Are robots taking our jobs? This question has been raised many times in recent decades. Some jobs have certainly disappeared: log drivers, lamplighters, telegraph and switchboard operators, elevator operators, ice cutters – the list is long. But did these people find other jobs? Absolutely! Should anybody be afraid of robots? Absolutely not!
The goal of introducing automation is to make robots do manual and repetitive work, which means people can do much more valuable work instead. Furthermore, having more robots requires more employees with robotics skills. A report from the International Federation of Robotics in August 2020 claims that there will be about 4 million industrial robots by 2022, which indicates a high demand for robotics skills. And that is only looking at industrial robots.
Let us investigate some of the professional roles that are required for robotics:
Workforce trainers: introducing robotics to companies always requires long-term skills and competence development. Workforce training is an essential step. A trainer in robotics needs a high-level overview of robotics as well as theoretical and practical knowledge of robotics in the specific domain. A workforce trainer also needs to have good presentation and communication skills. A good trainer is able to teach employees with different backgrounds how to use, design, maintain or develop robotic systems.
Consultant, system designer: not all companies want to develop in-house competence in robotics, they might want to talk with experts outside their organisation to consider different aspects. A robotics consultant and system designer knows various solutions on the market, is aware of other competitors' technology and knows other emerging technologies as well. He or she can think of complete systems and possible future extensions, as well as having a vision of robotics at the customer's business and good communication and presentation skills. The tasks of a consultant and system designer are to understand the exact customer needs, select the best equipment, design a cost-effective robotics system, and also to plan long-term support and maintenance.
Robot hardware developer: currently available components might not be enough for a novel or custom application, and therefore new parts have to be developed. A robot hardware developer is generally a mechanical or electrical engineer. They have to have deep technical knowledge about that specific robotics domain, and be able to design and create hardware components. Practical knowledge of other subfields of robotics is also beneficial.
Robotics software engineer: while the robot hardware developer builds the ’body’ of the robot, the software engineer creates its ’brain’. Such an expert should know various programming languages because different robots might have different programming languages. She or he has to know how the components of the robot work (based on documentation), how to control them and how to synchronise all the components to perform the desired task. AI skills might also be needed. A robotics software engineering role might be more complex than that of a traditional software engineer, as the software operates mechanical hardware, and finding and correcting errors can be harder. Furthermore, in robotics, due to limited space and energy consumption constraints, embedded computers are frequently used. Knowledge of programming embedded devices with limited resources is therefore also essential.
Installer, repairer, maintainer: systems have to be installed, properly set up, maintained regularly and repaired if needed. Therefore, experts who know how to install hardware and software, who can set robots up to perform the specified tasks 100% accurately, can identify hardware and software errors and repair them locally or through replacement, and who know when and how to maintain these machines are in high demand. These experts have a decent knowledge of mechanical and electrical systems, and they know how the software of such systems work. Of course, they cannot know every detail of all systems, but they have to be able to learn new systems based on documentation and/or training.
Tester: because systems that involve robotics might become complex, they have to be tested after installation and setup and sporadically during use. Different vendors and different versions of hardware and software make it necessary to test even the most well-designed system from a technical point of view, and it is also important to test these products from a human-computer interaction point of view. A tester should know the exact purpose of the system, so he or she can explore all the functions that would be used by the operators. The tester also needs to have good writing skills in order to be able to clearly and precisely describe the bottlenecks of the robotic solution. In the case of simple robotic systems, testing can be done by the engineers or by the installer/maintainer. However, for larger or complex systems, it is absolutely essential to have a professional tester in the loop.
Machine learning engineer: as we learned, many robots use AI technologies. The general AI method nowadays is machine learning, which means the algorithms are elaborated with the help of data. A machine learning (ML) engineer needs to have deep theoretical knowledge, and practice and experience are also essential. An ML engineer in robotics must not only know how to develop solutions, he or she must also consider the data design and deployment aspect. Furthermore, as with software engineers, the expert also has to know how to develop ML solutions on devices with limited resources.
After completing chapter 3, you should be able to:
Understand the general principles of different types of robotics
Explain how robotics is utilised for automation