If there ever were a sign that we are “living in the future,” the ability to earn a degree in robotics (and to become a “Doctor of Robotics”) might be it. Though the earliest research programs in robotics started cropping up on select college campuses more than 50 years ago, it wasn’t until much more recently that the discipline began to gain popularity. Now, graduate students who have a background in engineering and a passion for futuristic technology can join one of nearly 70 universities in the United States that (according to NASA) include robotics on their list of specialties.
In determining this list of the top robotics engineering programs, we looked specifically for schools that excelled in a few key areas. First, we vetted schools on the comprehensiveness of their degrees. For example, an “M.S. in Robotics” fared better than an “M.S. in Computer Science: Concentration in Robotics,” which in turn fared better than an “M.S. in Computer Science” with no highlighted concentration but a strong robotics research program. In the ranking below, eight degrees are comprehensive, might offer a specialization, and four offer general degrees with strong research programs (you can recognize this latter group by the inclusion of the qualifying phrase “Research Area” in their degree titles).
Next, we took a close look at the schools’ research programs, as this is an extremely important consideration for graduate students – especially Ph.D. students, and especially robotics engineers. To gauge the strength of their robotics research, we looked at the number of faculty conducting work in robotics or a related field and the number of focus areas/major labs included under the robotics umbrella. Note that there was some flexibility with this last metric, as not all schools organize their programs the same way. For example, some universities create consolidated labs for designated focus areas, while other colleges support networks of individual laboratories that overlap many different focus areas. In ranking schools, we did our best to award points judiciously and make fair comparisons that considered all contenders in context with one another.
Combining these factors, we were able to determine the following ranking of the best robotics engineering degrees in the United States in terms of academic and innovative strength. You’ll notice that a few of these schools are quite expensive, and we’d expect no less from colleges that host some of the most well-equipped, well-funded, high-tech laboratories in the world. But when you consider the knowledge (and job prospects) that these robotics engineering schools provide, it’s easy to see how the investment will pay off.
M.S. in Computer Science: Robotics, Computer Vision, & Graphics Research Area
If you’re interested in robots, chances are you’re willing to get your hands dirty by actually working on building them in a lab. And if you go to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, it’s practically a requirement! Computer science graduate students who opt for the “Research MS Track” have the coveted opportunity to work in some of the university’s coolest facilities – but they should also prepare to eventually transition to the PhD program. Not that it’s hard to convince most UMass grad students of the merits of becoming a Dr. of Robotics; with on-campus labs like the Autonomous Learning Laboratory (ALL) and the Laboratory for Perceptual Robotics, the opportunities to participate in cutting-edge work at this robotics engineering school are simply too hard to pass up.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $22,364/yr
M.S./M.C.S. in Computer Science: Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Research Area
Although the University of Minnesota doesn’t have a designated robotics engineering degree, its robotics and artificial intelligence research program could easily fool you into thinking it did! And for grad students, especially Ph.D. candidates, research is the first priority. Students throughout the College of Computer Science and Engineering can work on projects that fall under the umbrella of artificial intelligence, and research assistantships abound in UM labs. One example is the Center for Distributed Robotics, which operates a growing network of wirelessly controlled robots that can complete tasks and even cooperate with each other.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $21,621/yr