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UWF Offers New Doctorate Of Robotics

UWF Newsroom

The University of West Florida and the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition have partnered on a new Ph.D. program that’s all about robots.

"We've been thinking about something like this for quite a long time, but it's only in the last two or three years that the momentum really picked up," said Dr. Ken Ford, the founder, and CEO of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. He’s talking about the new doctoral program in intelligent systems and robotics. "As everyone is probably aware, intelligence systems, particularly (Artificial Intelligence) systems are of increasing importance and generally poorly understood. This is a broad program, ranging all the way from the intelligence systems to the hardware of the robots. So it will be very much personalized to each individual PhD student. It’s not one size fits all."

According to a 2012 study by the National Robotics Initiative, robotics technology is expected to become as widespread over the next decades as computer technology is today. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook projects a 19 percent growth rate for computer and information technology research scientists over the next 10 years. So IHMC and the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering at UWF have teamed up to create this unique program.

"There is a huge demand, whether it's locally, nationally or in the state of Florida, for people who really understand what intelligence systems are and what robotics do," said Dr. Mohamed Khabou, the Chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at UWF and is the interim director of the new program. "There are only three other programs of the same nature nationwide (at Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh and Georgia Institute of Technology), there are no such programs here in the state of Florida, so we will be the first in the state of Florida." And Dr. Khabou says that since this Ph.D. is so unique, they were pretty much writing the program from scratch. "The curriculum has been developed in collaboration with IHMC. So it's going to involve professors UWF (and) researchers from IHMC. So it is truly a collaboration."

The program will be a training ground for professionals who want to develop future technologies. And while it’s always cool talking about robots, this technology is becoming a part of everyday life from smartphones to smart houses to advanced GPS systems for your car. Dr. Ford says while the program mostly concentrates on research, a lot of that research will be hands-on construction of robots. "So for the (students) who do robotics, the hardware side of it, there will be tons of hands-on building robots. For the other (students) in the broader area of intelligence systems, a lot of it will be in software."

Dr. Ford also says he expects some people already working at IHMC to apply for this program. As for the other students in the initial class, Dr. Khabou says they will be very selective about who gets in. "Naturally, it's going to be open to computer scientists, to engineering students whether it's electrical, (computer or mechanical engineering). So we left it kind of flexible attract the (very best students). This is a program of excellence, so we are expecting a huge demand for it, and we will be very, very selective."

And as in demand as seats in this new program will be, the graduates will likely be in even more demand. "It's the technology of the future," said Dr. Khabou, "You hear about 'smart this, smart that', there is a huge demand for graduates with such knowledge. The sky's the limit, really!" Dr. Ford agrees. "It's very hard to hire someone with a PhD in a field related to A.I. or robotics. Silicon Valley snaps them all up pretty aggressively! So these (students) will have lots of options from academia to industry, whatever happens, to float their boat."

The new Doctorate in Intelligent Systems and Robotics will begin in the Fall of 2019.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.