Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researchers have secured a five-year, $3 million National Science Foundation grant focusing on research and training related to the adoption of robotic assistants in the workplace.

WPI received the grant from NSF’s Research Traineeship (NRT) program, which awarded $49 million to 17 institutions across the United States to develop and implement graduate education traineeship models in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

According to the NSF, these projects will immerse graduate students in interdisciplinary research and deliver training in career-aligned skillsets, which will enable the next generation of scientific leaders to tackle complex, societal problems.

“NRT projects are changing the graduate education landscape and preparing STEM scientists for 21st century careers,” said Karen Marrongelle, NSF assistant director for Education and Human Resources. “These STEM graduate students collaborate with diverse groups of stakeholders to tackle complex problems, where solutions often involve large datasets and sophisticated analyses.”

Cagdas Onal, associate professor of mechanical engineering at WPI, is the principal investigator on the grant. Onal said the interdisciplinary research program, named “Future of Robots in the Workplace - Research & Development (FORW-RD),” will allow graduate student trainees “…to attain diverse skills needed to navigate opportunities and challenges to shape, guide, and lead the transition to a robot-assisted workplace.”

He said the project anticipates training 120 master’s and PhD students, including 30 funded trainees, from mechanical engineering, robotics engineering, computer science, materials science, and user experience design in WPI’s Foisie Business School.