Studies & Degrees in Robotics
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Robotics Study Programs
One of the by-products of the computer age is the enablement of Robotics Technology. Without microchips, software and corresponding hardware, automated moving machines would not be possible. Microchips store the programs and codes that tell the robot what to do while the hardware provides the shell that defines the form of the robot. Currently, robots are widely used in just about any aspect of human life. Robots are now being used in manufacturing, assembly, packing, mining, space exploration, in surgical procedures, agriculture, mass production of consumer and industrial commodities and just about any field where extreme precision and heavy lifting are needed. Perhaps, the biggest contribution of robots to man is the etching of microchips. Almost everything now has a microchip, from computers to automobiles to cell phones to household appliances and even kid’s toys have microchip inside them.
In the science fiction genre, movies like “Transformers,” “Wall-E,” “I-Robot,” “A.I.”, “(short for Artificial Intelligence) ”Terminator,” “Robocop,” “Short Circuit” and “Star Wars” are all themed with robots and all were proven blockbusters in the tills. In the literary world, Isaac Asimov, tickled our imagination and fascination with best-selling novels centered on robots, in fact,” I-Robot” and “A.I. “were among them. Even kids are not spared from robots as popular cartoons uses robots. Who doesn’t know “Voltes V,” who started all the hoopla about vehicles bolting together to form one giant robot to defend the world from invading aliens?
Based on the movies and amount of books written about robots, it can be surmised that humans are indeed fascinated with robots. Maybe because robots symbolizes how great truly the human mind is. When we see a fictional robot like we did in the movie “Transformers” doing complex actions like transforming, we can’t help but gasp in awe and quietly say in our minds “how did they do that?”
Indeed, creating robots is a complex endeavor. One has to have very strong foundation in mathematics and physics. Probably, a degree in mechanical engineering or physics would be a good stepping stone to understanding basic concepts of motion and movements and then coupled by knowledge in computer programming to tell specifically what the robot is supposed to do.
The field of Robotics still has a long way to go. Right now, robotics scientists are just merely touching the tip of the iceberg. Currently, trends in Robotics are making use of nanotechnology. Dan Brown made mention of nanotechnology in his book “Deception Point” where robot insects are used as spies. Also, the technology that may be or may not be real to date and one that has sparked countless debates, the one where computers and robot are given the capability to think for themselves is allegedly being developed.
There will come a day when personal secretaries, traffic aides and house cleaners will be robots. Imagine, with a single command like “robot, wash the dishes” or “robot, mow the lawn” and the robot will do all your bidding provided it is in their programming. When this day has come to pass, it means that man can truly achieve what they conceive.
Job positions for Robotics:
Those working in the robotics industry usually are given a special respect by those people who know them. Maybe because they are perceived to be using complex mathematical coefficients or doing some ultra high complex programs that would enable robots to transform to a car or something of that sort. This may be true as those dealing with robots needs to be really good in higher mathematics, physics, programming, mechanical and electrical engineering and other skills that would understand rocket science literally and figuratively.
However, there is one profession that is essential in the field of robotics without a doctorate and that is the good old Machinist.
A Machinist is the guy who makes use of machine tools to fabricate or modify parts, usually those parts made of metal. After the engineers have finished the blueprint of let’s say, a prototype robot design, the drawing will be then forwarded to a Machinist who will fabricate the parts specified in the blueprint. Being able to understand the blueprint alone already requires a bit of knowledge of engineering concepts and execute them precisely and exactly as written on paper.
Apart from preciseness of execution, a certain level of knowledge in metals is needed as different kinds of metals have different properties hence needed to be treated differently. Metals commonly a Machinist would usually be working on would be steel, aluminum, brass, copper and alloys derived from these metals. Vanadium, zinc, lead and manganese are less common materials but some important alloys are from these metals so a working knowledge on alloying would come in handy. However in robotics, uncommon metals like titanium, chromium, molybdenum, tungsten and special alloys like Inconel and Hastelloy (also sometimes called the superalloys) would be expected to be more heavily used as the robots would be special machines and thus needs to be made of sterner stuff. A Machinist would also be asked to repair machine tools and maintain industrial machines as well. To effectively carry out fabrication and repair parts and machines, the Machinist should be somewhat calculating and should be comfortable with instruments like a micrometer, dial caliper, hermaphrodite caliper and a Vernier caliper. Effectively use dial indicators, planer gauges, ring gauges and telescoping gauges for monitoring, inspecting and testing purposes. Fabrication would entail extensive knowledge of crankshaft grinders, sharpeners and surface grinders and as well as drum lathes, engine lathes, flywheel lathes and turning lathes. Apart from the simple tools (meaning no built-in software), machinists should also be acquainted with computerized numerical control machines called CNC in machinists’ parlance. With all the machines the Machinist operates, most likely, it would also be his responsibility to care and maintain these machines. Another thing that should be inherent to Machinists is a good listening and comprehension skill. Before the Machinist executes the details in the blueprint, the design engineers may need to stress some points or give additional instructions.
Opportunities for Machinists in the field of robotics are ever increasing. Right now, almost every industry uses robots/machines in production, assembly and packaging and maintenance and repair of these expensive machines of course would be their department. At present, a lot of companies specializing in robotics are opening up like mushrooms and for sure services of Machinists would be very much in high demand.
George Lucas of the “Star Wars” fame is probably a robotics engineer or employs a very good one to come up with an array of robot designs in the said movie saga. Who would forget C3P0, a protocol droid who knows all languages spoken in the fictional world and R2D2, the whistling robot who have saved Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi numerous times? The remarkable thing about the robots is that they were not simply metal casings given life by special effects. In fact, a special edition book was even published containing all the engineering details of all machines robots, ships, weapons and all and, of course, this was 1977, a time when personal computers was an alien term then. Because of the richness of the engineering details, it cannot be helped thinking that George Lucas must have had help from someone whose field of specialization is robotics engineering.
Robot engineers would be the stereo-typed fat guy who wears thick-rimmed glasses with disheveled hair and a bit of a long beard. Kidding aside, robotics engineers are the ones who conceptualize robots from design to manufacturing of robots. For example, NASA would need a robot that would collect samples in Mars’ arid terrain. Given the terrain, weather, temperature of Mars, the robotics engineer would work around these given parameters to come up with a design that should cope with Mars’ harsh weather and at the same time can easily obtain soil and rock samples. The engineer would consider using the sturdiest metals so the robot would not melt and then probably would think of a design that can easily enable the robot to gallop through Mars’ rocks and sands. Probably, the engineer would also create mechanical arms that can stretch at any angles to scoop up samples without stopping in its tracks. Basically, something of this sort would be what a Robotics Engineer would do. Actually, a Robotics Engineer is one of those jobs that the saying “anything goes” really applies. Anything goes because the robot to be designed would depend on its purpose. Almost, if not all, industries could use a robot to automize their operations. Right now, most industrial companies use robots to pack, assemble and lift heavy objects a normal man would not be able to do with ease and speed. Currently, most industrial robots are simulations of the human hand or the gripper.
To be a Robotics Engineer, courses are now offered in prestigious universities as a post graduate course for electrical, mechanical and computer engineers. A word of caution though, expect the course to be laced with very high physics concepts and complex algorithms, formulas, coefficients, mathematical expressions perhaps only enrollees would get to know they exist. Also, expect a strict admittance to the course as this is not a course for everyone. Probably, those who would be lucky to be admitted are those who would get a genius rating in preliminary I.Q. tests.
Once a certified Robotics Engineer, opportunities are endless. As mentioned already, almost all industries, be it automotive, medical, semi-conductors, mining, and space exploration to name a few would be willing to pay top dollar for the services of a robotics engineer. Perhaps, as far as the saying “shoot for the moon” goes, Robotics Engineer is one of those professions that can literally use them in a sentence and mean them literally.