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Educating the Global Robotics Engineer

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2013 ASEE International Forum


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 22, 2013

Start Date

June 22, 2013

End Date

June 22, 2013

Conference Session

Reception & Poster Session

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ASEE International Forum

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Page Numbers

21.20.1 - 21.20.6

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Paper Authors


Michael A. Gennert Worcester Polytechnic Institute Orcid 16x16

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Prof. Michael A. Gennert is Director of the Robotics Engineering Program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he is Professor of Computer Science and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He has worked at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester, MA, the University of California/Riverside, General Electric Ordnance Systems, Pittsfield, MA and PAR Technology Corporation, New Hartford, NY. He received the S.B. in Computer Science, S.B. in Electrical Engineering, and S.M. in Electrical Engineering in 1980 and the Sc.D. in Electrical Engineering in 1987 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Gennert is interested in Computer Vision, Image Processing, Scientific Databases, and Programming Languages, with ongoing projects in biomedical image processing, robotics, and stereo and motion vision. He is author or co-author of over 100 papers. He is a member of Sigma Xi, NDIA Robotics Division, and the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council Robotics Cluster, and a senior member of IEEE and ACM.

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Gretar Tryggvason University of Notre Dame Orcid 16x16

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Gretar Tryggvason is the Viola D. Hank Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Notre Dame. He moved from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he was the Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, in 2010. Tryggvason received his doctorate from Brown University in 1985 and spent a year as a postdoctoral researcher at the Courant Institute. After fifteen years as a professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics at the University of Michigan, he moved to WPI in 2000. He has also held short term visiting positions at Caltech, NASA Lewis Engineering Research Center, University of Marseilles, and University of Paris VI. Professor Tryggvason is well known for his research on numerical simulations of multiphase and free-surface flows, vortex flows, and flows with phase changes. He is an active member of several professional societies, a fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Computational Physics.

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Educating the Global Robotics EngineerRobotics Engineering as a distinct discipline is an idea whose time has come. Traditionally,engineers working in the robotics industry have been mostly trained in a single science orengineering discipline, such as computer science (CS), electrical and computer engineering(ECE), or mechanical engineering (ME). However, as an inherently multidisciplinary activity, nosingle discipline provides the breadth demanded by robotics in the future. Realizing this,universities are now starting to offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in robotics. World-wide, there are now approximately 10 undergraduate programs and an equal number of graduateprograms in robotics. Note that the intellectual basis for Robotics Engineering is integration – itis fundamentally a systems engineering major that is grounded in CS, ECE, and ME. As such, itis well-positioned to educate the “entrepreneurial/enterprising engineer” of the 21st century, theengineer who 1) knows everything, 2) can do anything, 3) collaborates, and 4) innovates.The entrepreneurial/enterprising engineer needs a global perspective: 1) able to access globalinformation sources, 2) perform in a global context, 3) collaborate with anyone anywhere, and 4)take innovative solutions to the world economy. The globalization of robotics brings severalimplications for robotics engineers. We list a few here. Manufacturing: Robots in manufacturing enables the migration of production away from low-wage locations to low-cost-to-move-materials-locations. Capabilities and cost are the big drivers, dominated by workforce availability (including engineers) and the costs of obtaining and transporting raw materials, energy, and transport to the consumer or other end-user. Consequently, one can expect manufacturing to locate nearer consumers and reduced off-shoring. Defense: Drones and other autonomous vehicles extend military presence to wherever they can be fielded, not restricted to where personnel can be deployed. Persistent tracking and privacy implications, national sovereignty, human-in-the-loop (or not!), and responsibility for inadvertent causalities are just a few of the issues raised. Telepresence: Telepresence robots are a growing market, allowing people to "be" anywhere anytime. Schoolchildren who are unable to physically attend classes due to illness may now attend virtually. Likewise, doctors may be able to virtually meet with patients who cannot travel to their offices. Surgical robots separate surgeon from patient, although the surgeon remains in the operating room. Future surgeons will operate from anywhere in the world, not necessarily the operating room or hospital.Thus, the globalization of robotics carries many potentially disruptive societal impacts.Destruction of existing jobs / creation of new jobs. Enhanced security / reduced individualliberty. Longer lifespan / quality of life. Telepresence / never quite being present. Because of thedisruptive potential of their craft, Robotics Engineers bear a special responsibility to humankind,embodied in a Code of Ethics for Robotics Engineers. We conclude that in addition to a broadand rigorous technological education, they must be well educated in economic, ethical, societal,and global issues.

Gennert, M. A., & Tryggvason, G. (2013, June), Educating the Global Robotics Engineer Paper presented at 2013 ASEE International Forum, Atlanta, Georgia.

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