CMU master's degree to blend robotics, business - CTTEC - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, August 23, 2010

CMU master's degree to blend robotics, business

A Carnegie Mellon University master's degree program set to start in fall 2011 has the potential to churn out Pittsburgh-based robotics companies at an unprecedented rate, said Todd Jochem, CEO of SkEyes Unlimited Corp. in Harmony in Butler County.

The program is designed to teach students how to bring a robotic product to market, lead a team at a robotics company or found or lead a company. Two semesters of classes, plus a seven-month internship with a robotics- or autonomous systems-related company, are involved.

"Most roboticists don't know how to run a business," said Jochem, who earned a doctorate in robotics from CMU in 1996. His firm specializes in aerial robotic systems such as unmanned helicopters.

"This program will help graduates take companies to the next level," said Jochem, 42, of Pine. "So, instead of generating one or two legitimate ventures every decade, we could get one or two every year."

That's the general idea, said Hagen Schempf, a principal systems scientist at CMU's Robotics Institute who will direct the new robotic systems development degree program.

"Our goal is to give students the skills to run a team and a project, to become the CEO or (chief technology officer) of an existing company -- or found and oversee a new one," Schempf said.

"We're basically giving them booster rockets to become candidates I'd immediately want to hire," said Schempf, who founded the robot research, development and production firm Automatika Inc., now owned by Virginia-based QinetiQ.

Graduates will build on the technical knowledge of mechanical, electrical and software systems they gained during their undergraduate years, he said. The curriculum will include robotic sciences and technologies, hands-on project classes and seminar-style business and management courses.

"I want to make sure they learn how to think about the market for their products, how much it will cost to manufacture, whether they'll be able to sell them for a profit and what the customer wants," he said. "You're always going to have a boss, and that boss has to be won over by those kinds of numbers."

What's different about CMU's program is that it will require students to complete a seven-month internship before they can earn the master's degree, said Dan Kara, president of Robotics Trends, a media company based in Framingham, Mass., that covers the robotics industry.

"Essentially what this program will offer is applied robotics vs. theoretical robotics," Kara said. "It will help the robotics industry as a whole because it offers hands-on training."

Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts is the only other school in the country with a comparable program, Kara said. But at WPI, an internship is an option, not mandatory.

CMU will accept applications for the program this fall, said Byron Spice, spokesman for the university's School of Computer Science. Candidates must have an undergraduate degree in engineering, computer science, physical science or applied mathematics, and one to three years of practical experience in industry or in a research laboratory is preferred, Spice said.

Article Courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune-Review