Opportunities in the field of robotics

Opportunities in the field of robotics

Robots have always fascinated people, whether they are aspiring to be the 'engineers of the future' or just spectators and consumers wanting to see what the next gadget will be. For those wanting to start a career as an engineer, it is an excellent time to study robotics: governments across the globe are encouraging industries to focus on the long-awaited fourth industrial revolution, the so-called Industry 4.0, which will embed robots in smart manufacturing technologies.

Manufacturing has come a long way since the first mechanisation of devices using water or steam power. The first factories relied on simple machines doing repetitive tasks and people labouring to complete the product. As consumerism and need grew, the mass production assembly line allowed items to be created quickly and to a high quality, using machines running on electricity.

Then came the first standalone automation systems and robots. The next evolution in manufacturing is cyber physical systems - interconnected networks of robots, devices and products that communicate data, which is the main new element of smart manufacturing, or Industry 4.0.

Outside of the factories, robots have vast potential for operating in our cities where they will contribute to smart and safe traffic systems with wirelessly interconnected driverless cars. And in healthcare, robots surgeons will operate on and care for people with tireless attention to detail, moving surgical tools with micro-scale precision beyond the limits of human capability. There is a massive demand for the engineers who will design these robots of the future, and one of the ways in which these engineers will learn the skills they need is through either an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

A Mechatronic and Robotics engineering degree is built around the pillars of Computing, Control, Mechanics and Electronics. And one more thing: Maths. Maths is often overlooked by prospective students but it is central to robot design as a good engineer needs to understand all the fundamentals. For instance, using differential equations from Calculus to
describe the changing forces and velocities of a driverless car with respect to
time.

Mathematics is also of key importance for developing machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms for robot control. As such, on most degree programmes in Robotics engineering, you will study machine learning techniques such as artificial neural networks, pattern recognition and data fusion - some of the main building blocks of artificial intelligence.

Possible careers

Currently, robots and mechatronics systems used in industry are quite simple: robot arms pick up objects and place them down in pre-defined locations in factories, safely isolated from people. However, in the future, robots will operate around people, in what are known as unstructured environments, where random events occur. Robots will need to be able to adapt to unpredictable situations, like when a person unexpectedly steps out in front of a driverless car.

As the robots become smarter, the demand for robots will increase in industry, driving increased employment opportunities for robotics engineers. Some of the industry sectors likely to benefit are:

Smart manufacturing: Robots working safely alongside humans to increase productivity (in industry 4.0).

Offshore exploration: Underwater robots will be use to explore the oceans, inspect and maintain underwater infrastructure, and also aid rescue missions.

Robotics engineering is one of the most soguht-after degree to study not only because of the excitement it offers, but also due to the high salaries offered, when compared to many other fields. This makes Robotics engineering a great investment for your future.

So, if you enjoy Maths but want to work in a growing industry, amongst some of the most exciting technologies of the 21st century - consider robotics as a possible option for study in higher education.

(The author is senior lecturer, University of Sheffield, UK)

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