The University of California, San Diego has announced plans to start a Contextual Robotics Institute, bringing together top academics from its schools of engineering and social science.

With the institute, the university hopes to design machines that function better with, and act friendlier toward, human beings.

The goal is to make robotic systems that function in the real world based on the contextual information they perceive, in real time.

The institute could help make San Diego a leader in robotics, the university said in a statement.

Already, companies such as privately held General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC) have teams working on systems that help aircraft fly autonomously and avoid obstacles. Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) has a strong interest in robotics, as do a number of small and midsized companies.

In future decades, university officials said, robots might go to work in elder care and assisted living, disaster response, medicine, transportation and environmental sensing.

“This is an extremely exciting time for robotics researchers,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, whose academic specialty is robotics. “Many robotics subfields have seen incredible advances in the last few years. The time is right for UC San Diego to step up and take a leadership role in the future of robotics.”

“We are seeking to enhance collaboration between scientists from different fields so that the next generation of machines we build are machines that humans can use better,” said Carol Padden, UC San Diego’s dean of social sciences. “What social scientists bring to the enterprise is a deep understanding of humans — our behavior and brains, and our emotional and social needs. Social scientists also investigate the public space and cultural infrastructure. By designing more responsive robots that are compatible with humans and in sync with social practices, we can build machines to serve humanity.”

More than 40 UC San Diego professors and research scientists have elected to be a part of the Contextual Robotics Institute at its launch, the university said.

The university will conduct a national search for the institute’s first director.

The new institute will build on what UC San Diego calls its strong research programs in core robot technologies. These include computer vision, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, electronic actuators, dynamic controls, materials, nano- and micro-machines, sensors and sensing, controls systems, chips, wireless communications, new materials, biomimetics, batteries and power management.