Robotics Kerfuffle at OSU

By Jennifer Smith

roboticsKagan Tumer, Professor of Robotics and Control at Oregon State University, has proposed a new graduate engineering program in robotics. If this program passes, students could start majoring in robotics this fall, and OSU will be one of four schools in the country that will offer this robotics major, and it would also have the third-largest robotics faculty.

“The robotics program has received approval from all but the last hurdle [approval by the Office of Academic Affairs], including being approved by the graduate school, the provost council and the newly formed OSU board, as well as going through an external review,” said Tumer.

Tumer believes that this new major will put Corvallis ahead of the curve in a field that’s still in the early stages of development. The robotics industry is growing at a rapid pace with companies like Google offering plenty of opportunity for aspiring students.

“It is the right time to create a program that is at the intersection of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science. In fact, there are only three PhD programs in robotics in the country right now, though we expect that number to rise in the coming years. Having the program in place now puts us at the forefront of this growing field” Tumer said.

This new major would draw curriculum from multiple schools of engineering, but some critics worry that this could lead to further lack of cohesion if the robotics faculty would want to become their own sub-department of the College of Engineering in the future. Other critics wonder why OSU won’t develop other specializations in engineering such as thermal fluid dynamics or design, but these departments do not have the proper number of faculty as of yet since there are only five of them, whereas robotics already has 10 ready to go.

“We have a strong group of internationally known researchers in robotics capable of delivering a top program,” Tumer said.

Students can take several robotics courses at OSU right now, from dynamics and artificial intelligence to mobile robots, biomechanics and multi-robot coordination, but this will be an opportunity for students to actually major in the subject which, according to Tumer, students really want to do. 

“There is a strong support from the industry and a great desire from our students, so there was a tremendous need for this program,” Tumer said.

Current students interested in this new major will be able to switch their major as soon as the new degree is available.