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Carl Wernicke: IHMC Reminds Us That Local Can Be World Class


The outstanding performance this past weekend by the robotics team 
from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition certainly comes as 
no surprise to anyone who has followed the institute's work. The team 
finished second overall in the international DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Robotics Challenge, 
and first among all teams using the Atlas robot, built by a company 
recently purchased by Google.

My reaction to it is that IHMC is the most visible example we have that 
there is no reason why people and companies in Pensacola can't 
compete at the highest levels of accomplishment. During my years at the 
News Journal I regularly complained to just about anyone who would 
listen that Pensacolians, including local elected officials, just didn't 
realize what we had in IHMC. In some ways I think that remains true. 
Still, in recent years IHMC has become more visible, largely due to the 
accomplishments, and the accompanying videos, of its robotics team. 
But more quietly, IHMC researchers continue to do groundbreaking, 
world-class research on a wide variety of complex topics.

When I went to work at IHMC writing its newsletter, I warned everyone 
there that I was an old journalist, not a scientist. The point was that I 
would be writing about extremely complex technical subjects that I 
knew little or nothing about. I have always read widely, including on 
science, space, technology and medicine, and consider myself well- grounded for a layman. But at IHMC I quickly realized that pretending to 
know what the hell they were talking about would expose me as a 

My general approach to a newsletter article at IHMC was to study up on 
the subject with material provided by the scientist working on it, record the interview, transcribe the recording myself, write the article and then 
humbly submit it to the scientist in hopes that I had not botched the 
science too badly. They would always kindly straighten out the kinks 
and, to use a favorite word at IHMC, we would 'iterate' until we had an 
accurate article.

No question, it is the people at IHMC that make it go, with a higher level 
of general brilliance than any place I have ever been. Sometimes for fun I would copy someone's resume and email it to my wife with a comment 
like, can you believe this. You can do it yourself by clicking on the People 
page on the IHMC website, where the combination of advanced degrees 
from the world's greatest universities and esoteric research topics will 
have you realizing you should have shown more respect to the nerds in 
your junior high school science class.
But it's also instructive to see how many IHMC researchers have 
degrees from the University of West Florida, including Ken Ford, the 
institute's founder and director, who is himself a world-class scientist 
and administrator, with deep ties to top-level agencies like NASA and 
the National Science Foundation. Ford got his systems science degree at 
UWF, which tells you that opportunity lies where you find it.

Anyway, I just wanted to add my congratulations to IHMC's latest 
robotics triumph. And as the new IHMC research facility rises from the 
ground on Romana Street downtown, it should serve as a very visible 
symbol for what Pensacola can accomplish.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.