Thrust Areas

Agriculture and Environmental Monitoring

Agriculture is an ideal industry for autonomous or semi-autonomous robotic systems because it involves many processes that are labor intensive, repetitious and rely on information that computers can interpret and respond to. Many opportunities to meet current needs have been identified in Minnesota's farming industry and companies like the Corn and Soybean Growers Associations are increasingly interested in automation and the opportunities production, quality and sustainability. 

Research in robotic systems for agriculture can occur in many areas. One area of interest lies in the precision agriculture that encompasses technologies used to adapt farm production inputs through collected information to maximize production, quality, and sustainability. Additional areas of interest reside in the physical processes of maintaining and harvesting of produce remains are large focus in the field of automated agriculture. Unfortunately, research in automated agriculture has seen limited penetration into industrial practice, in part because the immediate and practical needs of farming operations are not being targeted by research.

We aim to fill this gap in research and explore ways in which robotics can improve product quality, farming production and environmental sustainability in Minnesota and beyond.

Manufacturing

With robotics no longer connoting fixed single-arm devices performing repetitive tasks on an assembly line, the relevance of the discipline and the technology now extends to manufacturing writ large. The State of Minnesota has a long history in manufacturing, and has over 8,300 manufacturers making a wide range of products. 42% of Minnesota’s Fortune 500 companies involved in manufacturing—several diverse opportunities have been created and new efforts are surfacing every day. 

The design of advanced robotic platforms as well as intelligence, perception, planning, and control algorithms are creating tremendous opportunities by facilitating more dynamic and efficient factory environments in which the autonomous systems and human operators can safely work together.

Medicine

The UMN Medical School, the Mayo facilities, and the various medical devices companies within the Twin Cities area create some unique opportunities in medical robotics and in general in applying automation to the medical domain. Medical robotics, from surgical robotics to robotics for rehabilitation, is a relatively new area that has a dramatic potential.

In medicine, robotics is used to allow surgeons to perform surgery with precision and observability not otherwise offered with traditional medical tools. These robots have revolutionized Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS), allowing robotic surgical tools to be inserted into small incisions to perform surgery. Procedures like this are key to decreasing the side effects of surgery, such as long and painful recovery times.

Robotics has a high impact on the medical industry and are also areas that benefit from the unique opportunities that the institute provides.

Outreach and Commercialization

Robotics is a name that resonates well with the people of Minnesota, where youth robotics programs are popular and rising. In fact, the state has the third largest number of FIRST Robotics teams in the U.S. In addition to the research objectives, the Minnesota Robotics Institution continues to strive for educational and outreach goals, expanding robotics education within the MnRI network and beyond.

We exist to foster innovation and welcome creative thinking in evolving fields through using the developed technology in multiple ways and domains.

Our goal at the Minnesota Robotics Institute is to attract more students to the fields of science and engineering from across various social and ethnic groups, to cross gender boundaries, and to enrich the engineering curriculum by expanding it in directions dictated by the research objectives of the institute.