IHMC Founder Discusses Robots, Florida’s Innovation Economy

“This would have been science
fiction just a few years ago.”

Dr. Kenneth Ford, Founder & Director, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition

The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) located in Pensacola, is a non-profit research institute of the Florida University System, whose focus is to blend science and technology to extend human capabilities

“The systems that arise from the science and technology that we develop at IHMC is intended to fit the human and the machine components together in ways that exploit the relative strengths of each and mitigate the respective weaknesses of each,” explained Dr. Kenneth Ford, Founder and Director, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.

The latest example of this work is the recent Defense Advances Research Projects Agency (DARPA) World Robotics Challenge, in which IHMC placed second in the world and first among all U.S. teams. The competition, which spanned two years and involved three competition, included a dozen teams from the United States as well as 11 foreign teams from Japan, Germany, Italy, Korea and Hong Kong. The final,  which Dr. Ford says “would have been science fiction just a few years ago” was meant to simulate disaster areas that are too dangerous for humans to enter and involved the robot having to drive a car on its own, walk through rubble, use a handsaw, climb stairs and more.


“The motivation for this competition was in response to a humanitarian need that became glaringly clear at the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011,” said Dr. Ford. “Japan…is a world leader in robots and yet the robots were not able to function in Fukushima. The tools were designed for humans- the stairways and the ladders were designed for humans. And this really drove home the point that we needed to develop a robotic capability that could function in human environments….The goal was to accelerate progress in robotics and hasten the day when you could say that robots had sufficient dexterity, intelligence and even robustness to enter areas too dangerous for humans and to mitigate the impacts of natural or even manmade disasters…IHMC finished second overall with the perfect score successfully completing all the tasks and first among teams using the Atlas robot, which is a walking robot without wheels, and first among all US teams.”

But more than a tech and science hub, the IHMC is helping to diversify Florida’s economy by fostering innovations through partnerships. For instance, their newest location in Ocala, Florida is within close proximity to several research universities providing ample opportunity for collaboration. By attracting and retaining world-class talent, IHMC is helping create jobs, strengthen communities and is contributing to growing sectors like R&D.

“We serve as a talent magnet, actively drawing some of the best and brightest innovators in science and technology from around the world to Florida,” said Dr. Ford. “Toward that end it’s very important to us that we foster a work environment that provides the scientists and engineers the necessary tools and flexibility to successfully innovate. In short, we try to provide our colleagues a habitat for innovation…We are proud of our contribution to the redevelopment of downtown Pensacola…and we are strongly engaged with the community in Ocala as well. On top of the direct impact, our R&D deliverables directly translate into opportunities for clever and innovative business people as well as equity investors, to work with us and enjoy the technology transfer and commercialization possibilities.”

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