Are you an engineer at that messy point in your life when you’re thinking about the universe and your career. Maybe, you are in high school and thinking of a career in engineering. Might I suggest robotics as a career option! If you haven’t been living under a rock, then you would have seen how the world has been taken by a storm with drones. At the same time, companies like SoftBank are selling robotic store assistants, Amazon uses robots to completely automate their warehouses. Even in India, a country that people don’t think of when it comes to robotics, companies like Grey Orange are building warehouse automation robots for Snapdeal and Flipkart. Obviously, you have all heard about the Google self-driving car and similar such projects by other automakers.
Which ever tech magazine or blog you read, you will find predictions about how the robotics industry is slated to grow rapidly and worth hundreds of billions dollars in the coming years. I won’t post market forecasts, you could go check them out here. The point is that robotics is gonna be huge, it already is big, but its gonna blow up and basically come into the common man’s everyday life in a big way. Right now we are at the cusp of the robotics revolution. You can compare this to the early era of the PC industry, or the arrival of the internet. There is a plethora of opportunity in this sector, I believe people haven’t even imagined half the cool stuff we could do with autonomous robots.
So now here are my reasons for you to consider a career in robotics:
- Future is bright: As I said, the robotics industry will grow rapidly. Japan has started investing in a robotics intiative to counter its declining workforce. Similarly China is seeing heavy investment in automation. If you invest in a career in robotics now, you will be positioned to take highly challenging, well paying jobs in a secure industry.
- Money: High-tech is lucrative, period. If you’ve got the vision and talent, you can go ahead start your own company. Big companies are already scouting for talent in this space and are willing to pay big bucks.
- Interesting Work: Robotics is a highly challenging field. There are many unsolved problems (e.g. SLAM, Bipedal Motion) and many problems that can be solved better. These technologies can be used to make robotic prosthetics or self-driving cars. As the algorithms and embedded computers improve, so will the applications and new avenues will open up. If you love a challenge, robotics will never be boring.
- Make Science Fiction a Reality: Come on, don’t we all want a Rosie (from the jetsons) or a drone that goes and gets our groceries for us. All of this will happen and you can be a part of it or watch it happen from the side-lines. Up to you!
Now that the why is sorted, let’s look at the how:
- School: Take up extra curricular activities in robotics. There are many companies offering courses for kids in robotics. There are school level challenges, international competitions so participate. Learn how to program, it will serve you well.
- Undergraduate education: Some universities offer undergraduate education in robotics, otherwise I would suggest taking up computer science or electrical engineering. While computer science will focus on the algorithmic side, electrical engineering will prepare your fundamentals in estimation, control, embedded systems etc. I would say the ideal degree would be electrical engineering, with some courses in CS, Mechanical/Aerospace and math. You should build strong programming skills, knowledge of estimation and control and mechanics / dynamics (aerospace/mech is best for this). A course in fundamentals of probability would be of great help as robotics involves a lot of probability.
- Graduate School: In graduate school, it doesn’t really matter which program you are in if you’re doing a Ph.D. In case you want to stop at a masters, then again, CS or EE would be the best departments if there isn’t a robotics program. Take courses in algorithms, machine learning, computer vision, estimation, control (Linear control, optimal control), optimization, Math (analysis, partial differential equations, linear algebra).
- Internships: A lot of young and old robotics companies are looking for interns, so prepare well and apply. A professional experience in school will always help.
- Important Softwares: There are some key softwares that every robotics job will require. Knowledge of ROS (Robot Operating System) is a must. You should develop good C++ and Python skills. Learn MATLAB, it is very easy to learn and use. It is used heavily in engineering education for simulating stuff, doing projects and assignments. OpenCV is an open source computer vision library that is so popular in computer vision that if you want to do computer vision don’t know how to use this, you’re just kidding yourself.