CU Boulder to offer new degree programs in robotics

CU Boulder to offer new degree programs in robotics

The University of Colorado Boulder will offer a master’s and doctorate program in robotics starting in the fall to meet the growing demand of students and the industry.

Nationwide, fewer than 10 universities offer a doctorate program in robotics and about 15 offer a master’s program, said Sean Humbert, professor of mechanical engineering and lead professor of robotics at CU Boulder.

Before the degree programs were approved by the CU Board of Regents in June, students had to pursue a degree program in an engineering discipline with a focus in robotics. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of robotics, students would have to go to three or four different departments to get the necessary courses.

Now, Humbert said, the university can support the program and degree path much easier under the “robotics umbrella.”

“The students just want robotics. They want to have a PhD or master’s in robotics,” Humbert said. “And employers would really like to hire people with those kinds of skill sets.”

Humbert said there’s “a huge demand” for professionals in robotics in positions across a wide variety of disciplines, including careers in autonomous cars, warehouse robotics, biomedical healthcare and AI military technology.

Computer science doctoral student Harel Biggie goes over code that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Subterranean Challenge robot generated when given a command to locate a fire extinguisher during a demonstration at the University of Colorado Boulder Engineering Center on Monday. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

“All of the indicators are that this is a rapidly expanding field and a very relevant field to a lot of companies as well as the government,” Humbert said.

Harel Biggie, a computer science doctoral student with a focus in robotics, said the new degree programs will make it easier to take classes across departments based on a student’s interest.

“While I was able to take some of these classes, it was definitely a bit limiting,” Biggie said. “But I think the robotics grad program will kind of open it up so you have a lot more flexibility and can directly relate the classes and the coursework to what you’re trying to do with your degree.”

After graduation, Biggie said he’d like to continue researching ways robots can help people in their everyday lives, specifically in search and rescue scenarios in mines or caves where it may be dangerous to send people.

Biggie said he isn’t switching his degree program because of how close he is to completion, but said he knows students in their labs who are planning the switch. Biggie said if he would’ve made the switch if was in his first or second year.

Doctoral candidate Eugene Rush is interested in the intersection of AI, robotics and neuroscience, focusing on the question of how intelligence arises. Rush said he’s excited about the degree program’s impact on its students from a qualification and community standpoint.

“Having a program here will make it a lot easier to foster that community… I think having an actual program will allow that to be sustained for many decades to come,” Rush said.