robotics engineer

A robotics engineer could...


Invent the next generation of robotic toys, like this table-tennis-playing humanoid. Robot playing table tennis Build cool animatronic equipment and special effects for amusement parks and the entertainment industry. Animated dragon
Increase manufacturing capacity by creating specialized robots for each automatable task. Manufacturing robot Design robots to explore where humans cannot, like the depths of the ocean or faraway planets. Engineer and mars robots
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Have you watched "The Transformers" cartoon series or seen the "Transformers" movies? Both shows are about how good and evil robots fight each other and the humans who get in the middle. Many TV shows and movies show robots and humans interacting with each other. While this is, at present, fantasy, in real life robots play a helpful role. Robots do jobs that can be dangerous for humans. For example, some robots defuse landmines in war-stricken countries; others work in harsh environments like the bottom of the ocean and on the planet Mars. At the heart of every robot is a robotics engineer who thinks about what a robot needs to do and works with several engineering disciplines to design and put together the perfect piece of equipment.
Key Requirements Excellent problem-solving skills, creativity, mechanical aptitude, attention to detail, good teamwork skills, excellent oral and written skills
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Physics, chemistry, geometry, algebra II, calculus; if available, computer science, applied technology
Median Salary
Robotics Engineer
  $99,040
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)
Interview
  • Ashley Stroupe is a robotics software engineer who is working on the Mars Rover Driver in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA.
  • Arin Morfopoulos goes into great detail describing the work that he is doing in robotics at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
  • Do you think that robotics engineers are nerds? Well, Paulo Younse is not -- he has a ton of interests in addition to robots.
  • In this interview, Daniel Lee discusses his favorite software/hardware tools and projects including a self-driving car.
  • You can do a lot of useful things with robots, but Jason Dante Bardis likes to have fun with them. Read this interview to learn about battlebots!
  • Read about Amy Kukulya, who is using robots to learn about our oceans.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

The robotics-engineering industry is a broad and changing field of study. To keep their knowledge and skills up to date, robotics engineers will need to read research and trade journals, attend professional seminars and conferences, and work with colleagues on cutting-edge research.

New robotics engineers often begin their careers as assistants or junior engineers at a robotics firm, under the supervision of an established colleague.

Education and Training

A bachelor's degree in engineering or a related field is required for most entry-level positions in robotics engineering. Because robotics technology draws on the expertise of many different engineering disciplines, engineers who specialize in robotics often have degrees in mechanical, manufacturing, electrical, electronic, or industrial engineering. Some colleges and universities now offer robotics engineering degrees. Robotics courses typically include training in hydraulics and pneumatics, CADD/CAM systems, numerically controlled systems, microprocessors, integrated systems, and logic. It usually takes four to five years to earn a bachelor's degree in engineering. Some colleges offer work-study programs in which students receive on-the-job training while still in school. Most universities that offer robotics courses have well-equipped labs with lasers and CADD/CAM equipment.

For some positions, and to advance in the field, you need a master's degree or PhD. A PhD is required to teach in this field as well as for most high-level research positions. A master's degree requires one to two years of additional schooling, while a PhD takes three to five additional years in school.

Nature of the Work

Robotics is a rapidly growing field that has applications in diverse industries. A robotics engineer designs robots, maintains robots, develops new applications for robots, and conducts research to expand the potential for robots. Robots can be used in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, aerospace, mining, and medicine. Robots are used to perform tasks too dangerous or dirty for humans to perform. Robotics engineers use computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) systems to perform their tasks. Robotics research engineers design robotic systems and research methods to manufacture them economically. Robotics engineers who work for robot manufacturers are sometimes called robotics test engineers or automation system engineers. These engineers apply the robotic system to a particular use on a manufacturing assembly line. They also create an integrated environment between people and machinery. Leaders in this field work on creating experimental mobile robots for space research (like the Mars rovers) and medical uses.

Robotics engineers must be familiar with logic, microprocessors, and computer programming so that they can design the right robot for each application. They must also prepare specifications for the robot's capabilities as they relate to the work environment. In addition, robotics engineers are responsible for developing cost proposals, efficiency studies, and quality-control reports.

Most robotics engineers are employed by private robot manufacturers or robot users. Some engineers work in military and space programs. Others work for colleges and universities or vocational and trade schools.

Work Environment

Most robotics engineers go to work in offices, manufacturing plants, or laboratories. Manufacturing plants maybe noisy, depending on the industry. They may also work on a factory floor where they monitor or solve on-site problems. Many robotics engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring engineers to work longer hours.

On the Job

  • Build, configure, and test robots.
  • Design robotic systems such as automatic vehicle control, autonomous vehicles, advanced displays, advanced sensing, robotic platforms, computer vision, and telematics systems.
  • Design software to control robotic systems for applications such as military defense and manufacturing.
  • Design automated robotic systems to increase production volume and precision in high-throughput operations, such as automated ribonucleic acid (RNA) analysis; or sorting, moving, and stacking production materials.
  • Analyze and evaluate robotic systems or prototypes.
  • Automate assays on laboratory robotics.
  • Conduct research into the feasibility, design, operation, or performance of robotic mechanisms, components, or systems such as planetary rovers, multiple mobile robots, reconfigurable robots, and man-machine interactions.
  • Conduct research on robotic technology to create new robotic systems or system capabilities.
  • Debug robotics programs.
  • Design end-of-arm tooling.
  • Install, calibrate, operate, or maintain robots.
  • Investigate mechanical failures or unexpected maintenance problems.
  • Plan mobile robot paths and teach path plans to robots.
  • Process and interpret signals or sensor data.
  • Write algorithms and programming code for ad-hoc robotic applications.
  • Create backups of robotic programs or parameters.
  • Document robotic application development, maintenance, or changes.
  • Make system device lists and event timing charts.
  • Provide technical support for robotic systems.
  • Review or approve designs, calculations, or cost estimates.
  • Supervise technicians, technologists, or other engineers.
  • Integrate robotics with peripherals such as welders, controllers, or other equipment.

Companies That Hire Robotics Engineers

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

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The human body is an impressive piece of machinery, and your hands are no exception. With some training, they can perform delicate and complex tasks like manipulating pens and tools to create art. At the same time, hands have the strength and durability to hold a person's own body weight up on steep rocks. Unfortunately, there is a rapidly growing demand for hand replacements. But fortunately, scientists have studied human anatomy and biology and created human-like hands used as artificial… Read more
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Do you like drawing or painting? What if you could build a robot that creates its own art? In this project, you will create your own Art Bot, a robot with markers for "legs" that wobbles across a piece of paper, creating drawings as it moves. You can then customize your robot to change how it draws. This is a beginner-level project with no robotics experience necessary, so if you want to try building your own robot, this is a great place to start! Read more
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Have you ever wanted to build your very own robot from scratch? Bristlebots are a cheap, easy, and fun-to-build robot made from the head of a toothbrush, a battery, and a small motor. Once completed, they buzz along the top of a table like bugs. How can you make a bristlebot go faster? In this project, you will build bristlebots from two different types of toothbrushes, and race them against each other to find out. Read more
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Imagine how cool it would be to build a robot hand that could grasp a ball or pick up a toy. In this robotics engineering project, you will learn how to use drinking straws, sewing thread, and a little glue to make a remarkably lifelike and useful robot hand. What will you design your robot hand to do? Pick up a can? Move around a ping pong ball? It is up to you! With these starting instructions, you can design any type of hand. You will simulate human finger anatomy as the basis for a… Read more
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Have you ever seen a cat chase a laser pointer or a flashlight beam? What if you could make a robot do that? In this project, you will build a robot that can automatically drive toward a bright light source. The robot uses a simple electronic circuit to track light, so there is no computer programming required! You can also do three other robotics projects using the same kit of parts, so this is a great way to get started with robotics before moving on to more advanced projects. Read more
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Do you like playing with play dough; or modeling clay? Wouldn't it be cool if you could add lights, sound, or even motion to your play dough creations? In this project, you will use play dough that conducts electricity, which will allow you to connect lights to your sculptures! This project is the first in a three-part series on play dough circuits, which can all be done with the same materials. We recommend doing the projects in order. Read more
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Have you ever seen butterflies fluttering around outside, gliding through the air and landing on flowers? While they are delicate and fragile, butterflies are actually excellent flyers. They are so good, in fact, that scientists at Harvard University studied butterfly wing shapes as an inspiration for building a miniature flying robot. In this science project, you will do your own version of the Harvard scientists' experiment to measure the flight performance of butterfly wings. Read more
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The world's oceans are home to the most strange and amazing creatures. What do scientists know about these deep-sea animals and how can they study them easily? One way to learn about these animals in their homes is to use underwater robots. Underwater robots can record data that would be difficult for humans to gather. But what are robots and how are they made? In this robotics engineering project, you will discover what makes up a simple robot and build and test your own underwater robot. Read more
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Sometimes engineers get ideas to build robots from animals in nature. There are robot dogs, robot snakes, robot birds, robot cheetahs, and even tiny robotic insects! In this science project, you will build a robot insect of your own. The robot will automatically drive toward a light source, mimicking a behavior called phototaxis, seen in some insects. You will build your own robot and then make adjustments so it can reliably drive toward a light. Read more
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Vibrobots are fun little robots built from common household supplies, that are powered by vibrating motors. In this engineering project, you will design and built your own vibrobot. Would you rather have a robot that skitters quickly across a table or one that spins wildly in circles? How about a sumo-wrestling bot that can push others out of its way? The choice is up to you! Read more
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How easy is it for you to walk along and follow a line that is painted on the ground? Simple, right? You might be able to follow a line without giving it much thought, but how could a robot do that? In this project, you will build your own automatic line-following robot that can race around a track that you create. This technology has plenty of real-world applications—maybe one day you could help design self-driving cars! Read more
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In the animal kingdom, many different critters use whiskers to help them find their way around in the dark, through murky waters, or even to help them hunt prey. Whiskers can be very useful when the animals cannot rely on sight. Did you know that you can also build a robot that uses "whiskers" to find its way around? This project will show you how to build a simple robot that uses whiskers as "bump sensors" to help the robot detect when it is about to bump into an obstacle, so it can turn… Read more
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Light sensors are part of many devices that we use every day. For example, they help your phone know when to automatically brighten or dim the screen based on ambient light levels. They can also be used to help solar panels track the sun, which helps the panels generate more power. Many spacecraft and planetary rovers (like the Mars rovers Sojourner, Spirit, and Opportunity) are solar-powered. In this project you will build and program your own solar-tracking robot. Optionally, you can add… Read more

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Sources

Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Intel Foundation
  • Northrop Grumman
Free science fair projects.