Planning for a Career in Robotics

You and your son love watching the TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Your favorite character in the show is Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg), a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who now works for the Caltech’s Department of Applied Physics as an aerospace engineer. He became an astronaut and was sent to the international space station because of the robotic arm he developed. He also developed a killer robot for entry into a robot fighting competition. His love for designing and creating mechanical stuff is what attracts the two of you to his character.

You own a company that supplies pipe or tube welding positioners and tungsten grinders, among other equipment. Your son has been around these machines, and it’s no wonder he’s interested in Wolowitz’s character. The other day he blurted out, quite seriously, “Dad, I want to make robots!” He seems pretty serious, so now you’re trying to find out how one can work in the field of robotics.

An Overview of Robotics and Modern Industries

A robot from the future that’s practically indestructible, traveling to the present might be a work of fiction, but the field of robotics engineering has undeniably permeated today’s modern industries. The car industry has been leading in the development and application of robotics in its production line. Many other industries, from computer hardware makers to big pharmaceutical companies, are also employing the use of robotics.

The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) reported that human jobs being taken over by robots are increasing. The nearly 36,000 robot shipment to the USA, Canada, and Mexico in 2018, shows a 7% increase compared to 2017. Of this shipment, more than 16,700 were not car companies.

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Understanding the Field of Robotics

Automation and the use of robotics science have given many industries the necessary efficiency they require to become more competitive and deliver precise and high-quality products. Here’s what you need to tell your son about entering the field of robotics:

  1. It’s interdisciplinary. There’s no one specific path that will land you in the field of robotics. Mechanical engineering might be an open program to go through in college. But computer programming and aerospace engineering could also take you to the field of robotics. You must, however, have a strong foundation in mathematics and physics.
  2. Robotic Holy Trinity. The three core parts comprise the field of robotics. Think of it as the human anatomy. Mechanical engineering is the field that would deal with the “body” part. It focuses on the materials used, how parts would connect, and how they will move. Electrical and electronics engineering represents the “nervous system” or the basic electronic system that allows a machine to function. Computer science or the “brain” concerns itself with high-level programming and development of algorithms that simulate thinking of a human being.  These are the distinct fields that have become the entry points for a career in robotics.
  3. Narrow down your options. Like Wolowitz, you could end up working for NASA or the Military or a contractor for the military. Since the spectrum of job possibilities is broad, it’s good to narrow down your options and decide on a specialization. Aerospace, automotive, plastics, machine shops, and even agriculture are sectors that require the application of robotics. Identify your specific interest and find a match.

You also need to stay focused and motivated. Be prepared for continuous learning, as science and technology are always in constant flux. You need to stay ahead to be the best in your field.

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