The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor announced the school’s board of regents has approved the creation of a new Department of Robotics, which the university claims is a first among the nation’s top 10 engineering schools.
“With this bold step forward, we are poised to lead the field in robotics, addressing the nation’s growing demand for roboticists with graduates equipped to design equity-centered solutions to society’s challenges,” says Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic dean of engineering at U-M.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the annual demand for qualified robotics professionals grew by more than 13 percent in 2018. The global industrial and service robotics markets are expected to grow by more than 20 percent year-over-year, reaching a total market of $310 billion by 2025.
“This is an inflection point for the field of robotics and Michigan’s role in its future,” says Jessy Grizzle, director of the U-M Robotics Institute. “We will leverage the resources of a dedicated department to accelerate our work in building smart machines that serve society and respect humanity—everything from safe industrial robots and bipedal humanoids to inclusive prosthetics and automated vehicles. Our roboticists put people, rather than technology, first. We call it robotics with respect.”
The new department will take shape from the existing U-M Robotics Institute, adding more capacity and resources for students and faculty to move the field of robotics forward. As of now, the Robotics Institute has 30 core faculty members that span 14 departments and 42 affiliate faculty from fields as diverse as architecture and anthropology.
Housed in the recently completed $75 million, 134,000-square-foot Ford Motor Co. Robotics Building, the institute currently runs a graduate program, with its first students matriculating in 2014. More than 200 master’s and doctoral students are now enrolled.
“Leveraging the university’s strength across breadth, the new robotics department will truly transform the field, while serving our students, supporting our faculty and enhancing the cutting-edge research that is a hallmark of our university,” says Susan Collins, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at U-M.
Pilot undergraduate courses in robotics began last year, offering first-year topics such as computational linear algebra, robotic mechanisms, and introduction to programming and artificial intelligence.
The course developers are partnering with institutions, including Morehouse College, that serve communities that are historically excluded from technology. Through these partnerships, students participate in a multi-university community through courses developed collaboratively with U-M.