Robotics Engineering Advances at WPI

Rethink Robotics Baxter

Robots are everywhere at WPI.  Last week I visited WPI and met the VP of Manufacturing from Rethink Robotics, who introduced me to Baxter.  Baxter is an adaptive manufacturing robot. It contains cameras, sensors and sophisticated software that enable it to “see” objects, “feel” forces and “understand” tasks. The result is a robot that automatically adapts to changing environments—it knows what you mean and does what you expect. 

So what is WPI doing to prepare its students for SolidWorks customers like Rethink Robotics and Aldebaran Robotics?  WPI has developed a robotics program that puts first year engineering students together into teams to solve complex problems. For 4 years, students explore projects that combine mechanical, electrical and computer science theory and practice. 

WPI was the first US engineering school to offer an undergraduate Bachelor of Science in robotics.  Now WPI has masters and PhD programs in robotics with focus areas that include human-robot interaction, artificial intelligence, medical robotics, kinematics and control systems, sensors, manipulation and navigation.


The NASA Robo-Ops competition challenges WPI students to design and build a planetary rover and demonstrate its capability to perform a series of competitive tasks.  WPI has won two years in a row! 

Computer Science Professor, Eduardo Rafael Torres-Jara, research focuses on sensitive robotics, an approach in which great importance is given to tactile feedback. 

WPI Robotics Walking Sensors

Students, Vadim Chern York, Ennie Claretti, and Nigel Cochran, showed me how they work directly with a variety of robots in Professor Torres-Jara's lab.

WPI Robotics Sensors in SolidWorks

Sensitivity started with robotic manipulation with great success and is being tested in different areas of robotics.

 WPI Robotics Vision in SolidWorks

Other areas of research conducted include novel mechanism and actuators that use soft materials, tactile sensors with adequate properties for robotics, active computer vision, machine learning, artificial intelligence, control, and novel computer architectures.

WPI students developed the multi-legged Sabertooth robot that will participate in AUVSI competitions. 

 Sabertooth robot wpi in solidworks

Mechanical Engineering professor, Stephen Nestinger,  whose research focuses on the stability and workspace analysis of multi-legged robots, modular robots, soft- body systems, and bio- inspired locomotion, showed me Sabertooth’s self-portrait.  

Sabertooth as Art at WPI

So can robots become artists?  When students spray-painterd Sabertooth’s components, the result was a beautiful abstract of a multi-legged robot.  Perhaps this painting, hung in the bricked walls of WPI's Atwater- Kent Hall, will inspire the next generation of young engineers. Marie

Marie Planchard

Marie Planchard

Senior Director, Early Engagement, 3DEXPERIENCE Works at Dassault Systemes
Marie Planchard is an education and engineering advocate. As Senior Director of Education & Early Engagement, SOLIDWORKS, she is responsible for global development of content and social outreach for the 3DEXPERIENCE Works products across all levels of learning including educational institutions, Fab Labs, and entrepreneurship.
Marie Planchard