Robotics engineering is a unique combination of other engineering disciplines as well as data science and even biology. This article will cover the basics of how to turn your fascination with robotics into a fulfilling career.
The robotics industry is an exciting and rapidly growing field. Ever-increasing automation of many manufacturing processes requires robots to create products. Mass production of goods requires robots to complete the complex tasks necessary to turn out large numbers of consumer goods. The field of robotics, however, is not just limited to manufacturing.
Many startups are innovating lifelike robots that mimic characteristics and behavior of humans. Those suffering from missing limbs are seeing an improvement in their quality of life due to robotic prosthetic limbs or robotic exoskeletons, or example. Robots in the form of autonomous drones have become an invaluable asset to militaries and industries worldwide.
And with all the recent advancements in robotics, it really does feel like just the beginning. With advancements in artificial intelligence, there is no telling what the future of robotics holds.
How to Become a Robotics Engineer
Becoming a robotic engineer is not unlike pursuing other engineering-related careers. Getting the right skills and education is a key component. But because robotics engineering is multidisciplinary, there are a number of ways to enter the field.
Robotics engineering combines the disciplines of mechanical, electrical, and software engineering in order to develop robots. Being the broad field that it is, robotics engineers may work on projects ranging from developing robotic arms that are used to mass produce cars to perfecting a prosthetic arm or leg.
An engineer employed by Boston Dynamics will find themselves developing robotic dogs that may have useful applications in law enforcement or the military. The same individual working for Lockheed Martin may find themselves creating the latest generation of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
There are several career paths a robotic engineer could take. The most straightforward way to become a robotics engineer is by obtaining either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in this topic. Several universities across the country offer this major. Alternatively, one could study another related major such as mechanical or electrical engineering and then proceed to be trained on the job as a robotics engineer.
Robotics Engineering Degree Requirements
The type of robotics engineering degree one can obtain will depend on the university selected. Some universities offer a general robotics education that covers all of the basics required to work in the field. Other robotics degree programs combine the robotics background courses with more specific courses such as mechatronics engineering. And still other robotics degree programs might have a specific focus, such as robotics manufacturing.
The coursework will likely start with similar coursework to other engineering disciplines. One will have to take applied math courses such as calculus and linear algebra along with advanced levels of physics. After completing such rudimentary subjects, robotics engineering students will take more focused courses such as the ones listed below.
- Circuits: This course covers the basics of electrical circuits and their components (resistors, inductors, capacitors, transformers). Topics such as current, voltage, resistance, impedance, alternating current, and direct current will be covered.
- Advanced programming: Robots need software programs to execute complex tasks. For this reason, robotics engineers need to be proficient in programming languages such as C++, Python, and Java. One unique characteristic of robotics engineering is the degree to which computer science knowledge is required compared to other disciplines.
- Microprocessor basics: Analogous to the brain of a robot, a microprocessor is a computer chip dedicated to a specific task. In robots, the microprocessor uses either user defined inputs or real time data to output commands. As a results, the robot is able to move and complete its tasks. This course would likely cover the various different types of microprocessors, how they work, their abilities and limitations, and how to program them.
- Electronics: Robots rely heavily on a symbiotic relationship of several electronic components. These electronics include, but are not limited to, microprocessors, PCBs, sensors, relays, and motors. A class covering this topic will focus on what these various electronics are, how they work, and, most importantly, how they work together.
- Systems and controls: Mechanical systems, such as robots, require complex control systems to function properly. This subject will cover how these systems work and how they are designed. Elements from circuits, programming, and electronics all play a role in systems and controls so this course will likely be taken later in the program.
- Industrial robotics: One of the most important roles that robots fill is in the field of manufacturing. This course will explain how robots are designed for, and used in, industrial settings. It will also likely include topics related to economics and finance as the choice between automating manufacturing and having it done manually ultimately comes down to cost.
- Senior capstone project: Most universities require students to complete a group project which spans the entire senior year. These are known as capstone projects and will involve applying your knowledge in a hands on way. For robotics engineering students, this project will likely involve building a robot.
A Master’s Degree in Robotics Engineering
Completing a robotics engineering master’s degree will include building on a certain aspect of the core knowledge obtained while studying other scientific topics and engineering during an undergraduate degree. Many big-name universities such as California State Polytechnical University, Cornell University, and Michigan Institute of Technology offer master’s degrees in this subject.
Most master’s programs offer the choice between a full-time or part-time class load. For those solely focused on learning, a full-time curriculum is the preferred option. However, those currently employed in their field may opt for a part time class load to balance their schooling and work.
Another option that provides flexibility is earning your master’s degree online. Georgia Institute of Technology offers a master’s degree in robotics engineering fully online. This approach also saves significant educational costs because the students current work and living situations do not need to change.
Robotics Engineering Career Paths
Although not as broad as other engineering disciplines, such as mechanical or electrical, robotics engineering can still provide several unique career paths. Due to increased automation of manufacturing and the development of artificial intelligence, this field will grow significantly in the coming years. Here are some examples of careers robotic engineers may pursue.
Most manufacturing processes have some degree of automation. While this degree may vary, robotics will almost certainly play a role. Take as an example the automotive industry. Mass production of cars and trucks is made more efficient and profitable with the assistance of robots who work the assembly lines. A robotics engineer in this field might innovate ways to make this process run smoothly and look for ways to further automate it. Alternatively, they may be the ones designing and manufacturing the robots in the first place, especially if the manufacturing process is more proprietary and complex.
Defense industry/ Law enforcement
Robotics play an increasingly important role in the defense and law enforcement industries. Situations which used to be life threatening to personnel can now be handled with robots. Applications include search and rescue missions, disarming IEDs, and autonomous drones.
Biomedical engineering is heavily reliant on robotics. Newer prosthetic limbs are more and more technologically advanced and require complex robotics to work. As a robotics engineer in this field, one would work in conjunction with biomedical, mechanical, and electrical engineers to make life easier for those with disabilities.
Consumer robotics goods
Robots are making their way into the everyday life of ordinary people. Robotic vacuum cleaners, toys, and hobby drones are becoming ever more commonplace. Robotics engineers working in this field will find themselves developing the latest neat gadget, perhaps at a startup company.
A Robotics Engineer’s Salary and Job Outlook
As of May 2020, the median annual pay for robotics engineers (which are included in the same category as mechanical engineers) was $90,160 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The job outlook for this career field is seven percent which matches the cumulative national growth rate for all careers. A robotics engineer will generally work in an office or laboratory setting and will likely make frequent trips to manufacturing and testing facilities.