Education General Education — 06 June 2011

You Want To Study Robotics. They Want The Brightest Minds.

Now What? Don’t Worry. We’ve Got You Covered.

If you are a reader of this magazine you love robotics. If youve landed on this page, chances may well be you are interested in furthering your knowledge of robotics through intense higher learning at a top university. However, selecting a university can be a daunting taskespecially in a discipline that is evolving at a rapid pace and in which areas of expertise are constantly expanding into new arenas.

CHARLI, a walking full size bipedal robot designed at RoMeLa at Virginia Techthe first such in the United States.

Never before has there been so much opportunity to get exposure in the field and never before has the need for researchand talentbeen greater. Robot predicts it is only going to become more pronounced in the coming decade as advancements in engineering, artificial intelligence and computer science find their way into domestic appliances, industry applications, military vehicles and health care solutions at an ever growing pace.

Leading the way in those developments will be the top universities wrestling with the challenges of how to bring ideas from conception to reality. Indeed, many of the universities featured in this article and in the included chart have toiled for decades on the fundamental problems in robotics to bring us to where we are today. The next generation of our brightest students, working with our best educators (an incredible combination), are now in a position to fulfill the dream of a Robolution.

We have compiled a list of schools that either have dedicated degree programs for robotics or that offer a high concentration of robotics within their computer science and/ or mechanical engineering degree programs. The list is by no means definitive and we intend to add to it over time at www.botmag.com. We more than welcome your suggestions for additional schools that should be included. Please note that the chart included in this article is a subset of the information we have posted online; visit botmag.com for more details, contact names, email addresses and more.

In building this list, we started with the usual suspects and then augmented the core list by speaking with industry experts, obtaining public information on university-level robotics research, and applying our own screens. We cross referenced robotics programs involving universities. Programs we looked at included the DARPA Urban Challenge, Willow Garages PR-2 loaner program and NASA projects that involve school partners. We also ran a brief survey and trawled dozens of university web sites for key details. We called as many as we could reach within the constraints of our editorial deadline, and so we are presenting a work in progress.

The Crusher military transport robot, a Carnegie Mellon icon, was designed at CMUs National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC).

INSIGHTS

One of the things we quickly learned was that undergraduate robotic degrees are scarce. Worcester Polytechnic Institute was the first to offer a dedicated undergraduate robotics program and is among only a very few universities to do so. This is not a shortcoming of the university system, but a characteristic of what lies at the core of robotics studiesmainly an understanding of math, physics, biology, engineering, computer science and/or design before one is truly prepared to dive into a serious robotics program.

Robotics in education is similar to medicine at the undergraduate level where a student must first gain a foundation in biology, anatomy, chemistry and natural sciences. It isnt until the graduate level that the real concentration on medicine begins. This is not to say the foundation of multidisciplinary learning and research does not happen at the undergraduate level. Yet specialized robot degree programs usually await those ready to tackle graduate, masters and PhD level academic work.

Is this a snake, millipede or muli-segmented robot? From the University of Michigan Mobile Robotics Lab.

Another observation we made was that robots are increasingly being used in fields of discipline that one wouldnt normally associate with robotics. It used to be an unwritten rule that the science and arts departments kept to their own sides of the university quad. But no longer. As roboticists look to make their robots more sociable and appealing, and especially when they must avoid traipsing into the uncanny valley (e.g., when humanoids become so realistic they violate our sensibilities) then roboticists must turn to artists. And as the art world looks for more interactive exhibits they are turning to their engineering pals. And then there are those hybrid researchers that are at home in both departments.

When Aldebaran-Robotics wanted to make their Nao robotic aesthetically appealing they turned to the well-known Paris design school Creapole. Aldebaran Robotics isnt the only robot company to realize that if their robots cannot connect with people on a basic, visual level, they may not be able to connect at all. Robotics needs artists and designers as well as programmers and engineers.

So we can expect robots to be used more in dance choreography, music, art exhibits and even theatrical performances. Among our favorite robots in this area is Shimon, a jazz playing robot created by Georgia Institute of Technologys Center for Music Technology (the subject of a separate feature story this issue).

An early version of the famous uBot series developed at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. This humanoid utilizes Microsoft Robotics Studio.

SOCIAL SCIENCES

In the social sciences, we found that robots are being used in groundbreaking research in the fields of psychology, philosophy and medicine. Robots are not just used in surgery but also in arenas of social interactionfrom in-home assistive care to the treatment of autism. At the University of Connecticut, Susan Anderson, professor emeritus of philosophy, and her husband Michael Anderson, associate professor of computer science, University of Hartford, are working on robots that can make ethical decisions. Similarly, James Juola, a professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, is tackling how robots can work with the elderly.

Last but certainly not least are competitions and sports robotics, and at the top of the list are the universities involved in the RoboCup. This global competition has attracted top-tier U.S. schools such as The University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University and The University of Texas.

Just below, Ill touch on a few of the major robotics programs at a handful of our great universities. Please visit www.botmag.com to access similar information on all of the universities listed in our chart. This discussion is only a small sample owing to space limitations.

Heather Knight, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon who conducted the first full campus robot census, poses with some Carnegie Mellon-based bots. Heather plans to survey robots at other campuses and invites volunteer project leaders at other campuses to contact her through her website (Google Heather Knight robot) or email heatherbot@cmu.edu.

CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY

Perhaps no other school of higher learning is as synonymous with robotics as Carnegie Mellon University, with its multiple engineering and computer science divisions. Since its founding in 1979, the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute has been leading the world in integrating robotics technologies into everyday life. The Robotics Institute is a worldwide hub of robotics research that encompasses a diverse array of topics. While much of the research focuses on core robotics technologies like manipulation, locomotion, and control, it also focuses on related research areas, including machine learning, computer vision, and graphics.

CMU boasts the largest full-time faculty staff devoted to robotics with 50 members and a recent Robot Census put together by PhD student Heather Knight counted no less than 457 robots that in the last year lived and roamed the halls at the Pittsburgh university. Knight conducted the survey to in part provide some perspective to prospective students. How can you assess where you want to study robotics if you dont know what robots they have, she is quoted as saying.

Further, The CMU National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) has created imposing robots for the military, such as the six-wheeled, six-ton combat vehicle Crusher and its nine-ton sibling the Autonomous Platform Demonstrator (APD) that can traverse formidable terrain and travel 50 mph. Even though the Robotics Institute works on everything from military to health care to experimental robots, it still has a light side. It fielded a team in the RoboCups standard platform league called CMurfs. CMU Professor Manuela Veloso, presidentelect of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, is also president of the international RoboCup Federation.

The success of CMUs Robotics Institute has given rise to a robot cluster around the former Steel City, revitalizing the citys prospects. Many alumni have gone on to establish robot companies including Aethon and Bossa Nova to name just two.

Also note the good work of the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy, directed by Robin Shoop, who has compiled the largest free online offering of middle and high school level robotics curriculum in existence. DARPA recently provided the Academy with a $7 million grant to fund the Academys FIRE program (Furthering Innovation through Robotics Exploration) that will infuse our schools with tools for learning robotics, and that will inspire new generations of computer science and engineering majors.

Shimon, the robot musician, invented at Georgia Tech.

GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

There are three major research groups using robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology: The Mobile Robot Laboratory, The Center for Music Technology and The Health Care Robotics Laboratory.

The Mobile Robot Laboratory’s charter is to discover and develop fundamental scientific principles and practices that are applicable to intelligent mobile robot systems. In addition, it is the goal of this laboratory to facilitate technology transfer of its research results to real world venues¡Xcompanies, schools and our society.

The Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology (GTCMT) provides a collaborative framework among Georgia Tech¡¦s College of Architecture, College of Computing, and College of Engineering for students, faculty, and researchers to apply their musical, technological, and scientific creativity to the development of innovative art and technology. The GTCMT created the first robot musicians Shimon & Haile under the direction of Dr. Gil Weinberg. Recently, it also purchased some Parallax BOE-Bots for new robotic musicianship projects!

The Healthcare Robotics Lab at Georgia Tech seeks to develop robots ¡§that improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare through innovations in autonomous robot manipulation and human-robot interaction.¡¨ The lab, directed by Charles C. Kemp, is part of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.

MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

The mission of the Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is to conduct cutting-edge, long-term research and education in robotics. Its research addresses fundamental problems in designing more capable robots and controlling them to interact intelligently with people, the environment and each other. Its research, basic and applied, inspires the development of novel course material aimed both at training students in robotics and at using robots to explore computation, sensing and control.

MIT has also been home to some heavyweights of the robot industry. Among them is Cynthia Breazeal, creator of Kismet (a social robot), Colin Angle, co-founder of iRobot Corporation and Rodney Brooks, robotics pioneer and author of ¡§Fast, Cheap and Out of Control.¡¨ The university is also home to the Center for Robotics; Personal Robotics Group and the Robot Locomotion Group. It is one of 11 universities to be given a Willow Garage PR2 for research.

VIRGINIA TECH (ROMELA)

The Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) at Virginia Tech is a facility for graduate and undergraduate robotics research and education with an emphasis on studying novel mobile robot locomotion strategies. Its research interests are in the area of robot locomotion and manipulation, kinematics and mechanisms, analysis, simulation, and design of mechanical systems. Most of RoMeLa¡¦s research projects are sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Lead by Dennis Hong, professor of mechanical engineering, the Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory is spearheading the creation of innovative robots including the first human-size humanoid robot created in the US: CHARLI. Other robots, among so many invented at RoMeLa, include STriDER, ImPASS, CLIMBER, MARS, Chimera, Raphael, Hydras & Darwin. Professor Hong believes in fostering creativity and a team process. In doing so, he has developed an environment where he likes to try new ideas and all ideas are listened to.

WORCESTER POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE (WPI)

WPI believes a robotics revolution is underway, and a new breed of engineers will be needed to face the challenges this exciting field presents. To meet the call, WPI was the first university to offer an undergraduate robotics degree and is the first (and still the only) university to offer a bachelor through Ph.D program in robotics (introduced in 2009).

The Robotics Engineering program at WPI prepares undergraduates for work and advanced study in robotics¡Xthe combination of sensing, computation and actuation in the real world. The degree programs are highly multi-disciplinary. Although supported by CS, ECE, and ME, it is hard to tell where the boundaries are in the program, and they like it that way. WPI tries hard to actively disrespect boundaries, for example, by team-teaching courses, and combining CS, ECE, and ME concepts in all robotics courses.

The PR2 from Willow Garagenearly a dozen of these are currently on loan to major U.S. universities to spur research.

 WPI sponsors a FIRST team at the Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Science and also organizes annual pre-season and post-season competitions on campus. There are over 30 faculty members associated with the program in some way. It boasts 242 undergraduate students and 13 graduate students.

UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: GRASP LAB

The General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory integrates computer science, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering in a vibrant, collaborative environment that fosters interactions between students, research staff and faculty. GRASP has grown into a $10 million research center with impressive technological innovations. Pioneering GRASP researchers are building autonomous vehicles and robots, developing self-configuring humanoids, and making robot swarms a reality. GRASP was also awarded a Willow Garage PR2 for research.

CONCLUSION

We hope this overview of robotics degrees has been informative and helpful, and we cannot emphasize strongly enough that the small sampling of universities with robotics programs cited here is only the very tip of the iceberg. Visit our online matrix http://find.botmag.com/031109 for more information, and email your input to editors@botmag.com!

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