Massachusetts College Explores Robots in the Workplace

Worcester Polytechnic Institute has received a five-year, $3 million National Science Foundation grant to conduct research and training to shape, guide and lead the transition to a robot-assisted workplace.

by Telegram & Gazette Staff / October 28, 2019
Tribune Content Agency

(TNS) – Worcester Polytechnic Institute has received a five-year, $3 million National Science Foundation grant to conduct research and training in the area of robotic workplace assistants.

Cagdas Onal, a mechanical engineering professor at WPI and principal investigator on the grant, said the funding specifically will support an interdisciplinary research program called "Future of Robots in the Workplace - Research & Development (FORW-RD)," which he said is intended to help students "attain diverse skills needed to navigate opportunities and challenges to shape, guide, and lead the transition to a robot-assisted workplace."

The project is expected to train 120 master's and PhD students from the mechanical engineering, robotics, computer science, materials science, and user experience design fields at WPI.

Onal said the idea for the project came from talks he had with WPI humanities and arts professor Yunus Telliel, who is also a co-principal investigator on the grant.

"In our discussions, we talked about the impact and what this means for the future of how we work," Onal said. "For example, if the worker isn't there physically, are they actually responsible for the actions of this robot? Could they still find meaning in their job? There are so many different aspects to consider."

In addition to delving into interdisciplinary technical and professional skills, the program will also explore upon the ethical, social, economic, and legal considerations for using robots in the workplace.

"We need to continually ask questions so that advisors and students can think about larger issues," Onal said. "This program is not just about doing technology development and figuring out new algorithms. It's about making sure the programs are perceived correctly and done right for everyone's benefit."

©2019 Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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