Robotics Institute to offer new master of science degree

The Robotics Institute shows a prototype of its Lunar X Prize robot. (credit: Michael Kahn/Forum Editor ) The Robotics Institute shows a prototype of its Lunar X Prize robot. (credit: Michael Kahn/Forum Editor )

The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon is launching a new interdisciplinary program called the master of science in robotic systems development (MRSD). In addition to training in robotics technology, students will also be exposed to hands-on practice and business and management opportunities typically not offered within a traditional robotics degree.

Primarily developed by Hagen Schempf, who will be the director of the program, the MRSD will make students more competitive to businesses and industries not only in robotics, but in any field that requires mechanical, electrical, or software expertise. Examples of students who may participate include entry-level professionals or those with five to 10 years of experience in industry, as opposed to those seeking academia or research positions through a traditional degree.

“What I wanted to make sure we offered is the ability to offer a more targeted, industry-savvy graduate that does not just know technology but is also a very knowledgeable business and management individual that would be able to contribute from day one,” Schempf said.

To ensure education equality for students in the new master’s program with Carnegie Mellon’s existing graduate degrees, requirements will be consistent. Applicants will be expected to have comparable GRE and TOEFL scores, as if they were applying to the master of science in robotics. An estimate of 20 to 40 students are expected when MRSD begins accepting applications. Those admitted will experience a 16-month curriculum of 114 units with a mandatory seven-month internship at a Carnegie Mellon commercial or government partner. It is this required internship that sets apart the MRSD from others at schools such as Worchester Polytechnic Institute and MIT. It provides the students the opportunity to test their knowledge and form connections with potential employers.

“You will learn things that would take years to assimilate in an industrial setting. I don’t know of any other degree like this where we have a combination of theory of robotics as well as hands-on and a required internship with a company for whom you may possibly work,” Schempf said.

The strength of the program will draw from talented faculty in the Robotics Institute, the School of Computer Science, the Heinz College, and the Tepper School of Business. In addition to the required internship, core courses will be drawn from systems engineering; manipulation, mobility, and control; sensors and perception; and robot autonomy and networking.

Students will be required to take one business and one technical elective. One project course will involve lecture, laboratory, and team project components in current topics in robotics or automation. The other two-semester business, management, and technical mini-courses will prepare students to develop a technology development plan, or a company’s complete course of action for a new product. More details can be found on the Robotics Institute and MRSD webpages.

“By having a graduate program dedicated to training people in the multi-disciplinary, systems-oriented perspective that is the core of RI robotics, we believe that we will produce graduates that can understand the complete scope of a robotics project, from hardware to software to systems integration,” said Reid Simmons, Ph.D. chair for the Robotics Institute. “This will make them better designers, developers, and managers.”

At the completion of this degree, graduates will be prepared to use their skills in companies or to pursue their own interests and make an impact on a rapidly growing field.

“Robotics technologies are having an impact that lies beyond what people usually imagine. The businesses related to robotics are growing rapidly,” said Matthew Mason, the director of the Robotics Institute. A perfect example, he noted, is Mary Koes, an alumna who helped create new strollers with a juvenile products company called 4Moms.

Regardless of what direction its students pursue, the new MRSD degree is a groundbreaking step. “From personal experience, when I had a start-up, the kinds of individuals that we are going to be training and educating are hard to find. Many companies love to find these individuals,” Schempf said.