Robots are fun – pure and simple. Playing with them can be a blast, but we think designing and building something takes the cake. If robotics is one of your hobbies, you are probably aware of the patience required, the sense of pride and satisfaction when things are going well, the frustration when they aren’t and the fact that you love it enough to keep coming back for more.
What you may not be as acutely aware of as you are designing, building and troubleshooting your robots is how many great skills you are picking up and learning along the way. Many of these are squarely inside of the STEM field, where jobs are in demand from some of the fastest growing industries.
The good news is that the engineering skills you learn building and designing robots will be applicable across so many other industries and can help set you up for a career in engineering, even if you decide that pursuing robotics isn’t for you.
What type of engineering is commonly required in robotics?
A lot of people use a specific designation, Robotics Engineering, to describe what type of engineering is used in robotics. While very apt in the greater conversation, compared to something like Civil Engineering or Ecological Engineering, it isn’t very descriptive in trying to determine what engineering disciplines are encompassed by this name.
There is a pretty big variance of terms and categorizations, but here are a couple of main engineering branches that are most common in robotics:
The first is Mechanical Engineering. This is one of the staples of engineering and is one of the stereotypical ideas most people have of engineering; it is essentially using math and physics to design and create mechanical system. This could be an engine, a windmill or aptly, a robotic device.
In many regards, the mechanical engineering aspect of robotics is not that different than designing or manufacturing any other mechanical system – you are basically trying to create the most efficient machine based on physics, movement, materials, structure and power source. A lot of the robotic ‘brains’ are based more on computer programming.
Even if a computer science expert designs a perfect program for a robot, the mechanics of how it needs to move and work still need to be completed by a mechanical engineer.
Electrical/Electronic engineering is nearly as ubiquitous as Mechanical – it is the branch of engineering that works with electronics and really anything that uses electricity. There are some differences between Electrical and Electronic engineering, although many people tend to use them interchangeably. We like to think of them as separate complementary partners. In robotics, for example, the Electronic engineer would be responsible for designing the computer system (the actual system, not necessarily the computer program or coding), while an Electrical Engineer would be responsible for getting power to that system.
Day to Day life of a Robotics Engineer
The day to day life an engineer in the field will vary depending on what role you are in, but a lot of time will be spent using computer software to help design, simulate and analyze how a robot should work, conducting research and testing things like anticipated movement and reliability.
Some engineers get to put on the hard hat a little more frequently and will have a greater role in servicing, adjusting and hands-on testing robots or new prototypes. This type of feedback can then be taken back into the office and help inform engineers on how things may be improved. There are also countless other roles for engineers in the robotics industry from sales to support technician, so if you like engineering and robots, there should be something that is right up your alley!
Although the underlying skills and engineering principles you can learn from robotics is incredibly translatable to most other manufacturing, and even some tech industries, if you love robotics and engineering, then it might make sense to pursue both things at the same time. This is a great time to be going into this field with the rise of robotics, artificial intelligence and automation.
One thing we like to point out to help set some expectations is that while many people have the opportunity to work on incredibly cool and groundbreaking robots, far and away the most common robots are those built for manufacturing. They tend to be created to assist humans with dangerous, repetitive or laborious tasks; think of the articulating arms that help build cars, for example. Since this is the most common, many of the jobs in robotics will be working on designing, building and maintaining these types of machines. That doesn’t mean those jobs aren’t still going to be fulfilling and fun in their own right!
Getting Started in Robotics
If you want to take your robotic skills to the next level prior to college, a summer program might be a great opportunity for you. JKCP offers a Robotics class as part of our Enrichment program for high school students. Learn more about Enrichment here.
Students work with experts in the field to hone the basic principles of mechanical engineering, see the physics behind the theory and build task-based robots to solve problems.
It includes working with a lot of different materials, including Lego Mindstorm Robotics based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's programmable brick designs, to construct your devices. You will also use computer programming help your robot move gears, motors and sensors to complete your task.
Other Enrichment Classes You Might Be Interested In: