Home Bots & Brains NERVE Center celebrates ten years in robotics

NERVE Center celebrates ten years in robotics

by Marco van der Hoeven

Walking robots, flying drones, protective exoskeletons and more were developed at UMass Lowell, which recently celebrated 10 years of robotics at the university’s New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) Center.

Located in Lowell’s Hamilton Canal Innovation District, the center is a hub where UMass Lowell’s faculty researchers come together with tech sector and government leaders to evaluate the performance of robots and automated systems as they move from the drawing board to the marketplace. It’s also where UMass Lowell students, particularly those studying computer science, robotics and engineering, gain a firsthand understanding of these systems’ design and development.

Through joint efforts with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Army, the NERVE Center is the only robotics testing site in the northeastern United States.

“The NERVE Center represents the collaboration of faculty and students from a range of disciplines. And its success over the past 10 years – working closely with collaborators such as NIST and the U.S. Army DEVCOM Soldier Center – is a real testament to the priority we place at UMass Lowell on improving our world and community through research in partnership with others,” said UMass Lowell Chancellor Julie Chen, who, in 2013, helped open the center as the university’s first vice provost for research.

UMass Lowell computer science Professor Holly Yanco, an internationally acclaimed robotics expert, and chair of the university’s Richard A. Miner School of Computer & Information Sciences, serves as the NERVE Center’s director.

“UMass Lowell’s NERVE Center involves 16 faculty, 10 staff members, over 75 students and more than 30 in-house robots. Over the past decade, we’ve developed test methods and metrics for response, assistive and legged robots; robot arms and grippers; exoskeletons; and other robots. And, through testing, we can identify limitations to robot systems to improve them. We are grateful for the support of our partners in pursuit of this goal,” said Yanco, who is also a member of the Massachusetts Robotics Industry Steering Committee. The group was convened by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to grow the Bay State’s robotics sector.

More than 100 people attended the event to watch demonstrations and tour the facility. Along with Chen, speakers included Ann Virts, NIST project leader; and David Audet, systems division chief of the U.S. Army DEVCOM Soldier Center in Natick.

All spoke about the NERVE Center’s success growing its research, testing and evaluation capabilities. The 10,000 square-foot center houses many testbeds and methods to assess the locomotion, mobility, dexterity and sensor functions of robots and automated devices, along with their ability to navigate terrain and avoid obstacles. The center’s team custom designs testing services and robotics prototyping services to meet clients’ needs and provides testing services to clients at the center and off-campus sites.

Photo: The UMass Lowell NERVE Center recently marked its 10th anniversary as the nation’s foremost robots testing and validation center. Credit UMass Lowell

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