Google has been busy buying up robotics companies lately. Their latest acquisition of Boston Dynamics means they have now acquired eight robotics companies in the last six months. What are they going to do with these new holdings? So far, Google is remaining tight-lipped, but it’s not hard to imagine that Google will have an answer to Amazon’s drone-driven Amazon Prime Air delivery service really soon.
These moves are consistent with Google’s consistently forward-looking approach to technology. The company has been especially good at taking cutting-edge research in computer science and electrical and computer engineering and turning it into transformative products with tremendous commercial appeal. The technology that started their kingdom, internet search, is nothing more than sophisticated search algorithms deployed across monstrously large banks of high-powered computers operating in parallel. They take contemporary computer science research and push it to its limits. That’s how innovation happens.
Lewis’ programs in Computer Science (and now, Computer Engineering) take a similarly progressive view. We have worked hard to ensure that our curriculum gives students a solid foundation in computational thinking (including programming, networking, data storage, mathematical modeling, and cyber security) while also exposing them to more cutting-edge kinds of topics (such as data mining, machine learning, game design, mobile device programming, and artificial intelligence). Our latest innovation, which junior and senior computer scientists will take this coming Spring semester, is a course called “Special Topics: Introduction to Robotics”. Although we have used robots in the past to illustrate programming concepts and artificial intelligence algorithms, this is our first course devoted specifically to the design and construction of a robot. Dr. Dana Dominiak, who is in her first year as Assistant Professor of Computer Science, will be teaching the course. The course will be project-based and hands-on from the start. Students will learn the theory from physics and mathematics that go into designing a robot and the algorithms that help control the robot. But they’ll also have plenty of time to build and program the robot based on the theoretical concepts they’ve learned. It’s going to be a great opportunity for our undergraduates that, if Google’s vision is right, will uniquely qualify them to take on the next big thing.