A new lab puts Minnesota at the forefront of robotics research: BTN LiveBIG

Eric Miller/ University of Minnesota

A new lab puts Minnesota at the forefront of robotics research: BTN LiveBIG

One robot reaches high to deftly pluck apples it deems ripe from a tree. Another, zips through the sky on wings, halts and hovers in position, a potential boon to farmers who need rapid and accurate crop and field condition analysis. Still another, peers deep beneath the waves with an array of cameras to examine and map the bottoms of lakes and rivers.

By land, sea and air, robots are an increasing part of our lives, whether we interface with them or not. They’re stand poised to take on tasks both hazardous and heartwarming, from disaster remediation to eldercare and companionship. Ever greater strides are being made to vastly increase the depth and breadth of their capabilities.

In few places is that more apparent than at the University of Minnesota’s state-of-the-art Gemini-Huntley Robotics Research Laboratory. The new, $13 million facility within the Shepherd Laboratories complex on Minneapolis’ East Bank is a warren of individual labs and workspaces designed to cater to the specific needs of student and faculty roboticists.

A two-story test area accommodates aerial robots and drones. Others serve as proving grounds for land-based and underwater robotics research. In addition, a dedicated electronics lab, solar array and assembly area service the University of Minnesota’s Solar Vehicle Project Team.

Speaking with College of Science and Engineering’s news service, renowned robotics researcher and computer science and engineering professor at Minnesota, Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos, elaborated on the value added by bringing the university’s efforts under one roof.

“Robotics research is important in so many areas of our lives, including health care, agriculture, the environment, and the automotive industry. We are hoping to make Minnesota a leader in robotics research and bring even more federal and industry research funding into the state.”

The Gemini-Huntley lab was funded with generous support from the private sector, including a $10 million gift from Gemini Inc. founders Sharon and James Weinel. A $1 million donation funding the Patrick J. Starr Solar Vehicle Project Laboratory came from Clifford I. Anderson. State funding of $2 million came from the university’s Minnesota Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy (MnDRIVE) initiative that provides grants for robotics research.

To learn more about the Gemini-Huntley lab and Minnesota’s commitment to robotics leadership, check out UMN Alumni magazine’s profile here.

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