Course Requirements

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. programs have very similar course requirements. Ph.D. students earn a masters degree as part of their Ph.D. program. 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 at:





ROB 501

Math for Robotics

3 credits

ROB 550

Robotic Systems Laboratory

4 credits


One course from each core area: sensing, reasoning, acting

3 courses (9+ credits)


Two (or more) courses must be taken from at least one of the three core areas

3 credits


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.

4 credits

Directed Study

Research supervised by a robotics faculty member**(If you are seeking ROB 590 credit for MDP, approval is required from the grad committee:

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 three (3) courses in their first semester (fall) : Math for Robotics (ROB 501), Robotic Systems Laboratory (ROB 550), plus a third course related to their primary area of interest. In the second term (winter), students are advised to take two (2) courses, i.e. other breadth areas, plus a directed study course.

Each student is strongly encouraged to meet with his/her research advisor or the graduate chair soon after arrival on campus to discuss course options. The goal of this meeting is to develop a course plan that satisfies course requirements and student interests. It is expected that each student will identify and meet with a (directed study) research advisor by the beginning of their second term.

Qualification Process (Ph.D.)

A major milestone for Ph.D. students is to pass the qualifying exams, which advances the student to Ph.D. candidate status. The qualification process consists of an academic performance review, technical qualifying exam, and a research preliminary exam. A Ph.D. student is considered to have adequate performance in coursework if his/her grade-point average is 3.5 or above. Both exams are typically completed after three semesters in the program.

Technical Qualifying Exam

This is an oral exam in which the student is examined by two faculty members. The faculty will examine the student’s understanding of technical fundamentals gained from ROB 501 and ROB 550 coursework.

Research Preliminary Exam

The student delivers an oral presentation describing a research problem. Following the presentation (which may focus, for example, on a literature review, a replication study, or original research), two faculty members will question the student on their understanding of the research subject.

Thesis Proposal and Defense (Ph.D.)

Ph.D. students must propose, write, and defend a thesis on an original research topic. At least a year prior to their final defense, the student must also defend a thesis topic proposal to the Ph.D. committee.