This Partnerships for Innovation (PFI) project, Autonomous Robotic Rotorcraft for Exploration, Surveillance, and Transportation (ARREST), from the University of Pennsylvania will create a partnership among small-business entrepreneurs in small rotor-craft and sensors and robotics researchers at the University of Pennsylvania developing autonomous robots. The partnership will enable the translation of fundamental, federally-sponsored, research results into products with societal benefits and commercial impact by implementing a loosely structured, application-focused, "play-like sandbox" environment among its partners. The intellectual merit of this project is derived from four projects aimed at developing products/ technologies enabled by the cross-fertilization of technologies for robotics and Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAVs) and from the establishment of a sandbox to encourage exploration of potential applications and markets for technologies that are being, have been, or can be developed. New research contributions will include the development of small, autonomous micro aerial vehicles and the algorithms/software for sensing, perception, control and navigation without direct human command or intervention. Additionally, the partnership proposes innovation in doctoral education by adding a new dimension to student training to encourage "lateral and analogous thinking." It will consist of structured interactions with technology transfer specialists, inventors, and venture capitalists; collaborative research at the sites of the industrial partners; and new mechanisms for spurring innovation that includes an "inverted X-prize" competition called the "Y-prize," which focuses on the platform as the solution space (instead of as the problem space), thus fostering innovation by generating novel application ideas for using or adapting existing technological solutions and methodologies.
The broader impacts of the project are the new commercial applications and products that will be identified in collaboration with the knowledge-enhancement partners, and, in addition, the leveraging of already developed technologies to create these products. These products will be of direct use to end-users engaged in first response and also will provide incremental benefits to homeland security and to the military. The partnership will lead to the creation of a new robotics rotorcraft industry and help spawn a new generation of doctoral students, trained in the fundamentals with a depth that has come to be expected in top-notch doctoral programs, but also in the "lateral thinking" that is characteristic of agile, innovative small businesses. The partnership will establish a model for leveraging Department of Defense investment in basic research for dual-use applications and a framework for identifying and pursuing commercial applications that are not directly connected to security, first response, and defense applications.
Partners at the inception of the project include the Knowledge Enhancement Partnership (KEP) unit, consisting of the University of Pennsylvania (GRASP Robotics Laboratory); two small businesses: Dragon Pictures, Inc. (Essington, PA) and EmergentViews (San Francisco, CA); and a large private sector organization: Advanced Technologies Laboratory, Lockheed Martin Corporation. In addition, there are other core partners. These include public sector partners: the City of Philadelphia, and the Southeast Pennsylvania Ben Franklin Technology Partnership and their network of Angel and Venture Investors.