In 2018, five students signed up when the mechatronics program began at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
By 2021, there were 65 students.
In 2023, it’s 90.
Housed in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the mechatronics program has grown in popularity, reflecting the growth of mechatronics worldwide.
Mechatronics is the combination of mechanical engineering with electronics, electrical circuits, control mechanisms and software engineering.
To prepare UTC students for post-graduation careers, the Robotics, Intelligent Systems and Control Lab will open on Thursday, May 4, in the CECS building. It’s the second mechatronics lab in the college and is across the hall from the first, which opened in 2021.
“A lot of the students in the field of engineering and technology are really hungry to work with machines, work with the technology,” said Dr. Ahad Nasab, head of the Department of Engineering Management and Technology and Burkett Miller Chair of Excellence who created of the mechatronics program.
“Our engineering and technology students want to learn all the fundamentals of engineering science, of course, but they’re really longing for hands-on activities, basically touching that technology,” he said.
The first mechatronics lab focused on automation, such as the systems used by food and beverage companies to prepare, package and ship their products with minimal human interaction.
The new lab will focus on two intertwined areas: Artificial intelligence and mobile mechatronics, also called mobile robots.
Industry is reliant on robotics now. In most cases, the robots are controlled through artificial intelligence.
Four-wheeled, low-to-the-ground mobile robots—picture more-sophisticated, muscular Roombas—are used throughout the world, said Dr. Gokhan Erdemir, associate professor in engineering whose expertise is robotics and who helped set up the new lab.
Capable of lifting a ton or more, mobile robots can carry large machinery, small parts, even paperwork, through manufacturing facilities. They can learn pathways, avoid walls, recognize colors and discriminate between one item and another, for instance, an onion from a crab.
Human-like robotic arms, among other jobs, can pick up items, manipulate them into the various positions for the next step in manufacturing or assemble other machines, explained Dr. Erkan Kaplanoglu, director of the Biomechatronic and Assistive Technology Lab and associate professor in mechatronics.
He cited the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga as an example.
“At Volkswagen, they use them for their painting shop and body shop. They’re very precise, and they do not get tired,” Kaplanoglu said.
Knowledge of robotics and artificial intelligence gives mechatronics students a leg up once they graduate, Erdemir said.
“Students are capable of solving problems because they know the essential information about electrical engineering, software engineering, mechanical engineering and computer engineering,” he said.
“So, if there is a problem, they can find the solution very easily because they know the different fields.”