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Robotics Track of UW MSTI Degree Launches at GIX

Date: August 24, 2020

As new robotic applications continue to transform industries and sectors from medicine to manufacturing, the demand for an innovative workforce able to design and implement meaningful robotics solutions is growing.  The Global Innovation Exchange is working toward meeting these needs through a suite of highly-focused, hands-on graduate degree programs in technology innovation developed in collaboration with its founding partners, University of Washington (UW) and Tsinghua University.

The Master of Science in Technology Innovation degree, offered by the UW since 2017, initially focused the integration of hardware and software to support connected devices. New for 2020, the UW will begin offering another track of study within the MSTI program focused on programming, logic, and physical design of robotic hardware. The robotics track was envisioned and developed in collarboration with current GIX faculty by Blake Hannaford, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Anat Caspi, director of the Taskar Center for Accessible Technology, a center housed by the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science that is focused on open source, universally accessible technologies. The program also draws on the robotics expertise of Maya Cakmak, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Josh Smith, professor of electrical & computer engineering and of computer science and engineering, and founding member of the MSTI’s interdisciplinary faculty group.

The new cross-disciplinary robotics track bridges business, human-centered design, and robotics fundamentals; graduates will be well-equipped to pursue a variety of roles in product management, design, validation, and testing. “While there is certainly a need and place for heavy tech understanding, especially in robotics, our program uniquely integrates design with the human-centered outlook,” said Dr. Caspi.

The program was designed to integrate all aspects of a product’s lifecycle, including design, building, and launch, which fills a niche in the field of robotics education. “Students should expect a dynamic experience with both the technology learning and the deployment of a real robotics system, but with an overarching understanding of bringing humanoid robotic agents into society and what that role might be like,” said Dr. Caspi. “My hope is that students bring an open mind and their own perspectives and think about how robotics can bring good into quality of life,” she added.

“Many robotic solutions are about eliminating the human from specific tasks or operations with full automation, which has clear benefits in many cases,” said Linda Wagner, director of academic programs at GIX. “Our program, though, has a decisive focus on putting people at the center of innovation and problem solving and how important it is to still provide accomplishment and agency for them to extend their capabilities,” she added. “I am excited to see how students think about potential new applications for human/robotic cooperation.”

“We want students to experience some of the challenges associated with robotics, but avoid the rabbit hole of all the technical aspects,” said Dr. Maru Cabrera, an electrical engineer and roboticist who will be assisting instruction. “They will use some of the tools and get experience with actual robotics to solve problems in the real world,” she added. 

The UW MSTI already includes coursework related to sensors and circuits, programming, hardware/software integration, and the robotics track adds an emphasis on hardware that moves and interacts within its environment. “The way that we’re trying to approach these courses isn’t about making the people masters in robot programming, but rather understanding how to make decisions for a system and how you can get it to do anything,” said Dr. Cabrera.

“Robotics is interdisciplinary,” Cabrera continued. “The perks that GIX offers in the makerspace adjacent to the robotics lab are needed when you’re actually building a system. The robot isn’t just the camera and the computer, you need hardware and componentry that tie everything together. It’s a great opportunity for students to bridge the gaps.”

The first iteration of the robotics track of the MSTI program will begin fall 2020. Applications will open in October for those looking to begin in fall 2021. Click here to learn more about the robotics track and MSTI program.