardous objects from a site using advanced sensor-based graphical-control technology.

Work with industry has included development of a robotic assembly system used for engine assembly on the space shuttle for Rocketdyne; an industrial crane control now used by DAMAS Corp. of Birmingham, Ala., that virtually eliminates payload sway; a computer tool that quickly designs fixtures and pallets for holding parts in place during manufacturing; and a computer-based Virtual Collaborative Engineering technology developed with Deneb Robotics, Inc., that allows engineers, technicians, and operators to collaborate from widely disparate locations on designs, simulations, and robotic operations.

Monnin, the scheduled keynote speaker at the dedication ceremony and president of the Robotic Industries Association, said the robotic needs workshop will give industry a chance to voice its needs to researchers. "This meeting will be an excellent opportunity for industry to tell the scientific community about new inventions and directions that need high-level scientific attention for future development," he said.

A white paper summarizing workshop discussion and accomplishments will be issued in late November.

Robotics and intelligent machines play a key role in the mission of Sandia, a DOE laboratory with broad-based research and development programs contributing to national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness. While they are vital components of nuclear defense work, they also are assuming a critical role for industry in the manufacture of everything from small electronic components, to clothing and automobiles. They also are needed to undertake hazardous tasks such as toxic-waste cleanup and military reconnaissance. And robotics will be playing an even greater role in future space and planetary exploration.

A field in which Sandia also is breaking new ground is microrobotics, which potentially will be used to manufacture micromachines, or to work in conjunction with micromachines in conducting everything from microsurgery on the eye, detecting explosives in a minefield, searching for survivors in the rubble aftermath of an earthquake, to manipulating red blood cells in the human body.

"Intelligent machines will terraform Mars, that is, they will be used in altering the planet's surface to support life," Eicker said. "They will make able the disabled, they will safeguard the peace, they will swim in the veins of our children's children performing molecular analysis and surgery as needed, and using their sensors and communication capabilities, they will carry us to foreign and hostile environments without our leaving home."

Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram Department of Energy laboratory, operated by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. With main facilities located in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has broad-based research and development programs contributing to national defense, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Photos available upon request

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin Company, for the United States Department of Energy.
Media contact:
Chris Miller, cmiller@sandia.gov (505) 844-5550

Technical contacts:
Pat Eicker, eicker@sandia.gov (505) 844-5827

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