How a handful of companies is forging the future of robotics engineering
Robotics are going to be a critical part of how we solve the big problems of the future. Unfortunately, it’s still an immature industry, hampered by a lack of standards, a focus on proprietary hardware and software, and no institutionalized mechanism for sharing knowledge among engineers.
If you want to study robotics engineering in university, you currently have to pull knowledge and skills from three different disciplines: computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering. There is no university curriculum that’s fully focused on robotics, so it takes some time for young robotics engineers to get up to speed. As a result, young engineers are entering the workforce with little practical experience, and employers can’t count on getting a standardized, well-defined skill set from new hires. However, several companies are now working to bridge that gap, with NewBotic Corporation, led by Craig Doherty, heading up the movement.
NewBotic Corp. is creating design laboratories and “hands on” workshops, called Robotories, in connection with major technical universities so that young engineers will be able to get guidance from older and more experienced engineers. This will allow them to gather all the knowledge and skills they need in order to solve the large, complex problems awaiting them upon their employment. The goal is to harness the passion young engineers have for robotics and to make it easier for companies to find qualified robotics engineers.
But NewBotic is just one player in what appears to be a growing movement among engineering companies towards unifying the curriculum for robotics and providing greater robotics skills to upcoming engineers. Here’s a look at some of the other efforts underway:
Applied Manufacturing Technologies (AMT) is another firm that not only develops and builds automation robotics technologies but builds engineering careers. The company has a three-pronged approach. It partners with technological universities to develop future engineers by exposing them to real work experience while still studying; it engages with Robotics Clubs to encourage interested and talented high school students to pursue automation careers; and it finds and connects with experienced professionals who can bring their experience and knowledge to the AMT robotic engineering team. AMT’s Automation Academy accelerates the learning curve of its new engineers and staff through lectures, assessments, and challenging real life laboratory assignments. After exposure and training in The Automation Academy, engineers are matched with senior engineers in the field who continue the on-job training and mentoring.
FANUC America Corp. shares a similar vision. It claims to have the most complete range of innovative robotics, CNC systems, and factory automation solutions for many different industries, including food, agriculture, aerospace, construction, pharmaceuticals, education, and more. The company’s training programs “provide formal training solutions for their internal and external customer base.” Its training center offers Train-the-Trainer-Program (TIT), Customized Product Training, Web Based Training Programs, and Distributor Training Programs. It has eight classrooms, a training lab, and more than 45 robots for hands-on training. The firm is licensed by the State of Michigan Proprietary School for Robotic Training. The FANUC Training is also an authorized provider for the International Association for Continuing Education (IACET), thus it can issue Continuing Education Unit credits.
iRobot offers robots for business and the defense and security industries. Its home robots are revolutionizing the way individuals clean inside and out. Its RP-VITA, a roving communications protocol, allows a doctor to visit a patient without leaving his or her office, thus facilitating more doctor-patient face-time. The company says it is committed to “building a future for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education” in the country. Its STEM outreach includes classroom visits, events, internships, career introduction, and mentoring.
MTAB USA LLC (Exinz International LLC) offers simulation solutions on skills development and special machine solutions. Aside from offering a variety of products, it has several e-learning and m-training solutions in its field of expertise, manufacturing automation.
These companies have different approaches, but they’re united by their drive to train, mentor, and coach new engineers in robotics.
Unfortunately, the robotics industry is still a “feudal” industry, and robotics brands don’t play nicely with each other, but I am hoping that in the near future there will be a sort of standardization similar to what now exists in the microchip industry. This would facilitate tremendous growth in both the robotic and manufacturing industries.
The Robotic Industries Association estimates that about 90 percent of U.S. companies that could benefit from the use of robots or robotic systems are still out of the loop. Only 10 percent of them have installed any robot so far.
I share Doherty’s vision for the future of robotics engineering and hope that we’ll see robotics-specific training programs continue to grow so that baby boomers with knowledge and expertise in robotics can have an interchange of ideas and knowledge with the younger generations.