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Northeastern researchers help establish new institute to advance robotics in manufacturing

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity researchers led by robotics expert Taskin Padir have been selected to partner with a con­sor­tium of uni­ver­si­ties, non­profit insti­tu­tions, local gov­ern­ments, and industry to launch a new inde­pen­dent robotics insti­tute as part of the U.S. Depart­ment of Defense’s Man­u­fac­turing USA, a national net­work for bringing inno­va­tion to manufacturing.

Called the Advanced Robotics Man­u­fac­turing Insti­tute, or ARM, the project will bring together man­u­fac­turing com­pa­nies and researchers to expand the com­pa­nies’ robotics capa­bil­i­ties, including the devel­op­ment of next-​​generation robots, edu­ca­tional oppor­tu­ni­ties, and work­force training. North­eastern is one of just 40 aca­d­emic insti­tu­tions selected to be founding mem­bers of the institute.

Our goal is to expand the applic­a­bility of robots in man­u­fac­turing in com­pa­nies of all sizes,” says Padir, asso­ciate pro­fessor of elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering. “A pri­mary ques­tion we want to answer is: How can we pro­vide robotics and automa­tion in a novel way so that these busi­nesses can thrive?”

We are delighted that our fac­ulty are part of the Advanced Robotics Man­u­fac­turing Insti­tute, and look for­ward to working with industry and insti­tu­tional part­ners on state-​​of-​​the-​​art research in robotics and other autonomous tech­nolo­gies,” says Nadine Aubry, dean of the Col­lege of Engi­neering and Uni­ver­sity Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor at North­eastern. “I am con­fi­dent the team will develop inno­v­a­tive robotics sys­tems with human­like dex­terity and adapt­ability, as well as safe and intu­itive human-​​robot inter­ac­tion capa­bility for the next gen­er­a­tion of U.S. man­u­fac­turing operations.”

Strength in humanoid robotics

At North­eastern, Padir leads an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary team of fac­ulty and stu­dents researching and devel­oping the humanoid robot pro­to­type Valkyrie, which was designed by NASA for future mis­sions into deep space. In November 2015, North­eastern was one of two research groups selected by NASA to work on an indi­vidual pro­to­type of the robot.

Researching humanoid robotics is one of our strengths,” says Padir. “Our inter­dis­ci­pli­nary team of researchers also works on dex­terous manip­u­la­tion, sensing, and per­cep­tion, as well as next-​​generation robot design. The projects we plan to work on within the insti­tute will enable us to pro­vide holistic solu­tions to man­u­fac­turing businesses.”

Asso­ciate pro­fessor Taskin Padir, left, in the Robotics Lab at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Photo by Matthew Modoono/​Northeastern University

ARM will be based in Pitts­burgh and led by an inde­pen­dent non­profit founded by Carnegie Mellon Uni­ver­sity called Amer­ican Robotics. In addi­tion to the aca­d­emic part­ners, the con­sor­tium includes 123 indus­trial and 64 gov­ern­ment enti­ties. The funding, which comes from the var­ious par­ties as well as the DOD, totals more than $250 million.

To start, the insti­tute will focus on four industry sec­tors: elec­tronics, auto­mo­tive, aero­space, and tex­tiles. Among its 10-​​year goals are to increase worker pro­duc­tivity by 30 per­cent and to create 510,000 new man­u­fac­turing jobs, all in an effort to boost U.S. man­u­fac­turing competitiveness.

North­eastern, says Padir, is par­tic­u­larly well suited to par­tic­i­pate. “Given our co-​​op pro­gram, we have a great deal of expe­ri­ence in building industry part­ner­ships,” he says. “This is an industry-​​driven insti­tute. The aca­d­emic part­ners will define the scope of the projects, but the prob­lems will come from industry. Northeastern’s track record on industry engage­ment and co-​​op makes us a great con­trib­utor to this bold, forward-​​looking effort aimed at trans­forming U.S. manufacturing.”

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