Five Minutes With Paul Umbanhowar

The Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) Professor shares his research interests and his goals for MSR students.

Professor Paul Umbanhowar has taught courses on classical, quantum, and statistical mechanics, thermodynamics, electrodynamics, and mechanical vibrations.

Paul UmbanhowarAs a faculty member within Northwestern's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program, Umbanhowar emphasizes the development of physical intuition and the underlying interrelation of methodologies.

Umbanhowar took a few minutes to explain his research interests, misconceptions about the robotics industry and what he hopes MSR students are able to take away from his classes.

How do you summarize your research interests to someone with little to no background in engineering or robotics?

I am interested in understanding the interaction between the environment manifested through various forces (e.g., friction, gravity, drag, constraints) and active objects (e.g., robots, animals).  In particular, I would like to understand how to create effective interactions (e.g., move, manipulate) through design and control of the objects as well as alterations to the environment.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about robotics today?

I think the biggest misconception is that Deep Learning or some other form of AI will solve the many challenging problems in locomotion and manipulation.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the robotics industry today?

Developing robots that can operate effectively in unstructured and changing environments, whether they are a busy factory floor or natural settings.

What do you enjoy most about being involved with the MSR program?

I most enjoy the high level of technical competence and enthusiasm of the MSR students.  I'm always surprised by the wide and varied expertise each student I've worked with possess.

What are the one or two things you hope MSR students who work with you take away from the experience?

I hope that students who work with me have a chance to apply and sharpen their technical abilities by working on engineering science driven projects. I also try to help them develop their problem solving/design ability by focusing on the underlying physics fundamentals.

Is there anything else you would like to add about the program?

I've very much enjoyed the professionalism and positive attitude of both the students and the program staff and administration.