How to Become a Robotics Engineer

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By Robert Half July 24, 2019 at 1:00pm

Just a few decades ago, robotics engineer jobs didn’t exist at all. In fact, robots like C-3PO and HAL 9000 were the stuff of science fiction — futuristic characters many people never dreamed they’d see in their lifetimes. 

In recent years, however, robots have become an essential part of our world. They’re currently used to perform jobs ranging from simple tasks like scooping cat litter and vacuuming floors all the way to providing elder care and exploring the surface of Mars

Though we’re still in the early stages of the robotic revolution, each day brings new uses for robots. As a result, there is now a significant demand for talented robotics engineers to design and develop solutions for everyday problems. 

Does the sound of this job intrigue you? Read on for more about the duties and requirements of this role, as well as what sort of robotics engineer salary you can expect. 

What does a robotics engineer do? 

To fully understand the position, it helps to first know a little about robots themselves. A robot can be roughly defined as a machine that’s able to execute a physical action without human supervision. Most existing robots were created to perform a single function. For example, robots in car manufacturing facilities usually have very specific jobs, such as welding engine components together. 

A robot has three distinct facets, each of which is related to a traditional field of study:

1. Hardware —This is the physical aspect of the robot, such as a mechanical arm, a drone vehicle or a miniature probe. Robots move using sophisticated systems of hydraulics and pneumatics. They also have vast arrays of delicate sensors, which are used to observe their environments. 

Relevant discipline: mechanical engineering

2. Software — Robots are controlled by software algorithms that either run locally or on a network the robot is connected to. In the past, this software was a set of intricate instructions that told the robot exactly what to do in every possible situation. Today, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) make it possible for robots to teach themselves and adapt their programming as circumstances change.

Relevant discipline: computer science or software engineering

3. Connectivity — Robots need a way for their software to communicate with their hardware and vice versa. Because of this, each robot has a system that relays instructions from the software controller to the hardware and also sends sensor data back to the controller. This connectivity is usually achieved with complex wiring, although modern robots may pass data over Wi-Fi networks.

Relevant discipline: electrical engineering 

To succeed in a robotics engineer job, you’ll need a strong background in at least one of the disciplines above, as well as a good understanding of the others. 

Robotics engineer job duties

As you’ve seen, robotics engineering is a multidisciplinary field, and the job itself can be dynamic based on the exact needs of your employer. In this position, you’ll find yourself tackling challenges in manufacturing, aeronautics and other industries. Ultimately, a robotics engineer is a problem solver. 

Depending on the nature of the company you work for, your role will consist of a blend of several of the following responsibilities:

  • Analysis — Robots exist to solve specific problems, whether that’s automating repetitive tasks or undertaking functions too hazardous for humans. Robotics engineers begin each project by performing an in-depth analysis of the issue at hand. What does the robot need to achieve? What environmental conditions might restrict deployment? What connectivity is available in the deployment zone? Robotics teams need to answer all of these questions before moving on to the design stage. 
  • Design and construction — Robotics engineers use 3D Computer-Aided Design (CAD) tools to create robots, which allows them to design right down to the circuit level. Computer-Aided Manufacture (CAM) tools are then used to actually build the robots.
  • Maintenance — Like any other machinery, robots experience wear and tear. Robot technicians often handle the day-to-day work of essential repairs and gathering diagnostics. Robotics engineers are responsible for more complicated repairs. They also perform detailed analytics on diagnostic data to ensure that everything is running smoothly. 
  • Programming — There’s no universal standard for robotics programming languages. In fact, proprietary robotics systems may each come with a unique language. Programming tasks vary but will almost certainly include projects related to AI or machine learning. You’ll also work with sensors — possibly including vision control systems — and develop applications for process control and hardware interfaces.
  • Testing — Robotics engineers must ensure that a robot functions properly and also evaluate durability by running the robot through tests in a variety of stressful scenarios. Testing can be done using CAD tools or by performing practical examinations on working models. 

Robotics engineer job description

To secure a robotics engineer job, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field of study. Some institutions offer accredited robotics engineering programs, but many employers will also accept a degree in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, software engineering or mathematics. 

In terms of hands-on experience, the robotics engineer job description typically lists requirements for knowledge of the following areas:

  • Automation
  • CAD and/or CAM
  • Hydraulics and pneumatics
  • Robotics middleware such as Robot Operating System (ROS)
  • Proprietary robotics programming languages
  • 2D and 3D vision systems
  • AI and machine learning
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Relevant industry knowledge

A general interest in robotics is also a plus. If you’ve built robots as a hobbyist, be certain to expand on your accomplishments in the job interview

Soft skills are also vital in robotics engineer jobs, as you’ll undoubtedly be working with team members across multiple departments. Employers seek candidates who are able to: 

  • Communicate clearly, both verbally and in writing
  • Collaborate with others
  • Solve problems and think critically
  • Adapt to new technologies and processes
  • Demonstrate leadership and take initiative

Robotics engineer salary ranges

Pinpointing the robotics engineer salary is a bit challenging. This position is so new, there isn’t a large data sample to draw from. It’s also important to remember that compensation can vary widely based on location, degree, experience level and company size. That said, the average robotics engineer salary based on limited sources is around $85,000 per year but has significant growth potential.

A career with staying power

The IoT was relatively unheard of at the beginning of the decade, but Robert Half’s Jobs and AI Anxiety report estimates there will soon be upwards of 20 billion smart devices in the world. Human dependence on IoT — at home and in the workplace — is one of the major enablers of automation and robotics. With IoT, industries from logistics to manufacturing have access to even more data than previously thought possible. These data-rich environments set the perfect stage for a new generation of robots, which will continue to drive the need for skilled professionals to staff robotics engineer jobs. 
 

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