Graduate Degree Program

The Robotics Master’s (M.S.) Degree program requires completion of 30 credits of letter-graded coursework including directed study for three (3) to six (6) credits. Ph.D. students may earn a Master’s degree as part of their Ph.D. program. This MS may be conferred provided the student does not already have a master’s degree in Robotics. To complete the Ph.D., students will typically complete a minimum of six (6) additional credits to satisfy specific course requirements. The Rackham residency requirement states that at least 18 of the 36 course credits required for a Ph.D. be earned at the University of Michigan, for those entering with M.S. degrees from other institutions.

The robotics program classifies most of its courses as belonging to one of three core subdisciplines:

  • Sensing – Includes computer vision, mapping, signal processing
  • Reasoning – Includes planning, multi-agent coordination, machine learning, artificial intelligence
  • Acting – Includes control, kinematics, dynamics, mechanical, bio-mechanical systems design, manipulation, real-time systems

Note: For links to lists of approved courses in each core subdiscipline go to:

The following table summarizes robotics program course requirements. The “Other Electives” course set is quite general and should be discussed with a student’s advisor and documented on the student’s course plan. Some suggested math and robotics courses hosted in traditional departments are listed here:

Course/CategoryDescriptionRequirement
ROB 501Math for Robotics4 credits
ROB 502 (optional)Programming for Robotics3 credits
ROB 550Robotic Systems Laboratory4 credits
BreadthOne course from each core area: sensing, reasoning, acting3 courses (9+ credits)
DepthAt least 1 additional course taken from at least one of the 3 core areas: sensing, acting, reasoning3 credits
Cognate (Ph.D. only)One technical course from outside your depth core area. Note that the cognate CANNOT double-count for a breadth course. Required for all Ph.D. students. Required for M.S. students admitted prior to fall 2018.3 credits
Directed StudyResearch supervised by a robotics faculty member. If you are seeking ROB 590 credit for MDP, approval is required from the grad committee: please email um-robotics@umich.edu. Please note effective Winter 2023) if doing MDP, all 4 credits (this includes the 1 credit for ENGR 599) will count towards the maximum of 6 ROB 590 credits that can count toward the MS.3-6 credits
Advanced Research (optional)ROB 690 “Master’s Advanced Research” is faculty-supervised research that culminates in a submitted and graded document. The expectation is that the student will write and submit an original conference style paper based on their advanced research that builds on earlier research completed in three to six credits of ROB 590. Specific expectations are determined by the research advisor. ROB 690 will be letter graded (not S/U).3 credits
Other Electives (Ph.D. only)400 level or higher (approved by a faculty advisor)3+ credits

1st Year Students

All first-year M.S. and Ph.D. robotics students are advised to take two-three courses in the first (fall) semester:  Math for Robotics (ROB 501), Programming for Robotics (ROB 502) or Robotic Systems Laboratory (ROB 550), plus, if they choose, a third course related to their primary area of interest.  In the second term, students are advised to take two-three courses, e.g., from depth or breadth areas, or 2 courses plus a directed study course.

Qualification Process (Ph.D.)

A major milestone for Ph.D. students is to pass the Comprehensive Qualifying Exam (CQE). The CQE is a comprehensive oral exam that primarily includes a research component as well as technical questions regarding core courses. The student submits a standard IEEE conference paper format document describing their research and delivers an oral presentation describing a research problem. Following the presentation two faculty members will question the student on their understanding of their subject.

A student automatically qualifies to take the CQE if they received a grade of A- or better in both ROB 501 and ROB 550. A grade of B+ in either ROB 501 or ROB 550 is considered a borderline case and the student must request permission to take the CQE by identifying their core weaknesses and a plan (approved by advisor) to address them (e.g. by taking an independent study or related class, or retaking core class). This proposal will be considered by the Graduate Committee. If the student receives a grade below B+ in ROB 501 or ROB 550 they need to retake the course(s). Only one retake per class is allowed.

Thesis Proposal and Defense (Ph.D.)

The student will write a concise Research Thesis Proposal and give a formal oral presentation of the work to the Dissertation Committee approximately 1 year before the Final Oral Defense.  Each Ph.D. Candidate must prepare a dissertation, giving evidence of their ability to conduct original, advanced research and to present the results of that research in well-written form. The student must also defend the work orally in an open examination called the Final Oral Defense.