Worcester Polytechnic Institute to Offer Master’s Program in Robotics Engineering

University That Launched the Nation’s First Bachelor’s Degree in the Field Expands Offerings to Meet the Demands of One of the Fastest Growing Areas of Technology
Media Contact
March 16, 2009

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WORCESTER, Mass.– March 16, 2009 – Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), which in 2006 established the nation’s first bachelor’s degree program in robotics engineering, has announced that it will also offer a master of science degree in the field starting this fall, thus becoming the only university in the nation with both undergraduate and graduate programs in robotics engineering.

"Robots are already transforming fields as diverse as medicine, manufacturing, and battlefield surveillance," said John A. Orr, WPI’s provost and senior vice president, "and they promise to become ubiquitous in virtually all areas of daily life in the years ahead. As we move from the age of automation to the age of robotics, we will see a tremendous demand for graduates who understand all aspect of robotic design and control—particularly in Massachusetts, which is emerging as the epicenter of the robotics industry.

"WPI’s interdisciplinary approach to robotics engineering education prepares students for leadership in the robotics industry and research labs by providing a firm grounding in the fundamentals of computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering, as well as the management and systems contexts in which robotic technology is developed and marketed. This is an approach we pioneered with our groundbreaking undergraduate robotics engineering program. The addition of a master’s degree extends our position as a national leader in robotics education."

Students completing an MS program in robotics engineering will complete 36 credit hours of work along with either a thesis or a capstone design project. The faculty will come from the Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering departments. In all, the more than 30 associated faculty and staff members will contribute their expertise.

The program will benefit from the guidance of WPI’s Robotics Engineering Advisory Board, which consists of representatives of several leading robotics companies, several of which are in Massachusetts. The state boasts more than 150 companies, institutions, and research labs in the field, employing more than 150,000 people. Board members include Helen Greiner, founder of iRobot Corp. in Burlington, Mass., maker of the popular Roomba floor-cleaning robots; David Kelley, president of Bluefin Robotics in Cambridge, Mass., developer of robotic undersea vehicles; Scott Myers, senior vice president of business development for the Technology Solutions Group of QinetiQ North America in McLean, Va., developer of TALON robots used by the military for explosive ordnance disposal, reconnaissance, and communications; and Dean Kamen ’73, noted inventor and founder and president of DEKA Research and Development Corp. in Manchester, N.H.Kamen is also founder of FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the international robotics competition that involves students from middle- to high school. WPI has sponsored a team in the FIRST high school completion since 1992, and currently sponsors teams at the Massachusetts Academy of Mathematics and Science at WPI and Burncoat High School in Worcester. These sponsorships are one facet of the university’s extensive involvement in FIRST and  robotics outreach at the K-12 level:

  • WPI has sponsored several high-profile robotics competitions over the past 15 years, including three major competitions that engage well over 1,200 local and regional elementary-, middle-, and high school students.
  • In addition to competitions, WPI faculty, staff, and students conduct robotics demonstrations at 70 schools and organizations throughout the region and work with K-12 schools on curriculum development and other robotics outreach programs.
  • In 2008 WPI staff developed a software library that is an integral element of a new control system now being used by all teams participating in the FIRST high school competition.Since 2006 WPI has hosted the FIRST Robotics Resource Center website (first.wpi.edu), a centralized source of information for teams around the world participating in all FIRST competitions.
  • Thinktank, a new social networking site for FIRST teams, was developed at WPI.

This fall, WPI will debut a new national university-level robotics competition for undergraduate and graduate students. Called the Robotics Innovations Competition and Conference (RICC) and supported with a grant from the National Science Foundation, the Nov. 7-8, 2009, competition will challenge students to engineer innovative robotic solutions that improve the quality of life.