Engineering faculty receive grant to improve robotic dexterity


Dr. Joseph Schimmels, Robert C. Greenheck Chair in Design and Manufacturing in the Opus College of Engineering, received a $750,000 National Robotics Initiative grant through the National Science Foundation to fund a project that seeks to improve robotic dexterity.


The grant, totaling nearly $750,000 over the course of three years, will support Schimmels and co-principal investigator Dr. Shuguang Huang, associate professor of mechanical engineering, in their research to improve robotic dexterity by providing a robot system the human-like ability to continuously adjust its inherent mechanical behavior as a task progresses.

“Current robots are better than people at executing desired motions in free space, but they are not nearly as adept at performing tasks in which motion is constrained in some way,” Schimmels said. “The need for human-like dexterous manipulation is valuable for areas like senior living assistance and healthcare, but also physically demanding and dangerous roles in agriculture, construction, space exploration, nuclear remediation and manufacturing.”

Robots have great difficulty in performing everyday tasks — peeling potatoes, opening a bottle, closing a container, cleaning a surface or assembling furniture — because inevitable uncertainties in the exact location of objects often cause robot commanded positions to conflict with physical constraints, resulting in excessive contact forces and task failure. This system would allow robots to be compliant in directions that are constrained and to be stiff in directions for which the commanded motion is needed to complete the task.

“This is an exciting project for Dr. Schimmels and Dr. Huang as they look to advance the capabilities of robotic assistance,” said Dr. Kristina Ropella, Opus Dean of the Opus College of Engineering. “The technologies developed will be wide-ranging throughout the field of mechanical engineering —kinematics, dynamics, and control — as well as computer science and will benefit the Marquette community by engaging and educating students in these areas of national need.”

The National Robotics Initiative 2.0 program builds upon the original National Robotics Initiative to support fundamental research in the United States that will accelerate the development and use of collaborative robots, whose main purpose is to work with people or other robots to accomplish a goal. The focus of the program is on ubiquity, which in this context means seamless integration of co-robots to assist humans in every aspect of life. In addition to the NSF, NRI-2.0 is also supported by NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.