“Robotics and manufacturing are core to mechanical engineering. I want our department to contribute to this national initiative for robotics R&D, education and training.”
That’s Fathi Ghorbel, professor of mechanical engineering (MECH) and bioengineering (BioE), director of the Robotics and Intelligent Systems Lab, and one of the faculty members at Rice University participating in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)-sponsored Advanced Robotics Manufacturing (ARM) Innovation Hub.
Rice is among the 40 universities taking part in the institute based in Pittsburgh. Announced in January, it will be funded with $80 million from DoD and $173 million in matching funds from more than 200 participating partners.
“With recent advances in materials, computational intelligence and biomimicry, robotics research and development is poised to become a defining element of society. From manufacturing to medicine, heavy industry to households, robots will affect the way we interact with the world. Rice and the mechanical engineering department have been leaders in robotics research for years, and we look forward to partnering with the other institutions to advance the state of the art,” said Laura Schaefer, Burton J. and Ann M. McMurtry Professor and MECH department chair.
ARM is promoting the use of robotics in small and medium enterprises and in such manufacturing sectors as aerospace, automotive, electronics and textiles. Its 10-year goals include increasing worker productivity by 30 percent and creating 510,000 new U.S. manufacturing jobs.
“People still tend to think of robots as the machines that work on the automotive assembly lines, welding and tightening bolts. But robots are increasingly common in many parts of our lives, and soon we will be seeing more of them,” said Ghorbel, who has enlisted Schlumberger as a corporate partner in the effort.
Ghorbel is collaborating with researchers at Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Dallas to create a regional robotics innovation collaborative in Texas, one of the regional portals for ARM, and also identifying the robotics expertise among Rice faculty members.
“We are very strong in robot motion planning and control, haptics, sensors and networking, and artificial intelligence, which are important for collaborative robotics and rapid deployment of flexible robotic manufacturing. We want to identify the relationships our faculty members already have with industry,” Ghorbel said.
Rice participants in ARM include Lydia Kavraki, the Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science (CS) and professor of BioE; Mark Moll, senior research scientist in CS; Moshe Vardi, the Karen Ostrum George Distinguished Service Professor of Computational Engineering and a professor of CS; Swarat Chaudhuri, associate professor of CS; Ashok Veeraraghavan, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE); Marcia O’Malley, professor of MECH and of CS and ECE, and director of the Mechatronics and Haptic Interfaces Lab.