WPI Blazing a Path in Robotics Boom

June 03, 2013

Robotics is America's next hot industry, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has become one of the nation's leading players in collegiate-level robotics education, robotics K-12 outreach programs, and robotics research and development.

In 2007, Bill Gates wrote in Scientific American that the robotics industry was entering a period of explosive, exponential growth, similar to the PC boom of the mid-70s. Robotics are poised to change almost every aspect of our lives – in the places we work, in our healthcare, even in our homes. As a result, the U.S. Department of Labor projects the need for robotics engineers will grow dramatically over the next five years.


WPI was the first university in the nation to offer a BS in robotics engineering, was the first to offer BS, MS and PhD programs simultaneously, and is still one of a handful of institutions to offer both graduate and undergraduate programs.

Because no single discipline sufficiently provides the scope and range of knowledge that is being increasingly demanded of robotics engineers, WPI's undergraduate Robotics Engineering Program employs an interdisciplinary approach with the departments of Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering playing a key role in the education of tomorrow’s robotics engineer. The engineering components teach students how to build the body of a robot, while computer science focuses on how to control its behavior.

WPI graduate students apply this interdisciplinary approach to finding solutions in an almost limitless spectrum of fields, including medical technology, aerospace, artificial intelligence, language and speech, wireless communications, language and nanotechnology. 


WPI faculty and students are developing robots that can help surgeons operate inside an MRI scanner, help the elderly continue to live in their own homes, and work in disaster areas too dangerous for people, as well as "soft robotics" that make robots more flexible and adaptable. Several projects focus on robotic intelligence, including the development of robots that "learn" from their interactions with humans. Professors and students developed a search-and-rescue robot that can identify and help save emergency first responders who are in danger, and are studying the ethical and social implications of robots in the home and the workplace. And students and faculty in Robotics Engineering are working on robots that will aid in the diagnosis and treatment of autism.


As part of WPI's overall mission to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education at all grade levels, WPI's Robotics Resource Center has played a leading role in exposing K-12 students to robotics, inspiring enthusiasm in STEM learning and providing hands-on opportunities for students to apply what they learn.

WPI faculty and students have played a leadership role in the development and expansion of FIRST Robotics Competitions, a nationwide program of robotics competitions involving thousands of junior high and high school students in hundreds of competitions every year.