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UMass Lowell Now Offers Robotics Minor

Program Will Help Students Prepare for High-Tech Jobs

Mechanical engineering graduate student Erin Rapacki conducted her research at Prof. Holly Yanco’s Robotics Lab in the Computer Science Department. Rapacki now works at Anybots, a robotics company based in Mountain View, Calif.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Starting this fall, UMass Lowell is offering a robotics minor. This interdisciplinary program is offered within three of the University’s undergraduate-degree programs, namely Computer Science (CS), Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and Mechanical Engineering (ME).

“There is considerable demand in industry for individuals with an expertise in robotics,” says CS Assoc. Prof. Fred Martin. “This includes regional robotics firms, such as iRobot, Foster-Miller and Segway, and companies that focus on defense and homeland-security applications, law enforcement, environmental monitoring, industrial manufacturing, biotechnology equipment, medical devices and consumer products.”

According to a report released by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council in 2009, more than 80 robotics companies have their headquarters in the Commonwealth and, with the industry’s 47 percent average annual growth rate, they are projected to add more jobs. The report estimates that 70 percent of the companies plan to hire in the next year or two, with 90 percent of all hires coming from local manpower.

“One of the main advantages of the robotics minor is that we recruit new students into our departments who are interested in our established disciplinary majors and robotics, and allow them to do both,” says Martin. “The robotics minor extends and deepens the students’ disciplinary knowledge ߞ; by illustrating how it applies to the robotics field ߞ; and all students take a core set of robotics courses that span the three majors. So students get the best of both worlds: a disciplinary degree plus specialized knowledge.”

Students who enroll in the program will first learn the fundamentals of mechanical engineering related to forces and motion (statics and dynamics), computer science (programming, including problem representation) and computer engineering (logic design and microprocessors). This is followed by two upper-level robotics courses: Mobile Robots I and Dynamics of Robot Manipulators. Finally, students can choose one or more elective courses, including Advanced Mobile Robots and Mechatronics.

But the robotics minor is not limited only to CS, ECE and ME majors.

“Students from any appropriate science or engineering major are eligible to enroll in the program,” Martin says. “It provides them with a true interdisciplinary program in robotics while allowing them to receive an undergraduate degree in the major of their choice.”

In addition to Martin, other faculty members involved include Profs. George Cheney (ECE), Robert Parkin (ME), John McKelliget (ME), Holly Yanco (CS), and Craig Armiento and Yan Luo (ECE).

“Massachusetts is one of three national regions that have concentrations in robotics industry and research; the others are Northern California and Pittsburgh,” says Martin. “It is a significant and growing part of the high-tech sector here in the Northeast. Everyone expects robotics to be a growing field, and here in the Commonwealth we are national leaders, both in education and industry.”

UMass Lowell is one of 10 universities across the state with robotics research laboratories. The others are Boston University, Brandeis, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, Olin College of Engineering, Tufts, UMass Amherst and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

“UMass Lowell is recognized nationally for its robotics research,” says Martin.

For more information, contact or 978-934-1964.