Robots are no longer stationary devices welded to the factory floor, encased in cages to keep humans out of their workspaces. Already, robots walk, fly, drive, and swim. They sense their environments and communicate with each other and with humans, and more startling advances are on the way.
In the not-too-distant future, we can look forward to prosthetic limbs that link with the human brain to restore function for stroke patients and accident victims. Driverless cars that will save tens of thousands of lives every year. Autonomous submarines that will map the ocean floor and inspect ships’ hulls for cracks and other dangers. Walking robots that will assist humans with search-and-rescue tasks. Interactive robotic devices that will enable the elderly to age gracefully and safely within their homes using natural language and fluid gestures.
But a host of difficult and enormously complex problems must be solved before these technologies can be incorporated into everyday life – problems that will require scientific breakthroughs in mobility, manipulation, communication, perception, pattern recognition, and other factors that enable robots to interact with humans and the world.
The University of Michigan Robotics Institute will be a leader in achieving this not-too-distant future. With robotics faculty and students that have a significant range in expertise, we will push the boundaries in all of our research focus areas.
A note from Jessy Grizzle, Director
Despite researching control systems and robotics for 30 years, I was totally unprepared to be director of a Robotics Institute.
In those three decades of research, I had avoided as many committee chairmanships as possible, preferring service roles that involved direct interactions with students. And so, when my colleague and Founding Director Dawn Tilbury passed on the role to me, I found myself lacking: lacking a philosophy of leadership, lacking knowledge of how or what to delegate, and lacking knowledge of what my values were. Fortunately, Dawn had assembled a strong steering committee for the Institute, and by listening carefully, I was able to get through that first semester in 2016 without too many gaffes.
In the second semester, I started working with Heidi Sherick, a leadership coach within the College of Engineering. Heidi challenged me to understand myself and what I value, even before any discussion of leadership strategies. I came out of the process a much better person, with a sense of shared values with my colleagues, confidence in myself to be open and sharing with my thought processes, and a big fan of Heidi and leadership coaching.
As I continue to gain experience as a director, one value that repeatedly provides dividends is diversity. While one may value diversity out of a sense of social justice, the value of diversity becomes much more manifest and palpable when one is in a leadership position. The more difficult the decision one is facing, the more important it is to explore a range of views on the subject, personal experiences, and potential solutions. I am very fortunate to be advised by an Executive Committee that is diverse with respect to gender, race, department affiliation, and age. While this diversity of life experiences does not lead to short discussions, it does lead to wisdom, refined action, and a better robotics community for all.
This diversity is not only important, of course, in faculty meetings. At its heart, from student teams to research labs, Michigan Robotics is all about collaboration that drives creation.
As our new home, the Ford Motor Company Robotics Building, is completed this coming year, we aim to fill it with a community in which new and seasoned roboticists can collaborate across fields, where unique backgrounds and expertise are valued and drive leading research, and where ideas are rigorously tested from simulation to the field.
In that home, we will practice respect for one another and one another’s work, as we need and value input from everyone to combine abstractions such as advanced mathematics and artificial intelligence with concrete electronics and mechanics.
Now, three years into this directorship, I know that a community where members feel free and comfortable to collaborate and contribute is just as important as the engineering and cutting edge facilities. And, I’m prepared as director to do everything that I can to foster just such a community.
Director, Michigan Robotics
Elmer G. Gilbert Distinguished University Professor
Jerry W. and Carol L. Levin Professor of Engineering
P.S. While they say never to room with your friends, they probably aren’t talking about sharing 140,000 square-feet of research and lab space among your favorite robotics colleagues… right?