The University of Connecticut is part of a new national institute designed to advance robotics manufacturing and maintain America’s global competitiveness in that arena. UConn researchers will help develop new sensing, software, artificial intelligence, and other technologies to improve the use of robotics in manufacturing for the aerospace and shipbuilding industries.
The institute, called the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute (ARM), was announced earlier this month and will include several Connecticut businesses and academic institutions. The Connecticut portion of the proposal was led by UConn, the United Technologies Research Center, UTC Aerospace Systems, and ABB US Corporate Research. The institute will be led by American Robotics Inc., a nonprofit associated with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn.
The ARM institute is the 14th and final national institute created under President Obama’s Manufacturing USA initiative, according to Michael Accorsi, senior associate dean of engineering.
“The focus on robotics makes it a great fit for Connecticut, with our strong ties to the aerospace and shipbuilding industries – industries that can really benefit from the next generation of robotic innovation,” he said.
The new institute is supported by a total of $253 million in funding. Federal funding represents $80 million of that, with the remaining money coming from 123 industrial partners, 40 academic and academically affiliated partners, and 64 government and nonprofit partners.
At UConn, Ashwin P. Dani’s Robotics and Controls Lab is already performing research on interactions between robots and humans. Dani and his graduate students are creating algorithms so that industrial robots can learn what action a person will likely take in a given situation. By understanding where a person will move, a robot can work alongside a human and avoid injuring them.
“The new institute is designed to create an ecosystem of robotics,” said Dani, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “That ecosystem will involve creating collaborative robotics that can do flexible, highly variable jobs efficiently and create advancements in artificial intelligence, particularly human-robotic interactions. That’s an area we already focus on here at UConn.”
The U.S. Department of Defense’s Manufacturing USA initiative is designed to encourage private industry, academia, and government collaboration to revitalize and enhance U.S. competitiveness in key areas. As a part of ARM, UConn will create a new, advanced robotics facility within the new UConn Tech Park, which will expand on UConn’s existing robotic capabilities.
The aerospace, automotive, and electronics industries will represent 75 percent of all robots used in the country by 2025. UConn and other Connecticut partners are focusing on the aerospace and ship building industries, which have been slower to adopt robotic technologies than the automotive industry. Dani said that because these industries create a smaller volume of products than the automotive industry, they need robots that can do a variety of tasks.
“The automotive industry makes millions of cars every year, so each robot can be highly specialized. The aerospace industry creates far fewer individual products, so each robot needs to be able to quickly learn and perform multiple tasks,” Dani said. “UConn and ARM will make the innovations necessary to create agile, dexterous, and collaborative robotics.”
The new institute aims to increase small manufacturers’ use of robots by 500 percent. UConn will work with community colleges around the state to provide training in robotic jobs within existing STEM programs, to meet the increasing demands for the robotic manufacturing industry.