What Is a Robotics Scientist? What Is a Robotics Scientist? What Is a Robotics Scientist?
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Robots get the job done, whether that job is to rove the surface of Mars, vacuum the floor, assemble cars, load shipping containers on boats, or inspect a disaster area — and that’s just the beginning.
Modern life is possible because robots have taken on many jobs that people can’t do or prefer not to do because of safety concerns, constant repetition, and difficulty. Robots don’t get tired or distracted, and they’re precise and automatic.
In vehicle assembly, robots handle repetitive tasks that can lead to injury when done by humans. Robots sent into disaster areas to assess damage save humans from exposure to dangers such as hazardous chemicals. Robotic exoskeletons provide people with greater strength. In the military, robotic drones can attack enemies without endangering personnel.
Consider this: The human race’s only ambassadors on another planet are the robot rovers that NASA sent to Mars. They’ve carried out their missions for much longer than expected.
The robotics scientists who design and build robots bring high levels of expertise and a variety of skills to their work. Robotics scientists attain this level of knowledge through higher education and experience.
What Do Robotics Scientists Do?
Robotics scientists design, build, and test robots, along with monitoring the robots on the job and optimizing performance. They possess mechanical engineering skills, designing how the parts of a robot work and interact with each other. They are electrical engineers, designing the wiring and capacity to make sure the robot’s parts can function. They also develop software that guides the actions of the robot.
Robotics scientists collaborate with colleagues and clients. Because robots are built for specific purposes, robotics scientists work with clients who use the robots in factories, farms, labs, or other environments to ensure the robots perform their functions effectively.
Designing a Robot
The job of a robotics scientist starts with drawing up plans for the robot in line with its intended purpose. The design considers the task, the working environment, the machines it will interact with, human operators, and other factors.
The design stage includes mapping out the moving parts and electrical circuits and planning space for motors and actuators. In tandem with physical design, robotics engineers develop software that governs the robot’s movements in fine detail. Precise movement and timing are often required in robotic functions. Another element of design and development is preparing cost and time estimates for clients.
All the while, robotics scientists keep up to date with advancements in their fast-changing field. They sharpen their skills and gain additional ones through continuing education and certifications. They read research journals and trade publications devoted to robotics and associated fields.
Building a Robot
The next step is to build a prototype to see how the robot will function.
When testing prototypes, robotics scientists note what works and what doesn’t. They make adjustments, calibrations, and modifications as needed and debug faulty software.
As they develop robots, robotics scientists produce documentation to track development and use as troubleshooting manuals. When a robot is functioning, they monitor performance, fixing problems and suggesting
Examples of What Robotics Scientists Build
The output of robotics scientists is truly astounding. Robots have advanced to take on jobs in just about every environment on earth and beyond.
Here’s a look at some of the applications robots are used for:
Order-Picking Robots in Warehouses
In giant warehouses operated by large retailers such as Amazon and Walmart, robots maneuver through aisles of tall shelves to find products. They extend a robotic arm, pick up an item, deposit it in a container, and take it to the shipping area. Cameras and sensors guide the robots around the warehouse and identify items.
Industrial Floor Scrubbers
Many factory and warehouse floors are cleaned by robot scrubbers that navigate their way around industrial floor spaces, spotting spills, stains, marks, dust, and dirt. They then vacuum the mess and clean it up. They also gather information as they clean, providing supervisors with data that can improve operations.
Robotic arms are a broad category of robotic devices that include many types and roles. Articulated arms have several movement points and can move in many directions with some dexterity. Other robotic arms are more restricted in how they move and are usually reserved for specific tasks. Robotic arms perform a variety of tasks that include assembly, packaging, painting, inspection, welding, and more.
When weld jobs require consistency and speed and are highly repetitive, welding robots can be more effective than humans. They perform spot and arc welding jobs in fields such as automotive assembly. Some welding robots are programmed to weld the same spot each time, while others have cameras and sensors to direct them to a specific spot. Robots are also used for quality control, making sure welds are done properly.
Drug Compounding Robots
Robots are used to fill prescriptions in situations where cleanliness, speed, and consistency are required. They can also handle medications that might be harmful to people when handled in large amounts. Many hospitals have adopted drug-filling robots, and in some cases, use robots to deliver drugs to hospital rooms.
Automotive Assembly Robots
Robots are used for many jobs in automotive manufacturing, including painting, welding, and assembling components. Able to handle repetitive tasks with no drop-off in concentration, robots can work assembly lines day and night. What’s more, they can handle heavy objects such as car and truck doors and accurately fit them in place.
Robots are assuming many tasks on farms. Herbicide-applying robots travel over fields of corn, soybeans, or cotton, surveying the plants. They can distinguish between crops and harmful weeds, applying the right amount of herbicide to invasive plants while avoiding crops. In other applications, robots harvest produce such as strawberries or blueberries based on their ripeness.
Robots for Military Applications
Robots handle an increasing number of military tasks. They have been used to clear minefields, relying on sensors to detect mines and flag them for removal. Robot drones also conduct surveillance and reconnaissance, keeping military personnel out of harm’s way.
Robots commonly assist in surgery, providing surgeons with precise actions, especially in hard-to-reach spots. Robots participate in prostate, heart, renal, and gynecologic procedures, usually through minimally invasive surgery.
Disaster Response Robots
Robots have an increasing role in dealing with disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Robotics scientists have developed robots that can be sent underwater to search for stranded people and deliver life jackets and other supplies. Others can search through rubble to identify survivors. Firefighting robots armed with water tanks can be dispatched into burning structures to blast high-pressure streams at the flames.
A major role of drones has been inspecting pipelines. They fly along pipelines, using sensors to detect cracks and weak spots that might cause problems. They can also be programmed to record videos or photographs for commercial or surveillance purposes.
Aircraft Inspecting Robots
Robots can maneuver around an airplane and check for weakness and surface damage, using specialized cameras and sensors to characterize problems and recommend solutions.
Robotics Solutions Combined with Artificial Intelligence
Robotics scientists are using artificial intelligence (AI) to give robots capabilities that have greatly expanded their roles.
Agricultural robots that distinguish weeds from crops, for example, use machine learning to identify different plants and keep learning as they work.
Self-driving cars, trucks, tractors, and other vehicles are all robots that employ AI. Working with cameras, sensors, software, lasers, and other technologies, self-driving cars can recognize other vehicles, pedestrians, streets, lane markers, traffic signals, and everything else on the street and learn to react accordingly.
Research with RoboCup Competitions
Most robotics advances begin in research laboratories. University labs throughout the world engage in the annual RoboCup competitions in which students program robots to compete in soccer games. The lab’s field teams comprise different types of robots, ranging from robot dogs to full-size humanoid robots. The students train the robots to pass the ball, kick the ball toward a goal, and develop teamwork by communicating with each other, and making decisions in real-time.
The RoboCup, which began in 1997, helps advance research that can be applied to capabilities needed by self-driving cars and other robotics/AI applications.
Humanoid Robots Step Up
Humanoid robots — robots that look and sound like people — have long belonged to the realm of science fiction. But they already exist, carrying out a number of tasks that use communication, facial recognition, range of movement, and an increasing number of other capabilities.
Among the most sophisticated robots, humanoid robots can handle household cleaning tasks as well as help care for residents in assisted care facilities. In the latter instance, humanoid robots are being developed to provide physical and emotional support. They can also facilitate telehealth communications.
Continued development and programming with artificial intelligence will enable robots to develop higher emotional understanding and become more physically agile.
So far, robots excel at tasks they handle individually. They’re not as effective at working together or with humans. A group of organizations is working to change that, improving robotic inspections in hazardous and dangerous places.
In the INMERBOT project, robotics scientists are working to develop robots equipped with robust communication protocols that allow them to work together to carry out tasks in hazardous environments. The project foresees sending teams of robots into nuclear reactors to perform maintenance efficiently and effectively. Teams of robots could also be used to inspect disaster sites, identifying dangerous areas before humans enter.
Robotics scientists are developing robots to work safely with humans as well. This area of research is called cobotics (from “collaborative robotics”).
Cobots handle tasks that are repetitive and dangerous for humans, including moving heavy objects, moving parts from one place to another precisely, and dispensing items.
In auto manufacturing, for example, a cobot places a heavy battery into a vehicle at precise, one-minute intervals, a job that would tax a human’s capabilities. Another example is vertical farming, in which cobots adjust the force of their grip to pollinate and pick delicate plants. In laboratories, cobots mix chemicals and inject them into test tubes for medical testing.
Cobots can be equipped with AI software, cameras, data analytics, and sensors that enable them to learn on the job. In some cases, cobots learn how to do a task by copying human movement. With AI on board, they continue to develop an understanding of their tasks and make decisions, such as how much pressure to apply to pick something up.
Smaller companies can take advantage of cobots because they’re smaller and more flexible, which allows them to do multiple jobs.
Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Working in Tandem
The continuing partnership between robotics scientists and AI specialists promises robots with great capabilities. Using machine learning, deep learning, and other AI technologies, the partners can help robots communicate more effectively, collaborate, and make decisions that will expand the types of jobs they can do.
For example, when AI-equipped robots conducting inspections in hazardous locations find a problem, they can decide to fix it themselves or alert a human.
AI has also led to robots with natural language processing capabilities, which means people can communicate with robots through conversational speech. This eases and quickens commands from person to robot.
Help Advance the Field of Robotics with a Degree in Artificial Intelligence
Robots have changed the way people work by performing many repetitive and dangerous tasks. This has freed human workers to take on other, more valuable jobs. And it seems that developments in robotics are just getting started. Robots are getting smarter, more communicative, and more agile, expanding the roles they can fulfill.