A generous gift from a global technology giant has upgraded California State University, Chico’s mechatronics laboratory, making it one of the most advanced labs of its kind in the nation.

Courtesy of a $830,000 gift from Omron, the University’s laboratory features a new and expanded classroom space, updated with the latest equipment and state-of-the-art technology in a 2,505-square-foot collaborative and learning environment.

Already being utilized by students, the Omron CoLab (short for “collaborative laboratory”) is located in Plumas Hall, Room 112, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new space will take place at noon on Monday, Feb. 10. The Omron CoLab is the vision of chairs and faculty in the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Construction Management (ECC) and its Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering and Sustainable Manufacturing.

“We are grateful to Omron for its vision, leadership and generosity,” said CSU, Chico President Gayle Hutchinson. “The Omron CoLab at Chico State has enabled the University to build an exciting leading-edge lab where we will prepare students as the next generation workforce. This collaborative space will inspire research and have a transformative impact on our students, faculty, region, state and country.”

A metal sign saying Omron CoLab hangs on a wall.
Chico State’s Omron CoLab is located in Plumas Hall, Room 112, and includes a student collaborative space.

From its Americas headquarters in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, Omron is a global leader in technology designed to solve social issues, including industrial automation, social solutions, healthcare and, of course, artificial intelligence and robotics. CSU, Chico is the first university west of the Mississippi to partner with Omron on such a lab.

“Omron’s mission is to improve lives and contribute to a better society, and a large part of this effort involves educating today’s students to help solve tomorrow’s problems,” said Nigel Blakeway, chairman and CEO of Omron Management Center of America and president of Omron Foundation. “We are honored to be able to help the next generation of robotics talent gain the skills necessary to innovate and thrive in the future.”

CSU, Chico’s mechatronic engineering program was the first U.S. bachelor’s degree program in mechatronic engineering to be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET), and its students continue learning with state-of-the-art technology being used in industry settings, further cementing the University as an attractive option for higher education students to study the fundamental building blocks of mechatronics—and giving the students a head start when seeking employment following graduation.

“Ours is a hands-on, applied curriculum with significant laboratory experiences, as well as project-based learning activities. Industrial partnerships are a hallmark of our programs,” said Greg Watkins, professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering and Sustainable Manufacturing. “Omron’s support ensures student access to cutting-edge equipment in the lab, as well as real-world design experiences as part of our Capstone design program. Employers routinely seek out Chico State graduates due to their readiness for the workplace.”

A robotic arm sits on a table next to a computer.
Robotics equipment donated by Omron will help Chico State students learn on state-of-the-art tools—which is now standard in the industry.

Truly a cross-disciplinary space, the Omron CoLab also serves students majoring in mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as sustainable manufacturing. Nick Repanich, a lecturer from the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering and Sustainable Manufacturing, said the OmronCoLab will also provide students from any major the opportunity to gain hands-on experience to learn about robotics. As a result, more people will be able to learn about the emerging field of mechatronics.

“When you’re an engineering student and you think mechatronics and robotics are cool, we need a place you can come to be inspired, work on projects and learn about it,” he said. “You need a place where mechatronics is all around you. This is our first place like that.”

Repanich said the OmronCoLab will be a flexible space as a classroom and also include areas where students can work together on projects, quiet areas where they can work by themselves, and collaborative spaces where the public can catch a firsthand glimpse of the future of robotics.

“Our success in developing an innovative plan for this state-of-the-art laboratory is an example of how a campus collaboration—with the College of ECC, University Advancement, Facilities Management and Services, and others—can lead to providing our students with high-quality learning opportunities,” said University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Debra Larson.