If there ever were a sign that we are "living in the future," the ability to earn a degree in robotics (and to become a "Doctor of Robotics") might be it. Though the earliest research programs in robotics started cropping up on select college campuses more than 50 years ago, it wasn't until much more recently that the discipline began to gain popularity. Now, graduate students who have a background in engineering and a passion for futuristic technology can join one of nearly 70 universities in the United States that (according to NASA) include robotics on their list of specialties.
In determining this list of the top 20 robotics engineering programs, we looked specifically for schools that excelled in a few key areas.
First, we vetted schools on the comprehensiveness of their degrees. For example, an "M.S. in Robotics" fared better than an "M.S. in Computer Science: Concentration in Robotics," which in turn fared better than an "M.S. in Computer Science" with no highlighted concentration but a strong robotics research program. In the ranking below, eight degrees are comprehensive, eight offer a specialization, and four offer general degrees with strong research programs (you can recognize this latter group by the inclusion of the qualifying phrase "Research Area" in their degree titles).
Next, we took a close look at the schools' research programs, as this is an extremely important consideration for graduate students – especially Ph.D. students, and especially robotics engineers. To gauge the strength of their robotics research, we looked at the number of faculty conducting work in robotics or a related field and the number of focus areas/major labs included under the robotics umbrella. Note that there was some flexibility with this last metric, as not all schools organize their programs the same way. For example, some universities create consolidated labs for designated focus areas, while other colleges support networks of individual laboratories that overlap many different focus areas. In ranking schools, we did our best to award points judiciously and make fair comparisons that considered all contenders in context with one another.
Combining these factors, we were able to determine the following ranking of the 20 best robotics engineering degrees in the United States in terms of academic and innovative strength. You'll notice that a few of these schools are quite expensive, and we'd expect no less from colleges that host some of the most well-equipped, well-funded, high-tech laboratories in the world. But when you consider the knowledge (and job prospects) that these robotics engineering schools provide, it's easy to see how the investment will pay off.
20. University of Massachusetts-Amherst
M.S. in Computer Science: Robotics, Computer Vision, & Graphics Research Area
If you're interested in robots, chances are you're willing to get your hands dirty by actually working on building them in a lab. And if you go to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, it's practically a requirement! Computer science graduate students who opt for the "Research MS Track" have the coveted opportunity to work in some of the university's coolest facilities – but they should also prepare to eventually transition to the PhD program. Not that it's hard to convince most UMass grad students of the merits of becoming a Dr. of Robotics; with on-campus labs like the Autonomous Learning Laboratory (ALL) and the Laboratory for Perceptual Robotics, the opportunities to participate in cutting-edge work at this robotics engineering school are simply too hard to pass up.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $22,364/yr
Research Page: Robotics, Computer Vision, & Graphics
19. University of Minnesota
M.S./M.C.S. in Computer Science: Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Research Area
Although the University of Minnesota doesn't have a designated robotics engineering degree, its robotics and artificial intelligence research program could easily fool you into thinking it did! And for grad students, especially Ph.D. candidates, research is the first priority. Students throughout the College of Computer Science and Engineering can work on projects that fall under the umbrella of artificial intelligence, and research assistantships abound in UM labs. One example is the Center for Distributed Robotics, which operates a growing network of wirelessly controlled robots that can complete tasks and even cooperate with each other.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $21,621/yr
Research Page: Robotics & Artificial Intelligence
18. University of Tennessee-Knoxville
Graduate Programs in Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering: Robotics & Automation Research Area
The University of Tennessee at Knoxville is a burgeoning center of research in fields like robotics and artificial intelligence, and graduate students stand to benefit from this accelerated growth in numerous ways. Within the College of Engineering, UTK houses a combined program in Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering. This integrated department, which offers numerous graduate degrees, is perfect for students with interests that span several fields. When it comes to research, UTK's strength lies at the intersection of bioengineering, sensing, and robotics, and PhD students looking for work will find themselves right at home in the REACH (Robotics, Engineering, Applied Continuum Mechanics, and Healthcare) laboratory.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $21,450/yr
Research Page: Robotics, Automation, & Manufacturing
17. University of Washington-Seattle
MS in Electrical Engineering: Systems, Controls, & Robotics (Robotics Option)
Given the size and scope of the University of Washington, it's not surprising just how many options it has for robotics engineering degree students. The MSEE program is ideal for beginning graduate students and offers a concentration in Systems, Controls, and Robotics. Courses like Models of Robot Manipulation, Sensors and Sensor Systems, and a colloquium on current topics in robotics lay the groundwork for advanced technical positions in industry or continuation into a PhD program. And those who choose to do research will not be disappointed; UW even has a BioRobotics Lab! If that's not enough, consider heading over to the Computer Science program, where PhD students are hard at work studying brain-machine interfaces, movement control, and neural systems.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $22,302/yr
Research Page: UW Robotics
16. The Ohio State University
Graduate Program in Electrical & Computer Engineering: Robotics
Regardless of specialty, the Electrical and Computer Engineering program at The Ohio State University is one of the best that money can buy. Industry experts and government agencies alike have recognized OSU's superiority, and U.S. News consistently includes it in the top 10% programs nationally. Master's and PhD students can choose from more than a dozen concentrations in the ECE program, one of which is Robotics. OSU faculty are especially well known for their work in control systems, and the Control Research Lab on campus regularly explores topics related to autonomous vehicles, robotic motion, and intelligent transportation.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $22,161/yr
Research Page: Artificial Intelligence
15. California Institute of Technology
Graduate Degree in Control + Dynamical Systems: Robotics
At the California Institute of Technology, there isn't just one graduate degree in computer science – there are four! These multifaceted programs – such as Applied + Computational Mathematics and Computing + Mathematical Sciences – are uniquely suited to the talented, STEM-focused student body that Cal Tech attracts. In particular, the PhD in Control + Dynamical Systems has the ability to function like a robotics engineering degree, and the department even includes "Robotics" on its list of pre-approved specialties. But at a school like Cal Tech, the really exciting work happens in the research labs. And rest assured that you'll find roboticists on every corner of campus, from the famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory to the Rigorous Systems Research Group (RSRG or "resurge").
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $45,390/yr
Research Page: Robotics Autonomous Systems
14. Cornell University
M.Eng in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering: Dynamics, Controls, & Robotics
At Cornell, engineering students have the option to earn a Ph.D, an M.S, or an M.Eng. While the former two are more research-focused, the latter is designed for professional engineers and consists of just one year of accelerated coursework. Although M.Eng students don't complete years of research, they can take advantage of numerous concentration options and unique hands-on projects. In addition to classes like Mechatronics and Autonomous Mobile Robots, students can explore fluid dynamics, nonlinear vibrations, and solids mechanics to both strengthen and broaden their knowledge base. And students who do stick it out for the PhD program have even more to look forward to; Cornell's laboratories are hard at work producing everything from aerial drones to personal helpers like the "IkeaBot."
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $29,581/yr
Research Page: Robotics at Cornell
13. University of Utah
M.S. & Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, Robotics Track
If you're looking for the robot enthusiasts at the University of Utah, your best bet is to head straight to the Robotics Center. This is where you will find the Large Robotics Lab, a shared space – complete with a Vicon motion capture system for aerial studies – that is "designed for robots that need room to move." Other facilities include the DARC Lab (Design, Automation, Robotics, and Control) and Utah Telerobotics, an innovative group that is trying to develop microrobots to navigate inside the human body! But before students can jump into the laboratory, they'll need to prove themselves in the classroom. Fortunately, Utah's graduate programs in Mechanical Engineering include a Robotics Track – complete with coursework in Haptics and Advanced Mechatronics – that provide the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $15,103/yr
Research Page: Robotics Center
12. Colorado School of Mines
Graduate Degree Programs in Mechanical Engineering: Robotics, Automation, & Design
The Colorado School of Mines is well known as one of the top public schools for engineering and applied science, and the vast majority of its programs are devoted to innovative STEM programs. Graduate students especially reap the rewards of attending such a high-tech university; for proof, just look to the M.S. and Ph.D. programs in Mechanical Engineering. Academic concentrations/research areas include Biomechanics, Solid Mechanics and Materials, Thermal-Fluid Systems, and most importantly, Robotics. In keeping with its attitude of "responsible stewardship" and its emphasis on programs that "are central to the solution," Mines has developed the Biomechatronics Research Lab. Here, robotics engineering students work on systems that could revolutionize the medical field, including rehabilitation robots and sensorimotor augmentation interfaces.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $26,090/yr
Research Page: Robotics, Automation, & Design Research Area
11. Florida A&M University
Graduate Program at CISCOR
Unlike some other robotics engineering degree programs, which only offer a small number of courses directly related to the field, Florida A&M University fosters a uniquely targeted curriculum. All of the most relevant courses in robotics have been handpicked from majors throughout the College of Engineering, resulting in a rich set of classes that include Robot Kinematics and Dynamics, Artificial Neural Networks, and Applied Machine Learning. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the topic, FAMU graduate students work directly under faculty members in the Center for Intelligent Systems, Control, and Robotics, thus gaining exposure to people and programs within the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, and Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $16,921/yr
Research Page: Center for Intelligent Systems, Control, & Robotics
10. University of Texas-Austin
Graduate Portfolio Program in Robotics
The University of Texas at Austin only established its robotics program last year, making this one of the youngest robotics engineering degrees in the country. So how is it also one of the best? In actuality, UT Austin faculty have been researching robotic technology for many years now, but the school recently added a comprehensive academic program to signal its dedication to the field. As of 2015, graduate students and robotics enthusiasts no longer have to settle for a degree in computer science or electrical engineering; they can go straight to the source with UT Austin's "graduate portfolio" robotics program. The curriculum features a multidisciplinary set of coursework and allows students to obtain a "certification of expertise" in robotics along with their M.S. or Ph.D. diploma.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $15,848/yr
Research Page: Robotics at UT Austin
9. University of Maryland
M.S. in Systems Engineering: Robotics
Of all the degrees featured in this robotics engineering schools ranking, the University of Maryland's program is perhaps the most balanced. The M.S. in Systems Engineering at UMD combines several different areas of interest, and students have opportunities to learn about business, human factors, and even public policy – along with their technical specialty and research, of course! Future roboticists will certainly not be disappointed with the options available to them here; classes like Planetary Surface Robotics, Robot Motion Planning, and Introduction to Space Robotics form the basis of the Robotics concentration at UMD – and that's just the beginning! If you plan on doing research, head to the Maryland Robotics Center, where you'll find more than 30 faculty members exploring everything from miniature robots for nanomanipulation to unmanned robots for space exploration.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $19,475/yr
Research Page: Maryland Robotics Center
8. University of Pennsylvania
Master's Degree in Robotics (ROBO)
General robotics, automation, sensing, and perception (GRASP): in addition to perfectly describing the size and scope of UPenn's robotics engineering program, this acronym also happens to be the name of Penn Engineering's primary robotics laboratory. As the name suggests, GRASP is the center for all things automated. Here you'll find both faculty and student researchers hard at work on projects like the "UPennalizers," a group of (ever evolving) robot soccer players that have been showing off their athletic skills in international competitions since the 1990's. GRASP is also home to the University of Pennsylvania's world renowned robotics engineering degree for graduate students, which attracts a multitalented group of people who share one common trait: a passion for robots.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $34,268/yr
Research Page: General Robotics, Automation, Sensing & Perception Laboratory (GRASP)
7. University of Southern California
M.S. in Intelligent Robotics
With an M.S. degree in Intelligent Robotics, the University of Southern California is one of the only schools in the country to actually offer a full-fledged, top-to-bottom robotics engineering degree. The courses included within this program are all about robots, robots, robots – and nothing but! As a master's student in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, you'll begin your studies with classes in Robotics and the Foundations of Artificial Intelligence, work your way up to courses like Intelligent Embedded Systems and Nanorobotics, then round out your degree with directed research and internship opportunities. When the time comes, students can seek out experiential learning opportunities in cutting-edge facilities like the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Center (RASC) and the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems (IRIS).
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $40,670/yr
Research Page: Robotics, Brain Theory, & Computational Neuroscience
6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Graduate Program in Electrical Engineering Computer Science: Artificial Intelligence Research Area
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, there are so many laboratories, institutes, and research groups that it can be hard to keep track! Of all the universities represented on this robotics engineering degree ranking, MIT is perhaps the most comprehensive and research-intensive. In fact, the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) is the largest research center at MIT, and is home to more than 1,000 members, 100 principle investigators, and approximately 50 research groups. Students who are looking to get their foot in the door at this prestigious institution should apply to the graduate program in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, which – in addition to having close ties with CSAIL – also offers targeted instruction in cognitive robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $49,272/yr
Research Page: Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
5. Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University is undoubtedly one of the top colleges in the United States, but it is best known for its stellar medical programs. What does that have to do with robotics? A lot, apparently! Even a cursory glance at the school's Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics research page and you'll see exactly why. Most of the work going on in JHU robotics – including research in image-guided surgical systems and computer-aided diagnostics – have immediate applications to the medical field. Unsurprisingly, robotics engineering degree students at Johns Hopkins can even choose a "Medical Robotics and Computer Integrated Surgical Systems" specialization track.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $50,510/yr
Research Page: Laboratory for Computational Sensing & Robots
4. Oregon State University
Graduate Program in Robotics
At Oregon State University, there are no exceptions or specializations necessary, and the College of Engineering takes a direct academic approach by offering two straightforward programs: a Master's Degree in Robotics and a Doctorate Degree in Robotics. But don't mistake this streamlined system as evidence of a lack of variety – far from it! Graduate students at OSU have the option to apply to a Ph.D., M.S., or M.Eng robotics engineering degree program, or even to take on a double major with a more traditional field like computer science. And although the university's research program is similarly versatile, its pride and joy is the Robot Operating System. This "open-source framework for writing robot software" is the collective effort of hundreds of robotics experts – and is free to download!
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $18,123/yr
Research Page: Robotics Area of Research Excellence
3. Georgia Institute of Technology
M.S. in Computer Science: Computational Perception & Robotics
Students who are looking for a robotics engineering degree should take a close look at Georgia Tech's School of Interactive Computing, an innovative unit that "aims to redefine the human experience of computing." Within this department, graduate students can adopt a specialization in Computational Perception & Robotics. This specialization will guide them through complex – but cool – coursework in Robot Intelligence: Planning, Machine Learning, and Computational Photography, among others. Outside of the classroom, the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines is where you'll want to be. This "interdisciplinary research institute" (IRI) has only been in operation for a mere three years, but it has already attracted more than 70 faculty researchers – and more than twice that many grad students.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $22,854/yr
Research Page: Institute for Robotics & Intelligent Machines
2. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Robotics Masters and PhD Program
With full-fledged robotics engineering degrees for both master's and PhD students and an impressive research program that encompasses six distinct focus areas, the University of Michigan makes a pretty convincing case for its inclusion near the top of our list. U of M even allows 1st year graduate students to get hands-on experience right away by taking a Robotics System Laboratory course. The rest of the curriculum is split between three core areas: Sensing, Reasoning, and Acting – but don't expect to limit your learning to the classroom. U of M Robotics is especially popular for its "student teams" – such as Mars Rover, Solar Drones, and M-Fly (an aerospace design team) – which provide a social outlet where you can meet like-minded peers while picking up additional skills.
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $22,364/yr
Research Page: Michigan Engineering Robotics
1. Carnegie-Mellon University
M.S. in Robotic Systems Development
The Robotics Systems Development program at Carnegie Mellon University isn't your average robotics engineering degree – but then again, is there really such a thing? An advanced program for advanced graduates, the MRSD combines technical skills and engineering coursework with an emphasis on business and project management. As such, it is ideal for students who aspire to work in the commercial sector, where engineers are more likely to work in teams and dabble in multiple aspects of the organization – even marketing and product development. Although research may be an option for MRSD students, most of them are more likely to complete an internship instead. Given that companies like Lockheed Martin, Google, Intel, NASA, and Tesla have all expressed interested in hiring CMU robotics engineering degree students, it's definitely well worth the trade!
Graduate Tuition & Fees: $41,371/yr
Research Page: The Robotics Institute