Michigan Engineering News

Portrait of Dawn Tilbury

Leader in robotics at U-M and beyond elected to National Academy of Engineering

Dawn Tilbury is recognized for advances in manufacturing network control and human-robot interaction, as well as engineering leadership.


Dawn Tilbury

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Ronald D. and Regina C. McNeil Department Chair of Robotics

Herrick Professor of Engineering, Professor of Robotics

Professor or Mechanical Engineering

Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Steven Ceccio

Portrait of Steven Ceccio

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Interim Dean of Engineering at the University of Michigan

Dawn Tilbury, the Ronald D. and Regina C. McNeil Department Chair of Robotics at the University of Michigan, has been recognized with one of engineering’s greatest honors—election to the National Academy of Engineering. 

NAE members are outstanding researchers, and the organization underscored her work in manufacturing network control and human-robot interaction. Tilbury’s smart manufacturing work includes digital twins, managing the health of manufacturing systems, and reconfiguring such systems. The announcement also named human-robot teaming.

Tilbury has also been a leader in many arenas in engineering. Most recently at U-M, she led faculty from many engineering departments as well as across campus to coalesce into a robotics graduate program, a Robotics Institute, a new building for robotics and finally an undergraduate program and a department. Established in 2022, U-M’s Robotics Department is one of just six in the world, and the only at a Top 10 U.S. engineering school. 

Dawn Tilbury stands in front of the Ford Robotics Building.
Instrumental in organizing robotics researchers at U-M and championing the need for a facility to bring them together, Dawn Tilbury stands in front of the Ford Robotics Building. Photo credits: Brenda Ahearn, Michigan Engineering

Tilbury also served at the national level as the assistant director for engineering at the National Science Foundation from 2017 to 2021.

“Dawn Tilbury is a nationally recognized leader in control theory and its applications as well as a driving force behind Michigan Robotics,” said Steven Ceccio, interim dean of engineering at U-M. “This is one of the greatest distinctions in engineering. It highlights her excellence in robotics, at both fundamental and human-centered levels, as well as her influence on the field.”

Earlier in her career, Tilbury was a thrust area leader and testbed director in the Engineering Research Center for Reconfigurable Manufacturing Systems. She directed the Ground Robotics Research Center, which studied the reliability of autonomous ground vehicles, and served as the deputy director of the Automotive Research Center from 2011 to 2013 when ground robotics was absorbed into this larger center.

Beyond disciplinary research, Tilbury has also been a leader for women faculty members, co-organizing two Big 10 Women’s Workshops in 2010 and 2013. These workshops connected junior women faculty with both senior and peer mentors and cultivated collaboration, aiming to help more women thrive in the profession.

“I am honored and thrilled to be elected to the NAE,” Tilbury said. “Throughout my career at Michigan, in mechanical engineering and now robotics, I have had wonderful mentors both here at Michigan and worldwide. I’ve had opportunities to work with amazing students, great collaborators and industry partners to perform research that makes the world a better place. I look forward to continuing to serve the University of Michigan and the national engineering community.” 

This election brings U-M’s total NAE membership to 35. 

Tilbury will be formally inducted, as part of her class of 114 new U.S. members, during the NAE’s annual meeting on Sept. 29, 2024.

Tilbury is also the Herrick Professor of Engineering and a professor of mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering.

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Kate McAlpine

Research News Editor