Robotics at the University of Pennsylvania Robotics at the University of Pennsylvania


April 29, 2014

Forty years ago, when asked to picture a robot, the average person may have envisioned a machine building cars in a factory in Japan or a humanoid figure from a sci-fi movie.

Fast forward four decades later, and robots are being used in medicine and warehouses, in defense and search-and-rescue, in physical therapy and occupational lifting, doing telepresence in an office, and outsmarting humans on “Jeopardy!” Some have even been taught to touch like we touch and see like we see. Dan Lee, director of the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, and Perception (GRASP) Lab, housed within the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), says that in the near future, robots could be in our homes, “helping out like a nurse or a nanny.”

So advanced has been the study of robots that many people have expressed concern about these machines entering everyday life (Fear not, the roboticists say). So new is the field that experts are still debating what qualifies as a robot.

Penn has long been at the forefront of robotics research. The GRASP Lab, founded in 1979, is one of the few incubators for mechanized intelligence, with members specializing in areas from haptics and computer vision, to aerodynamics and mechatronic systems.

Eduardo Glandt, dean of SEAS, calls the lab “an open toy store full of robots and wonderful grad students, post docs, and faculty, all interacting in this place for innovation.”

At Penn, like many other fields, robotics is an interdisciplinary endeavor. Penn Engineering researchers have collaborated on groundbreaking projects with experts from the School of Dental Medicine and the Perelman School of Medicine. At Penn Dental, robotics is being used to aid instruction and treatment. At Penn Medicine, robotics is employed in gynecology, urology, general surgery, head and neck surgery, and thoracic surgery.

In this four-part multimedia series, produced by Penn’s Office of University Communications, we explore robotics at Penn in four ways: through technology, history, education, and real-world applications. Read about technology on April 29, history on May 1, education on May 6, and real-world applications on May 8.

Penn finds itself at the center of this expanding field of study, designing intelligent machines for the changing times.

About this project


ROBOTICS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA was produced and developed by the following puny humans from the Office of University Communications:

  • MATT CALLAHAN, web developer
  • HEATHER A. DAVIS, manager, internal communications
  • REBECCA ELIAS ABBOUD, video producer
  • GREG JOHNSON, editor
  • EVAN LERNER, science writer
  • STEVEN MINICOLA, director of web and visual strategy
  • SCOTT SPITZER, photographer
  • MARIA ZANKEY, staff writer

* with SPECIAL THANKS to the staff and faculty of the GRASP Lab.