Robotics Master of Science from Northwestern University

Prof. Argall and students collaborating on an autonomous wheelchair.


An interdepartmental program, the Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) is a one-year, full-time graduate program that equips students with the tools required of a robotics engineer. Robotics is a cutting-edge field that is forecasted to grow substantially over the next 20 years. It is also a broad field requiring engineers to have expertise in computer science, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, biomedical engineering, and mathematics. However, most undergraduate programs focus on only one of these areas. This program is designed to provide intense, hands-on training to bridge the knowledge and experience gap between an undergraduate engineering degree and a career in robotics.

Curriculum Overview

Close-up of Darwin robotThe program features a combination of traditional courses and in-depth, project-based work.

Robotics curriculum course subject areas
  • automatic control
  • kinematics and dynamics
  • machine learning
  • path planning
  • human-machine interfaces
  • biomedical engineering
  • neuroscience
  • robotic rehabilitation
  • prosthetics 
Robotics research projects

Students will be given the opportunity to participate in a diverse set of robotics research projects with faculty from all over Northwestern. This includes working with the Neuroscience and Robotics Laboratory, a world leader in robotics, haptic interfaces, and biomedical engineering. Project areas include multi-robot systems, robotic manipulation, haptics, simulation and control of multibody systems, swarm robotics, bio-inspired sensing and control, and prosthetics engineering.

Industrial collaboration and internships

Industrial ties are an essential part of the program. The program will feature seminars, networking events, and projects from leading industrial partners. Additionally students will be encouraged to participate in industrial internships.

Project portfolios

The program features a series of open-ended, project-oriented experiences provided by faculty-led, independent research work and through courses such as Embedded Systems in Robotics. Each student will create an online project portfolio detailing the projects they complete as part of the program. These portfolios may be used for evaluating student performance in courses, and they will provide the student with an ideal place to showcase their work for potential employers or PhD schools.

Who Should Apply

The program is aimed at outstanding students who have already completed a BS in engineering or related field and are seeking a career in robotics. Possible undergraduate majors include computer science, and mechanical, electrical, or biomedical engineering. Students are strongly encouraged, but not required, to have programming experience in C, C++, and Python prior to enrolling. Programming experience will facilitate participation in upper-division EECS courses that have programming prerequisites. Students with less programming background will be presented with supplementary instruction during the Fall term.

Program Duration and Requirements

Magnet-wheeled differential drive robot

The program requires four quarters of enrollment in four course units each quarter for a total of sixteen units. The program can be completed on either a 12 or 15 month schedule depending on whether the student chooses to participate in an internship during the summer quarter. Ten of the required units are completed during the three-quarter academic year by taking traditional courses offered in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science, and biomedical engineering. The program has three required courses, ME 449: Robotic Manipulation, ME 495: Embedded Systems in Robotics, and ME 333: Intro to Mechatronics. For those students with no experience in Lagrangian dynamics, ME 314: Theory of Machines—Dynamics is highly recommended. The remaining traditional courses are elective courses chosen under the advisement of the MSR Director and Assistant Director. Two additional course units are satisfied during the winter and spring quarters by completing project work, and the remaining four units are completed in the student's final quarter through full-time work on a faculty-led research project. More details on the project requirements can be found below. Students must maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0.

Project requirements

Students will complete a single course unit of project work in both the winter and spring quarters, and they will spend their final quarter working full-time on a faculty-led research project. The project completed in the winter quarter is an indpendent, standalone project under the advisement of Todd Murphey and Jarvis Schultz, and they will work with students during the Fall quarter to develop a satisfactory project idea. During the winter quarter students not only complete their independent project, but they are also matched with MSR faculty to act as advisors for the remainder of their project work. In the spring quarter, students begin working with their advisor to lead into their final quarter of project work. 

The final quarter of project work occurs in the summer quarter immediately after the student has completed all other course requirements, or if the student chooses to participate in a summer internship they will return to complete this requirement during the following Fall quarter. The program concludes with a final presentation where the student describes their project work and its relevance and importance to the robotics industry and robotics research.

The project work from all three quarters must be documented in the student's project portfolio.

Program schedule at a glance

The table below summarizes the breakdown of project and course work for each of the four quarters.

    First Quarter Second Quarter Third Quarter Fourth Quarter
Traditional Course Units   4 3 3 0
Project Course Units   0 1 1 4
Project Work Responsibilities and Notes   Determine independent project for the following quarter Complete independent project; Advisor matching for following quarters Complete one unit of project work with advisor Full-time project quarter occurring in either summer or fall

Master of Science in Robotics

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