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.”

Florida Chamber Foundation Announces Chair of Innovation Research Report

The Florida Chamber Foundation and the Florida Research Consortium have partnered to develop a research report addressing the future of Florida’s innovation economy ecosystem. “Blueprint for an Innovation Economy in Florida” will assess the impact of expanding innovation activity on Florida’s economy and create a roadmap for state-level policy and investments.

J. Charles “Charlie” Gray, Chairman of the Board and Founding Director of GrayRobinson law firm, has been selected to serve as co-chair of the report. Gray will provide counsel and guidance on research activities and lead the rollout of the report, which is expected to be released in October 2015.

“Charlie Gray has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to improving Florida’s economy through innovation,” said Tony Carvajal, Executive Vice President of the Florida Chamber Foundation. “His history of success as a business and civic leader make him the perfect choice for co-chairing this report.”

As a business-led, solutions development and research organization dedicated to securing Florida’s future, the Florida Chamber Foundation has had a long and successful history of partnering on a number of important studies such as “Florida Trade & Logistics Study 2.0,” “Closing the Talent Gap” and others. “Blueprint for an Innovation Economy in Florida” will be a vital component of the Chamber Foundation’s upcoming Cornerstone 2030 strategic plan to shape Florida’s future economy.

“I am honored to be a part of this important project,” said Gray. “This report will provide recommendations on how to expand Florida’s innovation economy and propel our state’s investment in advanced technology research.”

We invite leaders in the fields of business, technology, venture capital and education to join us in our effort to improve Florida’s innovation economy. If you are interested in contributing your expertise or support, please contact jparrish@flfoundation.org.

Did You Know STEM Skills and Florida’s Innovation Economy

Did you know? Since 2010, Florida’s labor demand in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields has increased by more than 63 percent. Currently, there are more than 55,000 unfilled STEM jobs in Florida. That demand is felt throughout the state, including within the growing $5 billion modeling, simulation and training industry.

Securing Florida’s future prosperity is tied to our ability to fill high-wage jobs. This means Florida must do a better job of meeting the demands of a 21st century economy, where STEM-related jobs are likely to be among the most prominent.

While job growth through 2021 will be about 12 percent, data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity shows STEM discipline growth projections at more than double that. If Florida does not possess a robust talent pipeline in STEM fields, job creators will be forced to move elsewhere to recruit highly-skilled talent.

The Bottom Line – Florida Needs to be Ready.

So, where do we stand? While Florida’s fourth grade reading scores are second in the world only to Hong Kong, our state still faces an emerging talent gap – a crisis in human capital that represents a vast, growing and unmet need for a highly skilled and educated workforce. Consider the facts:

Why should Floridians care? Our state’s ability to remain competitive, and thus provide greater opportunities for families, relies on our ability to diversify the economy. To diversify our economy, we must close the talent gap and prepare students now for the STEM-related jobs of the 21st century.

Florida is already feeling the repercussions of a talent supply gap – including in our state’s $5 billion modeling, simulation and training industry (MS&T). Central Florida, the epicenter of the United States MS&T industry, employs more than 60,000 Floridians. This industry provides much needed technology to support our military and defense industry, and has grown steadily even in a sluggish economy. The industry is heavily reliant upon employees with STEM-related skills.

“The STEM skills gap is both a real challenge and a real opportunity for Florida,” said Waymon Armstrong, CEO of Engineering and Computer Simulations in Orlando.“ Just for the MS&T industry in Central Florida, STEM skills are a main element of $5 billion in economic activity. Our industry is affected by federal sequestration, defense department cuts, and budget spending cycles. The STEM skills gap is an additional challenge and one Florida should address proactively. A recent US Census Bureau study revealed that 74 percent of STEM graduates are not employed in STEM occupations. This presents a real opportunity for Florida to stake its claim as a global leader in STEM talent pipelines. We have high-wage jobs right here, and need the talent pipeline to fill them. Florida has made progress, but there is still a long way to go in this endeavor. How we close the gap on science and math scores will make Florida’s modeling, simulation and training industry more likely to continue its status as a Florida economic engine. Exposing students to science and math in new and exciting ways, rigorous standards in our educational systems, and ensuring the highest quality teachers are delivering content in the STEM subjects will be vital to continuing our progress.”

Here are Three Ways You Can Help

  1. Register to attend the Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2014 Military, Defense and Veterans Opportunities Summit in Orlando on August 13. Thomas L. Baptiste, Lt Gen, USAF (Ret), President & CEO, National Center for Simulation and other keynote speakers will outline how industry, academia and smart government have helped this cluster develop and grow and will discuss opportunities for future growth.
  2. Join us at the 2014 Future of Florida Forum, September 29 – October 1. Join state business leaders, industry experts and elected officials as they discuss and explore how to secure Florida’s future, together. This year’s program features top level executives from several state agencies and identifying connection points and partnerships that will make Florida the state with vibrant communities, high-wage jobs and endless opportunities for global competitiveness. Register today and be a part of the conversations that will help Florida stand out as the best state to live, learn, work and raise a family.
  3. Become a Florida Chamber Foundation Trustee and help provide strategic direction for Florida’s future, to 2030 and beyond. For more information, contact Sal Nuzzo at 850-521-1283 or SNuzzo@FLFoundation.org.



Tell Us Your Story

How does your business benefit from STEM-related skills? How can we help build Florida’s high-skilled future? Share your Florida story with us.




About the Florida Scorecard Did You Know:

The Florida Scorecard, located at www.TheFloridaScorecard.com, presents metrics across Florida’s economy. Each week, the Florida Chamber Foundation produces a Scorecard Did You Know that takes an in-depth look at one specific statistic. If you would like additional information on the Weekly Scorecard Did You Know or on the Florida Scorecard, please contact Sal Nuzzo with the Florida Chamber Foundation at 850.521.1283 or snuzzo@flfoundation.org. You can also follow Sal on Twitter at @SalNuzzo and the Florida Chamber Foundation at @FLChamberFDN.