The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is sending $1 million in federal funding to Plymouth State University (PSU) to aid in the construction of a new robotics laboratory to be located on the fourth floor of the Draper & Maynard Building at the Plymouth campus.
In fall 2021, PSU became the first New Hampshire institution to offer a Bachelor of Science in Robotics degree program.
PSU President Donald L. Birx, Ph.D. said the university plans to use the funds to develop the next generation robotics workforce and machine-learning manufacturers with a new, state-of-the-art robotics lab.
“This grant will ensure our that students have the most advanced training, equipment and tools at their disposal, providing experiential, project-based learning, a central component of our unique Cluster Learning Model,” Birx said. “Access to this cutting-edge technology means access to an emerging job market in New Hampshire’s high-tech sector.”
Birx said robotics brings together and develops many key skills including computers, microcontrollers, sensors, networking, communications, kinematics, artificial intelligence, mechanics, design and electronics across a wide variety of critical disciplines. Those skills will be increasingly required for the enormous workforce needs over the next century, and there are few programs like Plymouth State’s robotics program in terms of the broad impact it has on the state, businesses and the students involved.
FANUC, the largest manufacturer of industrial robots in the world, forecasts a 1-million-person shortfall in the workforce by 2027 due to a lack of necessary skills.
And there is already high demand today. In the past three months, there were over 200 robotics related job openings in New Hampshire alone, and 4,000 across New England.
As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen secured the funding through a congressionally directed spending request that was included in the Fiscal Year 2022 omnibus spending package that was passed earlier this year. The U.S. Department of Commerce is the source of the funds, which are allocated by NIST.
“We are so grateful to Senator Shaheen for her efforts in securing this funding for Plymouth State University,” Birx said.
Construction and outfitting of the new robotics lab will begin in October, with some equipment becoming available to students this fall. The lab is expected to be completed by fall 2023.
The lab will be located on the top floor of the historic Draper & Maynard Building, which also houses the University’s innovative makerspace. The 4,500-square-foot, state-of-the-industry robotics lab will include laboratory space, electronics benches, classrooms and other instructional spaces.
The facility will feature equipment and tools on par with the nation’s top institutions, including 3-D printing, laser cutting, milling, and Computer Numerical Control (CnC) workstations. Additional workstations will run Robot Operating Systems (ROS) and ROS Visualization (rViz) and Gazebo simulators, with CUDA support for working with machine learning, such as TensorFlow. The new facility will even include FANUC collaborative robots, which are employed in industrial settings around the world.