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What is a Robotics Engineering Degree?
Robots perform tasks that humans are either unable to perform or prefer not to perform. Robotics engineers design, build, and test robots – also referred to as ‘manipulators’ or intelligent machines because they manipulate or move items or perform other duties according to programmed instructions.
Degree programs in robotics engineering are made up of core courses in math, physics, and electronics, as well as classes in artificial intelligence and machine learning, programming and control of automated systems, computer-aided design and drafting, and computer-aided manufacturing. The field straddles exploration, invention, engineering, and manufacturing.
Bachelor’s Degree in Robotics Engineering – Four Year Duration
Bachelor’s programs in robotics engineering introduce students to the fundamental functions of robots – perception, reasoning, and acting (doing) – through core science and math classes and specialized courses in electronics and robotics. Holders of this degree typically qualify for entry-level/assistant roles in the field.
Here are some sample classes from the undergraduate curriculum:
• Chemistry for Engineers
• Linear Algebra for Engineers
• Calculus for Engineers
• Physics / Dynamics
• Introduction to Robotics / Mechatronics Engineering
• Digital Computation
• Materials – Structure, Properties, and Mechanics
• Algorithms and Data Structures
• Measurement and Statistics
• Ordinary Differential Equations
• Mechanics of Deformable Solids
• Microprocessors and Digital Logic
• Numerical Methods
• Sensors and Instrumentation
• Mobile Robotics and Sensor-Based Perception
• Introduction to Computer Structures and Real-Time Systems
• Introduction to Artificial Intelligence
• Linear Systems and Signals
• Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer
• Kinematics and Dynamics of Machines
• Actuators and Power Electronics
• Microprocessor Systems and Interfacing for Robotics Engineering
• Electromechanical Machine Design
• Robot Modeling and Control
• Digital Control Applications
• Engineering Cost Analysis
• Robotics Engineering Design Workshop
Master’s Degree in Robotics Engineering – Two to Three Year Duration
At the master’s level, robotics engineering students generally must complete some required courses as well as independent design and engineering projects and/or a master’s thesis. Graduate courses expand upon the subject matter covered in the bachelor’s curriculum and also present advanced concepts in robotics.
These are some sample areas of study that may be offered in master’s programs:
• Multi-Robot Systems – multi-robot control and connectivity, path planning, sensor fusion and robot informatics, task level control, robot software design
• Biomechanics and Robotics – biological and artificial sensors, orthotics biomechanics and robotics, prosthetic biomechanics and robotics, artificial organs and limbs, rehabilitation robotics
• Parallel and Walking Mechanisms – dynamics of parallel manipulators and legged/walking mechanisms, gait analysis, motion analysis, stability/balance analysis
• Human-Robot Interaction – design of robots for real-world human environments, learning algorithms, social cognition
• Motion Planning – algorithms to generate motion, manipulation with robot arms and hands
• Biomedical Robotics – robot-assisted therapy and surgery, laboratory and operating room automation, socially assistive robots
Doctoral Degree in Robotics Engineering – Five to Six Year Duration
Most students who earn a Doctoral Degree in Robotics Engineering pursue a career in research or teaching at the university level. The doctoral program is typically made up of coursework, teaching and assistant teaching opportunities, independent research under the guidance of a faculty member, a thesis proposal, and a thesis presentation or defense.
Ph.D. qualifying courses commonly include at least one course from the core study areas of robotics engineering:
• Perception – vision, image sensors, data interpretation, tactile and force sensors, inertial guidance
• Cognition – robotics artificial intelligence, knowledge, representation, planning, task scheduling, learning
• Action – dynamics, control, manipulation, and locomotion
• Mathematics Foundations – optimal estimation, differential geometry, computational geometry, operations research
Possible areas of thesis research include:
• Assistive and Augmentative Robotics
• Human-Robot Interaction
• Kinematics, Dynamics, and Control
• Medical and Surgical Robotics
• Motion Planning
• Multi-Robot Systems
• Foldable Robot Design and Fabrication
• Real-time Motion Planning
• Robot Learning
• Soft/Flexible Robotic Systems
• Tactile Sensing
Degrees Similar to Robotics Engineering
This degree field teaches students how to develop computer hardware and software. The curriculum includes course in calculus, physics, computer system architecture and networking, digital-logic design, data structures, and programming languages.
The field of computer science is focused on computer systems and how humans interact with them. Courses cover artificial intelligence, algorithms, and program design.
Students of electrical engineering learn how to use physics, electronics, and electromagnetism to design devices that are powered by or produce electricity. Most degree programs in the field start with foundational classes in calculus, physics, and chemistry.
Industrial designers design the way that we live our lives, by creating, innovating, and styling the common mass-produced items that we buy, use, and consume. They research, build, and test prototypes to maximize the functionality and desirability of products, from cars to food packaging to consumer electronics. Students of industrial design study the history of the field, design conceptualization, drawing, dimensional and computer-aided design, materials and processes, and model making.
Degree programs in mathematics typically teach both the theory and abstract of pure mathematics and its practical application to the world, known as applied mathematics. In other words, math majors study algebra, geometry, calculus, and statistics; but most pair this mathematics concentration with classes that reveal how math concepts are used in business management, computer science, economics, finance, music, philosophy, physics, and sports science.
Students of mechanical engineering learn how to research, design, develop, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, sensors, engines, and machines. These devices serve many industries, including the aerospace, medical, energy, and manufacturing sectors. In addition to coursework in engineering and design, degree programs in the field include classes in mathematics, life sciences, and physical sciences.
Computer Software Engineering
Degree programs in computer software engineering teach students how to apply engineering principles to software development. Students learn how to design, build, test, implement, and maintain computer operating systems, as well as applications that allow end users to accomplish tasks on their computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices.
The typical curriculum includes several programming languages, because the work of software engineers involves instructing computer programmers how to write the code they need.
Skills You'll Learn
Designing, developing, and testing robotics is complex work. It is not surprising, therefore, that students who study the field gain a diverse transferable skill set:
• Active Learning – evolving technology in the field means that robotics engineers ‘learn how to learn’ and keep up with the latest information in their field
• Applied Mathematics and Science – these are fundamental skills in the field of robotics engineering
• Basic understanding of electrical and mechanical systems and computer science
• Communication – robotics engineering projects are rarely one-person jobs; they call for an ability to interact with others
• Complex Problem-Solving – the field of robotics engineering presents complex challenges and problems
• Creativity – thinking out of the box and coming up with innovative approaches to projects is key
• Critical Thinking – the work of a robotics engineer requires the capacity to think logically and analytically
• Organization – managing time, planning, and prioritizing are essential for the busy robotics engineer
• Persistence – the complex nature of robotics engineering means that overcoming challenges and finding solutions often take considerable time and perseverance
• Programming Languages
• Technical Design – robotics engineering is firstly about design, and then about construction and use
• Visualization – the ability to form a mental picture based on information
What Can You Do with a Robotics Engineering Degree?
Most robotics engineers work directly for robotics companies. In their jobs, they combine engineering and science to produce robots that can do what humans have typically done, only better.
They make robotic carts for use in factories and manufacturing plants. They invent education robots for use in the classroom. They develop collision avoidance systems for the automotive industry. They make unmanned and autonomous underwater vehicles for the oceanography and defense fields, and unmanned aerial vehicles that can be used in the agriculture and disaster management sectors. They make smart vacuuming and cleaning devices. Their work even extends to the wellness sector, with the design of care and companion robots.
In addition to designing and building robots at robotics companies, robotics engineers may also be employed in the various business sectors that use robots:
In the manufacturing sector, robots help to automate and streamline production by completing repetitive or hazardous tasks with speed, accuracy, and durability. Common jobs done by robots are machine tool tending, assembly, material removal, palletization and de-palletization, material handling, and welding and gas metal arc welding. These are some segments of the manufacturing industry in which robotics are used:
• Computer and Electronics
• Electrical Equipment, Appliances, and Components
• Food and Beverage
• Petroleum, Coal, Chemicals, Plastics, and Rubber
• Primary Metal, Fabricated Metal, and Machinery
• Textiles, Leather, and Apparel
• Wood, Paper, and Printing
While manufacturing was the first industry to recognize the usefulness of robots, many other sectors have now done the same:
• Agriculture – harvesting and picking, weed control, mowing, pruning, seeding, spraying, thinning, sorting, packing
• Architecture – producing 3D models, accounting for mathematical and measurement errors
• Construction – creating construction parts, assembling pieces on site; helping buildings meet sustainability goals by robotically monitoring temperature, lighting, air quality, and motion
• Fulfillment Centers – stacking items, lifting and repositioning pallets of inventory
• Medicine and Healthcare – setting up patient rooms, restocking supply rooms, cleaning rooms, updating of patient medical records, transport of dangerous substances, roaming robotic supply carts, robotic limb braces, robotic surgical assistants, robotic lab assistants, robotic alert systems
• Military – combat drones, bomb disposal and reconnaissance, robotic tanks and artillery vehicles, unmanned submarines
• Mining / Oil and Gas – intelligent excavation systems, autonomous drills and sampling systems, exploring flood sites, providing alerts
• Nuclear – performing tasks in environments with extreme temperatures, pressures, or radiation fields
• Public Safety – drones for firefighting and police surveillance
• Recycling – robots programmed to pluck recyclable materials off a conveyor belt
• Space Exploration – supporting missions to the Moon and Mars with modular robotic vehicles
• Technology Companies – companies like Google that develop their own systems
Regardless of where they work, robotics engineers may assume various titles, including the following:
• Robotics Programmer
• Robotics Technician
• Robot Design Engineer
• Robotics Test Engineer
• Robotics Systems Engineer
• Robotics Navigation Specialist
• Robotics Operator
• Robotics Software Developer
• Controls Engineer
• Machine Learning Specialist
• Electrical Maintenance Engineer
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