Spotlights

Job Description

Robots come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re becoming more prevalent each year. From assembly lines to assisting with surgery, robots have taken their place as invaluable partners in the modern world. They can do several tasks faster, better, or cheaper than people can. In many cases, they’re able to do things humans simply can’t do at all!
 
Obviously, crafting such amazing machines takes a ton of work upfront, though. Robotics Engineers are responsible for coming up with the plans to build and maintain these technological wonders. Many companies install pre-existing robotic systems, while others need customized robots to perform unique tasks. Robotics Engineers can work with clients to determine the best designs, estimate costs, and create software for other workers to control the robots, as needed. Engineers also run tests to ensure smooth operation and conduct troubleshooting if issues arise. 

Rewarding Aspects of Career
  • Automating or enhancing manufacturing processes
  • Increasing precision and efficiency during production processes
  • Decreasing human employee exposure to workplace hazards
  • Boosting organizational profits 
  • Working on cutting-edge technologies
2020 Employment
132,500
2026 Projected Employment
140,980
The Inside Scoop
Job Responsibilities

Working Schedule

  • Robotics Engineers work full-time, with duties split between “office hours” and hands-on work in laboratories or at job sites. When a robot or system malfunctions, work stoppages become costly fast. In such cases, engineers may be called in after normal business hours to get things back online quickly. 

Typical Duties

  • Work with external clients and teams
  • Review situations or problems where robotic systems are needed
  • Determine possible mechanical solutions and estimate associated costs
  • Conduct research related to feasibility, operation parameters, parts, systems, etc.
  • Use computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) to draft new system prototypes or adjust existing designs
  • Build control software, write code, utilize machine learning, and debug programs
  • Analyze sensor/signal data
  • Integrate peripheral equipment (such as welding equipment)
  • Supervise teams or individual work
  • Oversee construction of newly-designed robot and system prototypes
  • Work with microprocessors and digital signal processors
  • Assist with installation, calibration, and proper usage training
  • Plan and teach paths for mobile robots
  • Test newly-installed equipment; monitor to ensure quality and proper operation
  • Respond to system failures, perform diagnostics, determine the cause of problems, and perform repairs
  • Provide tech support as needed
  • Redesign defective systems as required

Additional Responsibilities

  • Write and maintain documentation
  • Work on-call for troubleshooting and other incident response issues
  • Ensure compliance with state, federal, and international regulations and guidelines
  • Stay up-to-date on new trends and developments
Skills Needed on the Job

Soft Skills

  • Attention to detail
  • Collaboration 
  • Creativity
  • Customer service 
  • Goal-focused
  • Highly organized
  • Investigative and inquisitive
  • Objectivity
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Process-oriented
  • Quality assurance mindset
  • Time management skills
  • Strong communications skills
  • Must be able to listen carefully to client needs, articulate suggestions, conduct thorough research via technical readings, and write technical papers as well as clear, easy-to-understand operations materials

Technical Skills

  • Applied technology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) - Autodesk AutoCAD, Dassault Systemes SolidWorks, Robotics Academy ROBOTC
  • Computer-aided engineering - Gazebo, GRASPIT!, MATLAB
  • Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM)
  • Computer science
  • Development environment software
  • Industrial control software
  • Knowledge of electronics
  • Mechanical aptitude
  • Operating system software - Linux, UNIX, VxWorks
  • Physics
  • Strong math skills in geometry, algebra, calculus, and trigonometry
Different Types of Organizations
  • Automotive industry
  • Corporations/companies
  • Factories/Manufacturing plants
  • Governmental/Military agencies
  • Healthcare 
  • Higher education institutions
  • Research and development
Expectations and Sacrifices

Robotic system costs can start around $50,000 and go up to $150,000 or more. With that much funding invested, companies expect a solid Return on Investment. It’s up to the engineers to make sure they get it. 
 
While some workers worry that robots will steal their jobs, the fact is there are too many advantages to using robots to ignore. Safety, speed, consistency, quality, human worker wellness, and productivity are a few of the main advantages, but only when systems work the way they should. When they don’t, those advantages can quickly turn into disadvantages, with lost production, lost earnings, and unhappy employees. Therefore Robotic Engineers have an incredible responsibility on their shoulders. They must put in the research needed then design systems that will function as expected, and be ready to do what it takes to fix issues when things go wrong. 

Current Trends

Robotics Business Review anticipates several trends to watch for. Robotics companies are expected to team up as big business starts to acquire more systems. Cobots and industrial robots will continue to evolve, eventually revealing which of the two offers better investment potential to buyers. Meanwhile, advances in commercial drones will press the on, and self-driving cars will be utilized more but within controlled situations. Two other trends to watch for are retailers using robots to fulfill more orders, and mobile manipulation robots (basically a robot arm mounted on wheels) will keep being researched for ways they can be used effectively. 

What kinds of things did people in this career enjoy doing when they were young...

Of course, many Robotics Engineers might tell you about their childhood fascination with robots in science fiction contexts, such as books, films, and TV shows. Those media are often our first encounters with the concept of robots, though in sci-fi they’re typically paired with Artificial Intelligence. Most real-world robotic systems have much more utilitarian purposes, however, fictional robots still inspire and motivate engineers to push the boundaries of what’s possible. 
 
Naturally, engineers need above par math and mechanical skills, so we can expect workers in this field have always been somewhat inclined towards achievement in those areas. They’re also very practical, and most likely have always had that streak in their disposition. To be successful working on robotics systems, one should be inquisitive and possess keen attention-to-detail. In their youth, Robotics Engineers may have enjoyed puzzles, mysteries, and games requiring one to discover a feasible solution through applied critical thinking. 

Education and Training Needed
  • Robotics Engineers require a bachelor’s degree in engineering to get started
  • Majors can include electrical (or electronic), industrial, mechanical, manufacturing, or robotics engineering. These degrees can take up to five years to complete
  • A graduate degree (master’s or PhD) is needed for advanced or teaching positions
  • Undergraduate coursework may include training in:
    • Robotics
    • Hydraulics and pneumatics
    • CADD/CAM
    • Integrated systems
    • Numerically controlled systems
    • Logic
    • Python or other programming languages (C/C++, Java, C#/.NET, MATLAB, HDLS, LISP, Prolog, Scratch, Pascal, or manufacturer-specific languages
    • Microprocessors
  • Optional federal work-study programs can give you a boost in the job market later
  • Optional certifications might also be useful
    • International Society of Automation - Certified Automation Professional 
    • Robotic Industries Association - Certified Robot Integrator 
    • National Robotics Engineering Center - safety certification 
  • Becoming a Professional Engineer (PE) is not required, however, it qualifies you for oversight of other engineers and various other increased responsibilities
    • To become a PE, you’ll need a license. This involves holding an ABET-accredited degree, passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, having four years of work experience, and passing the Professional Engineering exam
  • Self-study is an important part of one’s education and training for this field. Technical reading, participating in professional organizations and associated conference events, and conducting research will all contribute to needed skills
    • Popular conferences include the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation, and Robotics: Science & Systems Conference
Things to look for in an university
  • There are many different engineering disciplines one can study to enter this field
  • Robotics-specific programs are obviously beneficial, but you might want to review programs in electrical/electronic, industrial, mechanical, or manufacturing engineering
  • If selecting a major outside of robotics engineering, look for programs featuring robotics courses that can establish the necessary foundations
  • Pay heed to faculty bios and experiences. Professors with practical work backgrounds in robotics will be the best people to teach you about the real world of robotics!
  • Working on robotic systems requires amble hands-on practice, so see what types of labs and research facilities the department has (Oregon State University, for example, has its exciting new Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute)
  • Look at the department’s funding and funding sources
  • Check out student clubs and organizations. Working with peer teams is a great way to learn, make friends, and build your network
  • Engineering programs should be ABET-accredited
  • Take any program’s post-graduate job placement stats into consideration. The best schools have strong ties to industry and good placement track records
  • Before signing up for an online program, think about the pros and cons. Live attendance is a bigger commitment but helps build hard and soft skills in this competitive industry
Things to do in High School and College
  • The best things to do in high school are to master your math classes and get as involved in robotics activities as possible
  • If your school doesn’t have a robotics club, consider starting one!
  • There’s no end to what you can learn through self-study such as edX courses, RobotShop, Learn Robotics, and similar sites 
  • Look for internships or work-study opportunities
  • Practice your technical writing skills, but also learn how to “translate” complex topics into layman’s terms
  • Be a team player! Robotics Engineers often work with teams, which requires good collaboration that takes practice to learn. Volunteering to participate in school activities helps build these skills
  • Ask an expert to take you under their wing
  • Help any newly-learned knowledge sink into your brain by teaching it to others ASAP
  • Watch tutorial videos and read online posts, not just articles but also discussion thread responses from workers in the field on platforms like Quora and Reddit
    • Take a peek at Feedspot’s Top 10 Robot Forums, Discussion and Message Boards You Must Follow in 2020
Typical Roadmap
Robotics Engineer Gladeo Roadmap
How to land your 1st job
  • Map out some career paths before starting your university program
  • Review job postings on Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and Glassdoor to get an idea for hot qualifications employers want
  • Take courses to qualify you for the jobs you intend to apply for in the near future
  • Look for jobs as an assistant or junior engineer
  • If you haven’t already done an internship, do one if you need practical work experience  
  • Let everyone know you’re job-hunting. Most jobs are found through networking
  • Read Randstad’s How to hire an automation or robotics engineer for insights 
  • Attend university-sponsored industry fairs and events, with a goal of making real connections and learning about opportunities
  • Get that resume in tip-top condition! VelvetJobs features helpful resume templates
  • Bring in a professional resume writer (or editor) to punch up your doc and make it the best it can be. But remember, tailor each resume to the specific job you’re applying for
  • Read Glassdoor’s compilation of Robotics Engineer real-world interview questions 
How to Climb the Ladder
  • It probably goes without saying, but build robotic systems that work as expected and add value for the client!
  • Become a go-to resident expert your organization can rely on to solve problems
  • Keep learning and stay ahead of the curve on trends and breakthroughs
    • Better yet, set trends and make breakthroughs yourself, through hard work, creativity, and diligent research
  • Always behave as a consummate professional. Be a role model employee but remember to demonstrate leadership qualities as well as follower and team player traits
  • Be loyal to your employer and always promote them in the best possible light
  • Get smarter. Work on your master’s or doctorate degree when the time is right. Advanced positions require advanced education!
  • Knock out your Professional Engineer exams and obtain licensure
  • Meet deadlines and maintain the highest quality assurance possible 
  • Always offer solutions when bringing up problems. Anybody can complain, but a leader looks for practical fixes backed up by rock-solid research 
Recommended Resources

Websites

  • American Society for Engineering Education 
  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers
  • Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence
  • Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International
  • Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering 
  • First 
  • IEEE Robotics and Automation Society
  • International Society of Automation 
  • NASA Robotics Alliance Project
  • National Society of Professional Engineers
  • Robotics Industries Association 
  • Society of Manufacturing Engineers
  • Society of Women Engineers
  • Technology Student Association

Books

  • Elements of Robotics, by Mordechai Ben-Ari and Francesco Mondada
  • Industrial Robotics Fundamentals: Theory and Applications, by Larry T Ross, Stephen W Fardo, et al. 
  • Introduction to Robotics: Analysis, Control, Applications, by Saeed B. Niku
  • Learn Robotics Programming: Build and control autonomous robots using Raspberry Pi 3 and Python, by Danny Staple  
  • Modern Robotics: Mechanics, Planning, and Control, by Kevin M. Lynch and Frank C. Park 
  • Wheeled Mobile Robotics: From Fundamentals Towards Autonomous Systems, by Gregor Klancar, Andrej Zdesar, et al. 
Plan B

Robotics Engineering can be a thrilling career field with a ton of responsibility. However, the path to breaking in is not always cut and dry. Plan B careers include::

  • Electronics Engineers
  • Manufacturing Engineers  
  • Materials Engineers
  • Mathematicians and Statisticians
  • Mechanical Engineers
  • Nuclear Engineers
  • Photonics Engineers 
  • Physicists and Astronomers

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