The university’s robotics program was the first of its kind in the state, and it hopes to pave the way for a newly skilled workforce.
Last year, Plymouth State University in New Hampshire became the first institute of higher education in the state to create a dedicated bachelor’s degree program in robotics. Now, the school has received $1 million in federal funds to build lab space, expand the training available to students learning about collaborative robots, or “cobots,” as well as learning about both the operation and design of robotic operating systems.
The university has set its sights on creating a new workforce with specialized knowledge in robotics and next generation technologies. IoT World Today spoke with faculty member Brett Kolakovic, university president Don Burks, and robotics student Jacob Reichenthal about the school’s robotics program and how the funding is being used.
As robotics and automation technologies become increasingly common in warehouses, factories, and stores, the demand for a skilled workforce to create, maintain, and work with these devices is growing—a demand that companies are still adapting to. For Birx, the decision to create a robotics course and begin training people at the university level was motivated by the knowledge that they would create the workforce of the future.
“New Hampshire used to be one of the leading industrial states in the United States,” Birx said. “When we thought about advancing the university, the question was how can we create an engineering program geared to the 21st century?”
“We jumped into electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science as core skills for robotics because it embodies all of these concepts,” he said. “We believed that if we could create a robotics program, we would provide a great service not only to our students but to society as a whole.”
The course combines theoretical and practical aspects of designing and deploying robots, training students on how to not only operate these tools but also design the systems themselves, including microcontrollers, sensors and artificial intelligence. To adequately train students in this range of techniques, a complete set of equipment is required.
The federal funding, which the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) committed in October, is slated to go toward filling the robotics lab with state-of-the-art equipment including 3D printing, laser cutting, milling, and computer numerical control workstations. Additional workstations will run robot operating systems (ROS) and ROS Visualization, as well as cobots from FANUC, the world’s largest manufacturer of industrial robots.
“Getting the equipment in the hands of the students is critical,” Kolakovic said. “Being able to do a job before being hired is a necessary part of becoming an asset to any company, so we’re looking to add a level of expertise that’s really out of reach of the public. Giving students access to FANUC’s wide range of equipment opens them up to all kinds of The doors all the way from programming, maintenance, or even the operator’s point of view.”
“We’re targeting a unified approach to the operational and theoretical parts of robotics and bringing them together into an application, and that’s where the huge need lies in the next 20 to 30 years,” Birx said. “It is becoming increasingly clear that robotics in various applications will be critical to doing anything in both the technological and non-technological worlds.”
Construction and outfitting of the new robotics lab began in October, and the lab is expected to be fully completed by the fall of 2023.
The need for a new workforce
According to FANUC projections, there is set to have a robotic workforce shortage of 1 million people by 2027 due to a lack of necessary skills, with New Hampshire alone reporting 200 robotics-related vacancies in the past few months and 4,000 in New England the need is there, but the creation of This new skill set is still a work in progress.
“If we do a job search now, we will find 100 robotics jobs within a 200-kilometre radius,” Kolakovic said. The idea of imperfection is already showing itself. The Internet of Things, physical computing, and robotics are becoming a more pervasive part of people’s lives and we need to have our next generation workforce able to move across this space.”
One example in New Hampshire is the growing investigation of artificial organs in the southern part of the state, with researchers from the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI) Work on creativity Fully functional replacement devices using 3D printing and robotics. While the project has biological knowledge, PSU hopes to provide a robotics and engineering technology skill set.
“There’s a complete lack of manpower in the US, so there’s a real movement to use robots in all kinds of applications that haven’t been done before,” Birx said. “One of the reasons for creating this course is because the software is working on building surrogate organs. We wanted to be involved in providing the technical knowledge to actually be able to build these very complex robotic processes.”
“They have people with a biological background to create these organs,” Reichenthal said. “But they need someone to provide the mechanics and skills to actually make it, and for me, that’s the thing that draws me to this program.”
“Robots for me is the integration of software and hardware,” he said. “I love the idea of making things and I love the concept of taking different systems and combining them, whether it’s one-purpose or multi-purpose, and creating something useful. Robotics, in my opinion, is the future of a lot of industries.”
The need for a new kind of workforce is set to continue to rise as robotics and automated solutions are integrated into increasing numbers of industries. With this in mind, the PSU program is likely to be only the first of many as sectors all over the world are looking for people who not only have the ability to work alongside these tools but an understanding of how they work and the ability to accelerate these devices in future iterations.
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