What is a Robotics Engineer?
A robotics engineer is a highly trained and skilled professional who conceives, designs, builds, and maintains robots or robotic devices. Robotics engineers can spend endless hours working in the computer, testing designs and discovering new ways to conceive of how robots move and even think. Their job involves high-level skills in engineering and computer science, among other areas.
Some robotics engineers spend endless hours trying to figure out how to make robots move in the most efficient ways possible. This might involve designing sensors that provide the robot with information about its environment or decision trees that help them determine the exact right motion for any given situation. Self-driving cars, for instance, are a type of robot that can respond to ever-changing traffic conditions in order to avoid accident.
Others might work on other aspects of robotics, such as how they process information, including artificial intelligence. The engineer spends time building robotic intelligence that matches its overall design and function. A self-driving, robotic automobile needs an onboard computer capable of processing things related to driving and accident avoidance; a manufacturing robot, on the other hand, only needs a database of information related its part of an assembly line.
Steps to Becoming a Robotics Engineer
It's not easy to become a robotics engineer. The field demands that you master many engineering fields and there is little room for those who are stronger in, say, computer science but weaker in mechanical engineering. The field asks that you be the full package and capable of realizing a full robot with a fully functioning physical structure to power its underlying operating code. However, you can become a robotics engineer if you follow certain steps, foster certain talents, and nurture a certain set of skills.
Step 1: Discover Your Passion for Robotics
Step 2: Earn a Baccalaureate Degree
Step 3: Earn Certifications and Gain Work Experience
Step 4: Earn a Master's Degree
Step 1. Discover Your Passion for Robotics Engineering
It's important to have a fundamental curiosity for how things work. Even before high school, if you notice that you have a passion for taking things apart or building new things, you may be on your way to being an engineer. This might even look like idle child's play in that it might be difficult to do homework before diving into the Lego box. These days there are even Lego sets that allow you to build and program robots.
Some kids branch out beyond this and learn how to build their own custom computers, learn programming languages, and possibly start working on simple robots. At this stage, robotics can be a fun hobby or an entertaining way to earn a ribbon in the school's Science Fair. However, these fun activities are building skills and ideas that can fuel a successful career for a lifetime.
As you develop your interest and passion for robotics you will need to build your skill sets. Make sure you study extra hard in your science and math courses. Even though Biology might seem unrelated to your eventual career goals, note that some roboticists have gleaned important insights from examining how animals and insects move in nature. Nevertheless, you should focus on core skills in mathematics. If your school offers computer programming courses, you will want to learn as much as possible in those courses.
If your high school falls short in terms of computer science or robotics courses, you might be able to find free, or cheap courses online that will help you advance. There are numerous avenues for learning programming languages and there are likely courses that cover robotics, physics, or other topics in electrical engineering.
Step 2. Earn a Baccalaureate Degree
This is the first major hurdle towards becoming a robotics engineer. Seek out a fully-accredited university that specializes in robotics or electrical engineering. You'll also need a background in mechanical engineering if you want your robots to move and perform other physical tasks. Thus, if a program does not offer robotics specifically, discuss your career aspirations with an admissions counselor and determine if their engineering department can support your aspirations.
Ideally, you can find a program that has conjoined electrical engineering with computer science and mechanical engineering to form a focused robotics program. You might also look for programs that have co-op programs. This way you can take time away from academics to apply your knowledge in an engineering firm and work on real-world projects. In these real-world working experiences, you will probably be exposed to CAD for design as well as cutting edge tools that might even surpass what your university has to offer.
Step 3. Earn Certifications and Gain Work Experience
Once you have a bachelor’s degree, you will be in the perfect position to earn some AI or robotics based certifications and gain experience in the field. AI certifications will prepare you to make the best use of available AI software and develop your own AI programs. These will open up even more work opportunities in the field of robotics engineering. Once you are ready, you should start looking for an internship or full-time position. If you intend to earn your master’s degree, many programs will require that you have at least some hands-on work experience in an engineering/robotics position. This will prepare you for the higher-level courses you will be expected to pass.
Step 4. Earn a Master's Degree
You might want to work for a few years after completing your baccalaureate degree, but you will eventually need to attain a master's degree. In fact, if you work for a few years you will be better able to determine which graduate degree will serve you the best. You might initially think that you only need a MS in Robot Engineering only to discover that a dual MBA/Engineering degree could serve you better. In fact, you might determine that you are more interested in management and administration than working as an engineer and you could choose an MBA that features an engineering focus.
Graduate schools continue to forge new areas of specialization to meet the needs of the contemporary workforce. Thus, if you give yourself a few years to work with your bachelor's degree, even more specific graduate opportunities might arise. Regardless of when you earn your MS degree or where you graduate, you will need a graduate degree to advance your career to its full potential. The status associated with an advanced degree, plus a well-honed skill set will serve you well throughout the rest of your career. However, don't forget to keep your knowledge current by taking additional college courses or pursuing professional certificates.
What Does a Robotics Engineer Do?
Robotics engineers typically work as white collar workers in offices. A great deal of their time may be spent working on new designs with a CAD program. More typically , roboticists are employed to maintain robots or other automated devices. They might monitor systems from a desktop computer or need to visit the specific machines to take readings or make other observations. This might take them to the floor of a busy, noisy manufacturing facility.
On a daily basis, roboticists may analyze the robots under their purview to ensure that they are performing up to their specifications and that they receive any required maintenance. If a machine is in need of adjustments, they then ensure that the required changes or upgrades are made. They may need to attend meetings related to the overall operation of the company or manufacturing facility. Robot Engineers may also need to design new software or new routines so that their machines are useful in the next phase of a firm's growth. For instance, if an auto manufacturer is soon rolling out a new model, the roboticists must be able to adapt their machines to match the new dimensions and features of the new vehicles.
Skills to Acquire
Robotics engineers need a wide range of skills. They must have a mastery of electrical engineering, computer science, and mechanical engineering. They need to be computer programmers, hardware designers, and visionaries. This is a special field in which it's not satisfactory to be stronger in one area and weaker in another. The field demands that you be fully capable of designing and building a robot on your own.
Some of the skills you will need to acquire and develop include, but are not limited to:
A good roboticist must be able to listen to the needs of the rest of their team and then proceed accordingly. Further, they should be able to communicate their plans, needs, and ideas not only to the team of engineers, but to the non-robot engineers in her firm as well.
- Problem Solving Skills
Engineers must all be able to adapt to new problems and discover innovative solutions.
- Patience and Persistence
Robotics is a science; it requires lots of hypothesizing and lots of experimentation before the best results are discovered. This means you'll need to be able to work long hours, weeks, months, and even years before realizing a finished project.
In particular, you will find that geometry is a valuable part of your daily work. You will likely need to have passed up to Calculus IV just to make it through your undergraduate coursework. Mathematics is one of the fundamental skills that engineers must have.
Robot scientists generally take a traditional route through high school, college, and graduate school. However, there are other ways to approach the field. Since robotics is all about what you can build, it may be possible to teach yourself the necessary skills behind robotics and then build your own semi-autonomous machines.
If you have significant aptitude with mechanical engineering, you can take online courses to learn more about computer programming and electrical engineering. With those skills you can begin to build your own devices. When you design and build your first functional robot, you will officially become a roboticist. Be sure to protect your unique designs and apply for patents if possible.
On the other hand, you might be able to enter the field by first becoming a CAD technician. If you are capable in that job and begin to have insights into the robots you're helping to design, you could find yourself gaining new responsibilities. You’ll still need to earn some type of degree or certification in robotics to move into a full-time position, but gaining that first bit of experience will make all the difference.
Another possibility is to earn a two-year degree in electrical engineering or maintenance. If your coursework covered issues related to robotics, you could earn a job working on a manufacturing floor. Your practical experience will prove invaluable, especially if you complete a full four-year degree and become an official engineer.
Still others find themselves drawn to robotics from the computer science world. The complexities associated with writing software for robots can be too intriguing to pass up. Those computer scientists who have a proficiency with mechanical engineering might be able to bridge the gap into the world of robot scientists.
Careers and Salaries for Robotics Engineers
Where Might You Work?
Robotics engineers work for a wide variety of employers. You might find work with a manufacturing company and spend time maintaining, or even designing, the machines that perform much of the labor. You might also work in a research lab for a university or even a private company. Researchers are hard at work pushing the envelope in areas such as robotic dexterity, artificial intelligence, and more.
Robot engineers also work for the government. You might work for NASA, developing robotic devices to aid space exploration, deep sea exploration, or even science missions in the upper atmosphere. On the other hand, you could work with the military to create bomb-diffusing robots or self-driving transport trucks that take troops to wherever they are needed. The military has a keen interest in robotics abilities. Engineers also frequently find work as consultants. Robotics consultants can work with clients to design and build the smart machines they need for specific operations.
Potential Career Paths
Robotics is a varied field that requires a broad range of professionals to get the job done right. It's an emerging field that is very much in demand from private manufacturers, toy makers, the military, and governmental science agencies. You might even discover a career path while tinkering in your home workshop some weekend. Here is a brief list of career paths you can explore as a robotics engineer.
This is a job you can land with a two year degree. This is an excellent way to get your feet wet in the robotics field. You'll likely work with existing robots to keep them operating at maximum efficiency. You may need to write new code for them or perform mechanical repairs. Thus, you'll get a relatively comprehensive view of robot engineering. If you decide to complete a bachelor's degree, your experience will pay off in the classroom and you'll probably be a star of your robotics courses.
Robotics Software Engineer:
This is for the robot scientist who becomes entranced with programming and solving new problems with their robots. You'll still need to understand the mechanical side of things so that your programs don't over extend the capabilities of your robot's materials and machinery.
Robot Sales Engineer:
This might be a great career path if you are the sort of engineer who also loves business and working with people. Your knowledge of engineering and science will make your sales presentations all the more effective to potential customers. Further, your engineering skills will be helpful when a potential client has needs that have to be translated so that the robot designers and builders can understand.
Some robot scientists are hard at work in their garages or workshops. If you are an unstoppable tinkerer who loves machines, electronics, and robots, you just might make the next big discovery in robotics. You don't even need to develop the newest robot, but your invention could be a bleeding-edge servo motor, visual sensor, or a new breakthrough in AI programming.
Consultant or Contractor:
You can put your skills to work designing or maintaining robots for a private company or a government agency, including the military. These organizations may need you to come in and assess their robots and decide if or how they need to upgrade or maintain their machines.
Where did most of us first gain exposure to robots but through toys? The toy robots of the past were rather rudimentary, but you can put your engineering skill to use to create the next great robot toy. You could even design simple robots that help mothers with their newborns. If you can teach a robot to change a diaper, the world will beat a path to your door.
The future is bright for robotics engineers. Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not yet specifically track robotics engineers, they do show that mechanical engineers are currently making a median salary of $87,370 and software developers are pulling in a median salary of $105,590. Mechanical engineering, as a profession, is projected to grow as fast as average, while the software development sector is projected to grow by 21% through 2028. Thus, the future for robotics engineers should be quite bright, given that they are on the cutting edge of technology.
Automation is a key word these days and robotics engineers are driving that trend. Whether it's transportation, scientific endeavors, entertainment, or manufacturing, there are robot scientists creating machines that will automate and simplify the world for everyone.
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Advancing from Here
Robotics engineering is a field that is likely to continue to grow and develop for years to come. However, if you wish to advance your career at some point, you could also transition into management with your company. You might first consider attaining an MBA to gain the business and leadership skills necessary for that position and your existing engineering acumen will help you earn the respect or your team.
You could also consider breaking off to form your own company. You might work as a consultant to a range of outfits that rely on robots. On the other hand, you could form a start-up and develop the next greatest disruption in the business world. You might even create an automated solution for the military with devices that save or spare human life.
Engineering Career Paths