VU Jasper unveils collaborative robots lab bringing advanced technology to Dubois County

VU Jasper unveils collaborative robots lab bringing advanced technology to Dubois County

A collaborative robot or cobot in the VU Jasper Cobot Learning Lab

October 18, 2021

JASPER, Ind. – We are surrounded by technology, and it is changing at lightning speed. In many cases, the future is now. It used to be humans and robots sharing a workspace safely as co-workers was unimaginable. Collaborative robots or cobots currently work side by side with humans in a myriad of fields, including manufacturing, medical, and aviation.

Vincennes University is bringing advanced technology and training to Dubois County to support the manufacturing employers throughout the area as well as helping build a talent pipeline in advanced automation and cobots. VU and its partner Carmel-based Telamon recently installed 11 collaborative robots at the Center for Technology, Innovation, and Manufacturing (CTIM) on the Vincennes University Jasper Campus

According to VU Provost Dr. Laura Treanor, "Vincennes University is proud to invest in bold projects that keep Indiana moving forward. We are committed to making a positive impact on the communities we serve, and we are proud to offer access to the latest technologies and modern processes to those we partner with in the Jasper area. The cutting-edge cobot learning lab in the Center for Technology, Innovation, and Manufacturing at VUJ will be an exceptional resource for existing industry and education partners, as well as new connections."

The cobot lab in the CTIM is part of a larger investment VU is making in the Jasper Campus. A $2 million renovation of the Jasper Administration Building is slated for completion in December. With funding from the Lilly Endowment, the University and VU Jasper are expanding their partnerships with local schools to enhance learning and career awareness in critical Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. VU has partnered with the Indiana Manufacturing Competitiveness Center (IN-MaC) at Purdue and has placed two Design & Innovation Studios in elementary schools, and is launching a summer STEM academy for area high school students.

Robotics technology and automation are transforming the workforce and altering the look of workplaces. Cobots, which are deployed to support and improve the efficiency of the human worker, can be additional support for the human, giving them an extra set of hands. They enhance productivity rather than replace humans in the workplace.

For example, a cobot in a manufacturing setting could be a robotic arm with a grasping mechanism that performs a repetitive task like picking and placing with the human performing the more valuable assembly of the part. Improvements in sensor technology allow cobots to safely interact with humans, work at human speeds, and some are even guided by human contact. Cobots are smaller, able to be moved, and easier to reprogram to perform different tasks.

The new collaborative robotics lab in the CTIM is part of an $8 million "Developing a Workforce Ecosystem for Industry 4.0 in Indiana" grant funded by a Lilly Endowment Inc. initiative. The training lab will allow VU Jasper to provide employers with demonstrations, workshops, and access to emerging cobot technologies, applications, and models.

"We are pleased Vincennes University has selected VU Jasper for a cobot learning lab," CTIM Director Jacob Berg said. "Cobots represent the next generation of automation within the manufacturing sector and will become part of the solution to overcoming current productivity and workforce challenges. We are excited to provide our students and partner companies with opportunities to learn about this new technology. The VUJ Cobot Learning Lab is a resource for all community partners to explore and test collaborative robots."

Cobot competitions and boot camps are also in the works as VU strives to promote emerging technologies and engage educators, students, parents, and employers. The University anticipates offering scholarships, credentials, and degrees in STEM-focused programming.

The cobot learning lab on the VU Jasper Campus is one of VU’s three labs in Central and Southern Indiana. Cobots are currently in the Gene Haas Training and Education Center in Lebanon. The state-of-the-art Center for Applied Robotics and Automation (CARA) is under construction on the Vincennes Campus.

VUJ offers access to many one-of-a-kind opportunities for employers, students, and residents of Dubois County and the surrounding region.

VUJ has forged a significant partnership with the Patoka Valley Cooperative. Together, they launched the Automation and Robotics Academy (ARA) for high school students. They have also created additional pathways for high school students in Aviation Operations, Construction Trades, IT, Cybersecurity, Business Administration, Emergency Medical Technician, and Health Science. The ARA and Construction Trades programs have the distinction of being an Indiana State Earn and Learn (SEAL) program, a designation awarded by the Indiana Office of Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship (OWBLA).

Another unique program is the Career Advancement Partnership (CAP). CAP is a major workforce development initiative between VU Jasper and local companies. VU Jasper students learn high-demand industrial maintenance skills while working internships with industry partners.