Careers in Robotics
Robotics is the science and technology of robots, and their design, manufacture, and application. A career in robotics is clearly one in electronics, mechanics, and software. The first digitally operated and programmable robot was installed in 1961 to lift hot pieces of metal from another machine and stack them. Today, robots are widely used in manufacturing, assembly and packing, transport, earth and space exploration, surgery, weaponry, laboratory research, safety, and mass production of consumer and industrial goods. A robot is analogous to a human because it has joints (degrees of freedom), bones (links in a chain), and muscles (actuators). Most robots use serial chains and resemble a human arm. An example of a parallel chain is the Stewart platform, which is a flat surface on six legs of variable length, giving it six degrees of freedom. For a career in research, biomechanics is closely related to robotics. A job designing artificial limbs, for example, could be considered a branch of robotics.
Actuators convert stored energy into movement. By far the most popular actuators are electric motors, especially stepper motors that rotate in discrete steps under the command of a controller. A job in the numerical control of machines would be excellent preparation for a career in robotics. There are also piezo-motors, which cause linear and rotary motion by vibrating many thousands of times per second. Air muscles use compressed air and a flexible membrane to provide a pulling force. There is also a class of plastics (electroactive polymers or EPAs) that change shape in response to electrical stimulation. As EPAs are not used commercially, only research-oriented employers would have jobs in this area. Another area of early-stage experimental technology is elastic nanotubes because they are deformable and have no defects.
A good start to a career would be getting a B.S. in Robotics from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Graduate degrees focused on robotics include Carnegie Mellon University, MIT, UPENN, UCLA, WPI, and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT). Two large companies with jobs to offer are Adept Technology Inc. (NASDAQ: ADEP) and iRobot Corp. (NASDAQ: IRBT).