May 21, 2020 Robotics Course Prepares Students for Certification, Perseveres through Unexpected Redirection

Students with robot

In spring 2020, Marshall Prado, assistant professor in the School of Architecture, led a new robotics course to prepare students to gain KUKA Robotics certification, making our college the first in the country to offer the curriculum to students outside of a KUKA facility as preparation for certification.

KUKA is a world leader of intelligent automation solutions with facilities across the globe. Normally candidates for certification must attend a KUKA Robotics College, but Prado, who is a KUKA-certified robotics expert, gained approval from KUKA to teach the certification curriculum to students in the College of Architecture and Design.

According to KUKA, the spring course was a pilot program that could result in a program offered to other universities across the world in the future.

In the course, students used the KUKA core education curriculum taught by Prado to develop a fundamental understanding of computational design techniques for digital and robotic fabrication. In the process, they became ready to earn the world-renowned certification in robotics.

The course was taught in the college’s Fab Lab before COVID-19 forced education to move online. The Fab Lab is a 20,000-square-foot maker space and home to a nine-axis robotic cell, manufactured by KUKA. Students learned by using the robot, which features a three-meter robotic arm, an eight-meter linear rail with a two-axis turntable and several robotic and effector tools.

Fab Lab robot

Through this training, students learned safety protocols, basic functionality, programming, hardware setup and theoretical understanding, and to attain the certification, they had to pass an exam and skills test associated with the use of the robotics. In late spring, students and Prado were supposed to travel to Greenville, South Carolina, the nearest KUKA facility, to undergo the day-long test, and once certified, students would’ve had enough knowledge to operate the Fab Lab’s robot on their own.

By mid-March, the class had completed the KUKA curriculum in time for the scheduled testing, but in late March, KUKA cancelled all testing at the same time as all UT classes moved online due to COVID-19.

Although the interruption to in-person education meant a swift redirection for the course, Prado led his students through related topics. The redirection, however, meant a pause in the plans for certification.

This type of certification and training will create a unique skill set for students, especially in the architecture field. The knowledge can be useful in a broader spectrum of jobs in architecture, research and beyond.

“Professor Prado’s robotics course demonstrates how architecture can be perceived, designed, fabricated and implemented into the built environment,” said Courtney St. John, graduate Architecture student and graduate research assistant, who graduated in May. “As a future architect, I believe it is crucial to explore all aspects and technologies the field of architecture has to offer and learning from someone in the expertise of KUKA robotics is an opportunity I don’t believe students should pass up,” she said.

In addition to exploring the fundamental understanding of computational design techniques for digital and robotic fabrication, students collaborated with various engineering, architectural and manufacturing fields for design and production development.

When students return to campus in fall 2020, Prado hopes to be able to reschedule the anticipated testing for students from the spring class.