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.”
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.”