Clemson receives $1.8M grant for robotics virtual reality curriculum

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Clemson University already has virtual reality curriculum for advanced manufacturing. Now, the school will have it for robotics. Photo provided by Clemson University.

A team at Clemson University will receive $1.8 million over the next three years to develop virtual reality-based curriculum for robotics courses.

Clemson is one of three agencies in the country to receive the grant from the Department of Defense’s Manufacturing Engineering Education Program, an initiative to support manufacturing and industry-related training in higher education institutions and other agencies.

Currently, the university has virtual reality curriculum — or modules — for advanced manufacturing, but not robotics.

The manufacturing modules simulate factories for students to walk through on their computers, similar to a video game. From there, students can learn to identify safety violations in a factory from a classroom setting.

The team at Clemson is creating a new curriculum, called TIME for Robotics, where students can use virtual reality to build and take apart robots.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, is heading up the project and said the curriculum will be developed for three different tracks — associate level students, baccalaureate students, and graduate students.

Gramopadhye said the program will allow students to study the different nuances of robots as well as the hazards before they step foot in a factory.

ANAND GRAMOPADHYE

“Exposing students to different kinds of robots, making sure they’re state of the art, will allow them to understand the nuances of how these robots work and what it takes to work in an advanced manufacturing environment where you will be working in a much more collaborative setting where the robots are working next to you,” Gramopadhye said.

Rebecca Hartley, director of operations at the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development, said the curriculum can be accessed on any operating system.

“Our virtual reality is primarily keyboard based, but you can use the immersive headgear,” Hartley said.

The curriculum won’t replace lab trips, she said, but it will better prepare students to handle the equipment.

“The virtual reality will help introduce them to certain pieces of equipment or certain processes before they actually have to do that in the lab,” Hartley said.

The team hopes to roll out the modules as early as next year, and it wouldn’t necessarily be limited to Clemson students.

REBECCA HARTLEY

“It will be developed with the Clemson influence and piloted with our partners first, but it’s certainly something that we can disseminate to other institutions, and particularly other partners that are using robotics,” Hartley said.

The hope is to use the curriculum to attract more students to advanced manufacturing at all three levels — associate, baccalaureate, and graduate.

“They’re all going to be able to learn a skill that will then translate into a sustainable career,” Hartley said.

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