When Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Vikram Kapila received an inverted pendulum from Quanser — a manufacturer of advanced systems for real-time control hardware — his first thought was to conduct research with it in order to test control theories. Little did he know that his research would lead him to grant proposals, which in turn would lead to the creation of a new major at NYU Tandon and to the international collaboration of universities to discuss the future of mechatronics education as a higher education degree. Today, he is confident that the new Mechatronics and Robotics degree at NYU Tandon will take off and grow successfully.
At the Mechatronics Education Workshop: Designing and Building Effective Programs, hosted by both Professor Kapila and Dr. Tom Lee, Chief Education Officer at Quanser and adjunct professor in Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo, representatives from a number of universities and colleges from the United States and Canada gathered to start a cohesive dialogue regarding the present and future of the field. They discussed challenges and goals as well as methods of collaboration between institutions and industry professionals.
According to Professor Kapila, mechatronics education has been around for about twenty years. Whereas mechatronics education in countries such as Canada, Australia, Germany, and Japan is very advanced, there are few centers of mechatronics study in the US. Professor Kapila hopes to change that and believes NYU Tandon is already a national leader. “There is no doubt in my mind that we are unique,” he says.
While many of the few mechatronics programs in America borrow courses from other engineering fields in order to create full curriculums, Professor Kapila asserts that NYU Tandon’s program is very specific and well-defined with a number of custom courses in order to truly engage students. Furthermore, the program makes a more significant impact for students because it is interdisciplinary in the way that it combines mechatronics and robotics, unlike other universities which treat them as different studies. “Mechatronics is of a very hands-on nature and requires not just theory, but also simulation, hardware, and software. The entire integration experience, its affordances and limitations, are necessary,” says Professor Kapila.
Student engagement in projects and research can be complicated because it tends to be expensive and can be very demanding on faculty and the institution. However, the workshop allowed other universities with older programs to showcase their findings — both positive and negative. The University of Waterloo shared the incredible return on investment for its graduates who have moved on to create highly successful companies.
As a next step, Professor Kapila would like to host a secondary meeting with more industry professionals. He would like to invite at least half a dozen more companies as well as professional societies such as IEEE and ASME in order for them to engage, contribute advice, and enhance the field.
NYU Tandon’s Master of Science Mechatronics and Robotics degree was developed over the past two years and received state approval in 2015. Out of over 90 applications, approximately 50 students were accepted and the first cohort of enrolled students is expected to start in September of 2016.