University of Michigan Board of Regents approve new Department of Robotics

A Mini-Cheetah robot at The University of Michigan. (Robert Coelius)

ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan Board of Regents has voted in favor of the creation of a new Department of Robotics.

It is the first move of its kind by a top 10 national engineering school and the new department will designate a robotics curriculum.

Robotics is a rapidly growing field and in 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that demand grew by more than 13% for qualified robotics specialists. By 2025, the service robotics and global industrial markets are expected to reach $310 billion.

“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,” Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering said in a release.

Often falling under computer science and mechanical engineering disciplines, there have been more conversations at engineering schools across the country around whether robotics deserves its own discipline.

Members of the U-M Robotics Institute pose for a photo at UMMA. (Credit: Mark Gjukich | Courtesy the University of Michigan Museum of Art)

“This is an inflection point for the field of robotics and Michigan’s role in its future,” Jessy Grizzle, director of the U-M Robotics Institute and the Elmer G. Gilbert Distinguished University Professor of Engineering said in a release.

“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 U-M Robotics Institute will be home to the new department, which will receive more student and faculty resources and capacity as the field develops. Currently, the Robotics Institute boasts 14 departments with 30 core faculty and 42 affiliate faculty from fields across the university.

Digit, a bipedal robot, is tested in the Ronald D. And Regina C. McNeil Walking Robotics Laboratory in the Ford Robotics Building at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI. Robots are tested in a variety of situations to allow for a variety of bipedal and quadrupedal robots to function in various environments. (Joseph Xu)

“The new Department of Robotics will allow Michigan to recruit outstanding experts on the leading edge of robotics research and development, train the next generation of roboticists, and have a broad impact on the state of Michigan and beyond,” U-M President Mark Schlissel said in a statement. “The creation of this department advances U-M’s ability to unlock new dimensions of human potential through innovations in robotics.”

The university recently completed the Ford Motor Company Robotics Building on North Campus. The 134,000-square-foot facility cost $75 million and currently houses a graduate program with more than 200 doctoral and master’s students enrolled.

An aerial view of the Ford Robotics Building at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Levi Hutmacher/University of Michigan Engineering, Communications and Marketing)

“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,” Susan Collins, U-M provost and executive vice president for academic affairs said in a release.

The new department will develop a four-year undergraduate degree and over the next three to five years will hire 15 additional robotics experts.

“As we design our new undergraduate curriculum, Michigan has the unique opportunity to define the discipline of robotics with a priority on both equity and excellence,” Chad Jenkins, associate director of the undergraduate program and professor of electrical engineering and computer science said in a release. “Through its leadership in robotics, Michigan is well poised to cultivate the leaders, innovators and contributors who will tackle the needs of the 21st century.”

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.