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Many robots are used in environments that are too dangerous for humans to operate in. Bomb detection, extreme temperatures, space, underwater, and the containment and cleanup of hazardous materials are all ideal environments for a robot to work in rather than a human.
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) can produce maps of the seabed for the oil and gas industries, along with telling scientists more about the chemical compositions or microorganisms found on the ocean floor. The Rover spacecraft is one of the best examples of autonomous robotics, providing humanity with the first detailed pictures of the surface of Mars.
Being a roboticist is now one of the most skilled and valued professions in modern society. Involving an interdisciplinary approach of engineering and science, roboticists cannot usually limit themselves to one type or field of engineering.
Creating a robot requires skills in design, systems, information, computer science, and mathematics. Roboticists will often specialize in a certain area, but most will often have a broad foundation of knowledge across the engineering disciplines described above. This article will describe the range of engineering disciplines that are used in the production of robots
Design and Systems Engineering Principles
Before a robot is created, detailed thought and study must go into the concept and design process. Design engineers are often able to understand systems engineering principles due to the two fields operating in tandem.
Here the roboticists will focus on how to design and manage a complex system by utilizing system thinking principles. They have to evaluate how the components will work in synergy in order to perform a useful function.
The designers will lay the foundation for the robotics systems. This allows the development team to realize its concept by producing and performing the operations required to make the robot work.
A designer must be able to produce innovative, yet practical design ideas that anticipate and solve engineering problems down the line. This branch of engineering has to consider each stage of the engineering process.
Technical needs must be converted into a step-by-step process for mechanical engineers to follow. Most design and systems roboticists will have worked on both mechanical and technical aspects before. This enables them to translate their own concepts to teams with a familiar skill set.
It is important to note that the design team will often have the mechanical, computer, programming, and information engineers involved at the concept stage.
The design and systems engineers will be present throughout production. They oversee, advise, and re-evaluate the process constantly based on feedback from any technical issues that are likely to arise during production.
Once the design and systems have been fully conceived and translated into a process that can be understood by other teams, the mechanical engineers will begin work.
Mechanical engineers must have a thorough grounding in thermodynamics, mechanics, structural analysis, electrical systems, and materials science. They use tools including CAD (Computer-Aided Design) and CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) systems to help them to produce the robot design.
Mechanical engineers will design the robot’s structure, joint mechanisms, bearings, heat transfer characteristics and more. They will also often work closely with the electrical and computer engineering teams to prevent any future technical glitches.
Information and Computer Engineering
Closely aligned with other teams, the information and computer engineers will work together on both the hardware and software that the robot uses in order to fulfill its intended function.
Programming and an understanding of how machines operate in a three-dimensional environment are essential. Computer engineers work with the mechanical team in translating the design principles into the code that the robot will use to function in the real world.
Roboticists are in high demand, mostly due to their unique and multidisciplinary skill set. With robots already performing tasks in many aspects of daily life, new advances are being made all the time.
One of the most interesting engineering developments lies in the augmentative approach being investigated by The Design Society.
They propose designing social spaces where robots can go through uncomplicated actions, learn and adapt to their environment, and overcome their present limitations. In just a few years, it may be possible to observe shared social spaces where robots and humans can operate in harmony.
Sources and Further Reading