Originally published in the 2015 edition of Innovation magazine
by Amy Raley
The late Sam Walton would have been proud. The shrewd creator of the Sam’s Club and Walmart stores would no doubt applaud the economy-of-scale business model that the National Science Foundation has used in its Industry/University Cooperative Research Center program (I/UCRC). The program essentially is a club made up of dues-paying companies that need research and development and universities with faculty and student researchers who can do the needed R and D.
Eric Matson, associate professor of computer and information technology, and Julia Taylor, assistant professor of computer and information technology, are members of the I/UCRC along with faculty from other Purdue colleges.
Because member companies either may not be able to afford R and D on their own, or may want the work done more quickly than can be done in-house, they pay a moderate annual membership fee for low-cost access to university researchers who can meet their R and D needs economically and quickly.
“In our case,” Matson says, “we are set up to do research into robots and sensors, so if you’re a company that doesn’t have a lot of technical staff and you need a project done, we can do a yearlong project for you for approximately $35,000 — which is the standard cost of joining with a full membership. That compares to $150,000 or more that a company would pay to hire a full-time PhD to do the work, and, most likely, added time to get it done.”
A highly complex, multifaceted study that Matson and Taylor are doing for a member company involves robotics and sensing for surgery. Faculty from Purdue’s industrial engineering, computer science and mechanical engineering schools also are involved, providing the company with a multidisciplinary strategy to automate various surgical tasks as well as “read” cues on the surgeon’s face.
“I would add that even if you’re a large company this brings you different points of view,” Taylor says. “Typically, it’s very hard to get an outside perspective because of intellectual property protections. This is a unique opportunity to see where the technology is going in an area of your interest.”