As the field of robotics grows ever more sophisticated, a greater number of technicians are required to lend their talents to design, program, and maintain robots and robotic systems. Not surprisingly, the complexity of these machines and systems has spawned five specialized areas within the field of robotics:
- Operator interface
- Mobility or locomotion
- Manipulators & Effectors
- Sensing & Perception
Since the development of today’s most advanced robotic systems is no easy endeavor, those tasked with their design, programming and maintenance often look to hone in on a particular field of expertise. This article will explore those fields in greater detail.
A robot is only as good as its ability to effectively communicate with a human controller. The operator interface – commonly referred to as a Human Robot Interface – is the medium that allows the user and the robot to communicate. Most specifically, it is the method by which a human operator can give pre-programmed commands for the robot to execute.
A gaming controller is an example of a basic Human Robot Interface (HRI). It allows a player to issue a set of commands to the system, which are then executed in the game. In manufacturing, an industrial touchscreen computer on a piece of equipment or in a centralized control room is also a form of HRI. The operator can issue commands to the conveyor or other device to execute on the factory floor.
A great deal of care needs to go into the design of HRIs. They must be intuitive to use, and enable operators to communicate effectively with the robot, in order to execute tasks accurately and efficiently.
Mobility or Locomotion
In order for a robot to complete a task, it needs to be able to move in its environment. In robotics, this movement is called locomotion. Mobility in robotics is achieved in many different ways. For example, some robots mimic human movement, like those used on assembly lines or those whose design is based on human anatomy. Flying robots and drones make use of propellers and other propulsion systems. Other robots, such as the rovers deployed on Mars and other celestial bodies, require wheels to get around. In short, the environment a robot will be used in often determines how the engineer will design the mobility system.
Manipulators & Effectors
For any robot to be worthwhile, it must be able to interact with its environment; that’s where manipulators and effectors come into play. These are the parts of the robot that allow it to pick up objects and move them, or manipulate items that are separate from the system. Human-like robots will employ appendages and digits that work like human hands, in order to complete a given task. In industrial settings, manipulators and effectors are perhaps more commonly represented by pincers, claws, or pushers which are all uniquely suited to move heavy pieces of equipment or materials. Like the other disciplines listed in this article, having the foundational knowledge received from robotics technician training can prepare aspiring robotics engineers and technicians for specializing in this area of robotics.
Programming is essentially the language an operator uses to communicate with the robot. Traditionally, any action that a robot was required to perform had to be programmed. These days, advanced programming allows robotic systems to learn and adapt to changes within its environment, which is truly a remarkable feat of engineering.
Generally speaking, commands can be provided by the user in real time for the robot to perform, or the robot can be programmed to perform a series of tasks, in sequence, autonomously. Regardless of the method the commands are given, each robot can be programmed using one of more than a thousand different programming languages, so an engineer looking to specialize in this particular field of robotics will have a lot to become proficient in.
Sensing & Perception
Robots use sensors to gather information. This information lets the robot know the physical space it occupies, where it needs to go, and if any obstacles block its path. Sensors also collect information to help the robot decide how to react to objects it encounters. The right sensor must be selected for each robot’s specific application to ensure that the correct decisions are made.
As the field of robotics expands with integration across industries, so too will the demand for experienced robotics technicians to maintain these technologies. Check out the complete Robotics Technician Training Program outline to decide if you’re ready to kickstart an exciting career in this field.