Georgia Tech Adds Robotics Research Component to Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering Program

Ayanna Howard, Motorola Foundation Professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and director of the Human-Automation Systems Laboratory (HumAnS), has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering (SURE) continuing grant for her proposal to add a robotics component to Georgia Tech’s SURE program.

Robotics, as a discipline, is inherently interdisciplinary, combining all aspects of engineering and computer science necessary for designing and deploying integrated systems and solutions. “As students are exposed to robotics, they begin to see connections among these disciplines and begin to understand how their in-class book knowledge translates into real-world systems that can assist society in positive ways,” Howard says.

Funded with co-support from the Department of Defense and NSF's Division of Engineering Education and Centers, the program will support the involvement of undergraduate students in an immersive robotics research experience, and as a direct consequence, interest them in opportunities available through graduate study.

The robotics REU program will be offered in conjunction with the ongoing Georgia Tech SURE program, which was established in 1992, and offers a ten-week summer research program designed to attract qualified minority students into graduate school in the fields of engineering and science.

According to Leyla Conrad, outreach director for ECE and co-PI on the robotics REU program grant, approximately thirty-five students of at least junior-level undergraduate standing are recruited on a nationwide basis each year for Georgia Tech’s SURE program. The students are paired with both a faculty member and a graduate student mentor to undertake research projects in the College of Engineering, College of Sciences, and the Georgia Tech Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC)

Adding a robotics component to the SURE program is important not only to diversify research options for students but is also timely as the strategic importance of robotics and automation technologies to the U.S. economy continues to increase. 

Howard says, “The push of robotics, as it moves from traditional industrial settings, into public spaces and homes across the world opens up extensive new research opportunities in important economic areas such as healthcare, education, and entertainment.” 

Scheduled to launch in May 2014, the robotics REU program will allow students to share in meeting the challenges of this promising new robotics domain and fully reap the rewards of being trained in this interdisciplinary field.

As a result of the new program, the College of Computing (CoC) will join the other three units currently overseeing SURE-related research projects. Eight professors who are faculty members in the Robotics & Intelligent Machines Center (RIM) and hail from both the College of Computing and the College of Engineering, will serve as the initial advisors for the robotics REU program: Ayanna Howard (ECE), Charles Isbell (CoC), Charlie Kemp (BME), Mike Stilman (CoC), Andrea Thomaz (CoC), Jun Ueda (ME), Patricio Vela (ECE), and Fumin Zhang (ECE).

This program is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) REU Site: Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering (SURE) (1263049) and is co-funded by the Department of Defense in partnership with the NSF REU program and NSF's Division of Engineering Education and Centers.

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