WSCC partners with Michigan Tech to offer remote robotic training

July 28, 2023

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WSCC partners with Michigan Tech to offer remote robotic training

WSCC News is presented by West Shore Community College in partnership with Mason County Press.  

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor

VICTORY TOWNSHIP — Michigan Technological University was on site this week installing a robotic arm at the West Shore Community College’s tech center. The partnership between the two schools is designed to offer remote robotic training.

“The idea behind this particular robot is we wanted to reserve time and log on from anywhere in the world,” said WSCC Vice President of Academics Dr. Mark Kinney. “We have other robots that are on site where you can come in and use those face-to-face, but Michigan Tech partnered with us to develop software and a control system where you basically get hands-on robotics training without having to come to campus.

Dr. Mark Kinney

“We have been thinking about this and trying to come up with funding for about five years and everything finally aligned where we were able to pull it off. This summer their mechatronics and computer science faculty and some of their graduate students came and picked up one of our robots that we had purchased in the winter and took it up to Houghton; finished designing everything; and then they were here this week to install it,” said Kinney.

“It took so long because we had been trying to write grants together, and unfortunately none of the grants came through. So, we ended up funding it internally.

“We have our own proprietary software that has allowed us to open this up to anybody essentially.” The hope is that K-12 schools and industry partners take advantage of the unique remote learning opportunity. “We will have education material so they can learn what they’re doing and then practice on the actual robot.

“We’re super excited to be able to partner with Michigan Tech. We’re honored.”

Kinney’s previous job as dean at Bay College in Escanaba fostered the Michigan Tech partnership. “I developed some connections when I was up there; developed a program at Bay College; and got to meet all of these guys. We worked well together and kept the connection alive. When I took the job at West Shore in 2018, we started making plans to create a partnership.”

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The robotics courses at WSCC are co-developed by Michigan Tech. “Our students are learning the same exact content that their students are learning. When they finish the program here, they can either enter the workforce or transfer up to Michigan Tech to get a bachelor’s or master’s degree.”

An “introduction to industrial robotics” course and a “real time robotics systems” course are scheduled for this fall.

“Robotics will impact just about every industry,” said Kinney. In the last five years he has observed a surge of robotics use in area industries.

“There have been a lot of times businesses have a hard time finding enough workers. Instead of paying someone to do something that is very repetitive and manual, you can buy a robot and optimize it, and it usually increases productivity. Then, you can hire people to do more complex tasks.”

In agriculture, which is a major industry in this area, cobots are being used. Cobots are collaborative robots that work with humans. Not quite C-3PO or R2-D2, but technology seems to be moving in that direction.

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