By Rick Sobey
LOWELL -- UMass Lowell, home to one of the most advanced robotics-testing centers in the nation, will be a partner in a $250 million robotics institute -- with the goal of producing new technologies and opportunities for workers in advanced manufacturing.
Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that Massachusetts will be a partner in the nation's first manufacturing innovation institute in manufacturing robotics.
Massachusetts will anchor the northeastern node for the project, which will be known as the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute (ARM). The ARM Institute will be led regionally by UMass Lowell, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Northeastern University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the nonprofit robotics innovation hub MassRobotics.
"This is a really exciting initiative that will bring together a number of universities and companies across the U.S.," said Holly Yanco, a UMass Lowell professor in the computer science department, and also the director of the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) Center.
"Hopefully, this will bring back a lot of manufacturing to the country," she added.
The ARM Institute will focus on robots capable of interacting with humans on manufacturing floors, and learning new manufacturing processes. The work of the manufacturing innovation institute should make these robots easier to program and deploy.
Research conducted under the ARM Institute will develop technologies enabling human-to-robot and robot-to-robot collaboration.
"Let's say a person is doing a job, and they want the robot to hold the parts in a particular way," Yanco said. "The person will work hand-in-hand with the robot on the manufacturing floor. The robot will work right there without injuring the person."
The $250 million robotics institute is a national public-private partnership awarded through Manufacturing USA, a federally-authorized network of manufacturing innovation institutes. Federal matching funds for the manufacturing innovation institute will be provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Yanco attended last week's award ceremony at the Pentagon.
"It was really quite the experience," she said. "Being there in the Pentagon was very humbling."
Massachusetts is supporting ARM's collaborative research and development work with $5 million in matching funds. The state's matching contribution leverages $80 million in federal funds, awarded to the national project, and additional matching funds from private sector participants.
"Massachusetts' strong participation in the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute further cements the Commonwealth's national leadership in the development and commercialization of new advanced manufacturing technologies," Baker said in a statement.
"Our administration is committing significant matching funds to manufacturing innovation institutes, harnessing new technologies to build the nation's strongest, most diverse advanced manufacturing sector," he added. "Through this work, and the partnership of Massachusetts research institutions and employers, we will build a prosperous, highly-skilled manufacturing workforce, and create jobs across Massachusetts."
In addition to the NERVE Center, UMass Lowell is home to Valkyrie, one of only three NASA humanoid robots of its kind in the world.
"We are proud to bring these resources and expertise, along with our excellence in advanced manufacturing research, to the nation's first manufacturing innovation institute focused on robotics," UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney said in a statement. "This field holds tremendous promise for the economy and the creation of jobs for skilled workers in the Commonwealth and beyond."