Career in Robotic Engineering
IT is an industry based on groundbreaking new technologies, wherein a handful of well-established corporations sell highly specialised devices for business use and a fast-growing number of start-up companies produce innovative toys, gadgets and other niche products, says Rajat Khare, joint managing director and co- founder, Appin. However, he adds, “It is also a highly fragmented industry with few common standards or platforms. Projects are complex, progress is slow, and practical applications are relatively rare. In fact, for all the excitement and promise, no one can say with any certainty when – or even if – this industry will achieve critical mass. If it does, it may change the world.”
Robotic engineering is the engineering science and technology of robots, their design, manufacture, application and structural disposition. Robotics is related to electronics, mechanics, and software. Much of the research in robotics focuses not on specific industrial tasks, but on investigations into new types of robots. The robotics industry is likely to be as big as the automobile industry by 2020.
Robots have recently become a popular tool in raising interests in computing for middle and high school students. Khare says: “Robotics has always been a fascinating subject. From simple robot toy to industrial robotic, robotic technology is already impacting our way of life much more than we think. The advancement in recent technologies along with the cost reduction in electronic and computation hardware has enabled the robotic industry to grow even faster.”
The challenges facing the robotics industry are similar to those we tackled in computing three decades ago, says Khare, adding that robotics companies have no standard operating software that could allow popular application programmes to run in a variety of devices. The standardisation of robotic processors and other hardware is limited, and very little of the programming code used in one machine can be applied to another.
He says: “Whenever somebody wants to build a new robot, they usually have to start from scratch. Despite such difficulties, when I talk to people involved in robotics – from university researchers to entrepreneurs, hobbyists and high school students – the level of excitement is high. All menial and repetitive jobs will soon be replaced by robots.”
The industry’s niche products include robotic arms that perform surgery, surveillance robots deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan that dispose off roadside bombs, and domestic robots that vacuum the floor. Electronics companies have made robotic toys that can imitate people or dogs or dinosaurs, and hobbyists are anxious to get their hands on the latest version of the Lego robotics system.
According to the International Federation of Robotics, about two million personal robots were in use around the world in 2004, and another seven million were installed by 2008. In South Korea, the ministry of information and communication hopes to put a robot in every home by 2013. The Japanese Robot Association predicts that by 2025, the personal robot industry will be worth more than $50 billion a year worldwide, compared with about $5 billion today. The world’s robot population has reached 4.49 million, and that number should nearly double by 2010 to 8.37 million, according to The International Federation of Robotics, informed Khare.
A range of products that we use today have some form of embedded software in them. Home appliances, automobiles, wireless devices and consumer electronics devices are just a few examples. To design tomorrow’s embedded system, today the industry needs over a million professionals in this field by 2010.
Corporations need trained professionals for design and implement embedded software in electronic instrumentation hardware. Consulting firms need embedded specialists, engineers and technicians to provide professional expertise for corporations and government agencies.
Historically, robot applications have been limited to the automotive and electronic sectors. However, over the past decade, growth in material handling orders indicates that the robotics industry is exploring new avenues, particularly in consumer goods, such as food, beverage and pharmaceuticals.
Appin has recently introduced a six-month programme in embedded technology that introduces advanced technologies and solutions for emerging embedded applications, including digital consumer electronics, automotive, wireless/ubiquitous computing and factory automation. “Our embedded technicians research and develop Appin robots and tools and we have our own R&D unit and ‘Roboshop.’ Applicants must possess strong programming skills as well as strong oral and written communication skills and must be capable of working in a team environment. Knowledge of, or a desire to learn, Java and agile programming techniques are required. We intend to tie up with robotics and embedded companies to offer students a live experience,” informs Khare.