Deriving its origin from the Czech word robota, meaning forced labour; robots are the helping hands everyone has always wished for. Though the first thing that comes to mind vis-a-vis a robot is an imitation of a human from Star Wars, the Terminator or Star Trek it's not always a man versus machine game. Robots we encounter in our daily lives are those that perform tasks that are too dangerous, boring or onerous, thus being the helping hands.
With over a million types of robots, their presence is seen in almost every industry especially the auto, medical, manufacturing and space industry. Robots are used in industries for speeding up the manufacturing process. They are also used in the fields of nuclear science, sea exploration, servicing of transmission signals and bio-medical equipment design.
Created as a result of the perfect blend of the human imagination and technological developments, robots can be described better as mechanical devices that are capable of performing a variety of complex human tasks on command or by being programmed in advance. It is an artificial agent guided by computer or electric programming and is able to do tasks on its own.
A combination of intelligence, energy, movement and senses, robots require these characteristics to fulfil their purpose. The branch of study that develops these robots is robotic engineering. It deals with design and application of robots and the use of computer for their manipulation and processing.
Professor Patricia H. Reiff, director, Rice Space Institute and a professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Rice University, while highlighting new career trends says, "Robotics is very critical these days and one of the most upcoming career options. The expansion in space research these days will also boost robotics and its development."
To follow this career and develop an interest in robotics, an engineering background is a must. Mechatronics is the area of knowledge and practice interfacing mechanical and electronics engineering. Robotics is a subset of mechatronics, which involves automated machinery and components that move. Robotics being an inter-disciplinary course prefers students who have completed their graduation in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, instrumentation engineering or computer engineering with an interest in robotics and artificial intelligence.
Though the specialisation is offered at an undergraduate level in a few private engineering colleges across the country, it is not the preferred choice. The popularity and growing demand for robotics is at the Master's level.
A course in robotics trains and educates a student in the field of artificial intelligence, computer-aided manufacturing, computer integrated manufacturing system, computational geometry, robot motion planning, digital electronics and micro processing. The different facets of building a robot include working on developing the hardware, software, intelligence control and adaptive control of this machine.
Robotics is not all about designing the robots. Its maintenance, developing new applications and conducting research are equally important. Specialising in design and control in robotics is close to mechanical engineering. For hardware design of robots, a B.Tech. in electrical or electronics and communication engineering forms a good base.
Computer engineers can look at hardware design in robotics and the controls part requires aspects of electrical engineering. This field also requires the application of computer-integrated manufacturing, mechanical engineering, electrical and software engineering and biological mechanics.
In India, work on robotics began in educational institutions and research centres such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and the Indian Institute of Science. Now this field is the preferred choice of many budding engineers and contests are held among students across the country to encourage talent.
Robotics engineering can be studied at the IITs in Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Kanpur, Kharagpur and Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. A few other institutes that offer this specialisation are the National Institute of Technology, University of Hyderabad, Jadavpur University and the Birla Institute of Technology and Science.
A specialisation in robotics is a popular choice for students going abroad to study. This field offers job opportunities and a robotics engineer can apply his mastery in diverse fields like modern warfare, surgery, nano-technology and space-exploration. Many funding programmes and scholarships are available for research and PhD. students. Developing a robot comes with the goal of finding a solution to the problem. Along with the technical know-how, interest in research is essential. This field has no boundaries and will continue to grow until the machines take over!
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