For nearly a century, pop culture has paved the way for society to express itself in fantastical ways. The very word “robotics” conjures up images of robot house servants, droids from Star Wars, and other fanciful forms of robotic friends or foes.
However, the field of robotics itself is a fantastic meld of computer science, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and software engineering.
But how far along are we as a society to implement robots from science fiction? Well, it may not be like the movies, but robotics is an awe-inspiring and nuanced field of study that, if science-minded, you should definitely consider exploring.
What Is Robotics?
Robotics itself is both simple and complex. Overall, it refers to the development and implementation of robots. However, robotics involves a staggeringly large amount of disciplines under its banner.
In the United States, most car manufacturers take advantage of robotic precision to meet deadlines and quotas. At the same time, developments continue to advance in self-driving cars. You could realistically have a scenario where a robot manufactures an automobile, and AI drives the vehicle right off the assembly line.
But what’s the endgame with robotics? The overall goal is to design intelligent, thinking machines in numerous ways. This is where advances in technologies like AI have been so significant for robotics.
What Is Robotics Used for?
Robotics technology has a ton of uses, from human operators attempting to create simple machines that act on their own accord to industrial robots that assist in the manufacturing of products.
- Assisting humans in day to day activities. This is probably the most important and widespread use of robots in the real world. Designers and software engineers collaborate to create functioning machines to help humans in several ways. This can be in the assembly line at factories or even in the form of a self-driving car. The ability to assist humans and make life easier has always been an extremely prevalent end goal for many robotic endeavors.
- Performing dangerous tasks. The benefit of having a competent robot at your disposal is that it can withstand trauma, extreme temperatures, and more. This leads to the efforts of things like robots who dismantle and detect explosives like IEDs, perform maintenance work in underwater environments, and generally perform tasks where humans couldn’t realistically survive.
Types of Robots
Robots come in all shapes and sizes. Let’s explore some of the most common robotic systems we encounter in the real world today.
These types of robots gain the most press coverage. Due to their uncanny resemblance to humans, these types of robots enchant and sometimes bemuse the general public. Software developers and engineers pour thousands of hours into creating robots that walk, talk, and generally attempt to act human.
Human Augmentation Robots
While prosthetics assist those who have lost limbs to accommodate the real world better, augmentations go a step further. A prosthetic leg acts as a facsimile of a leg in appearance and shape. An augmentation aims to stimulate the core components of the legs.
This means realistic movement, performance, and precision. These great additions to the field of robotics can be a fantastic opportunity for individuals who have experienced an injury and loss.
Human Operated Robots
While there are some autonomous robots, these specific types of robots operate only under the guidance of a human operator. Human operated robots are perfect for the tasks mentioned above and duties like defusing bombs, fixing things in dangerous areas, and helping clean things like oil spills.
Autonomous robots work on their own. These machines have more advanced AI, like ML, to act of their own accord. Have you ever seen a Roomba? These tiny robots move around the room, vacuuming all on their own. While not the super-advanced robot butler, these autonomous machines can operate independently of human operators.
Known as “COBOTS,” these unique robots work alongside humans in a designated space. Collaborative robots aim to assist humans in specific industrial work with clearly defined boundaries. For example, a collaborative robot and a human can share the same room, but never the same working space.
This is great for something like an assembly line, as it combines human thinking with mechanical precision. Collaborative robots are extremely sensitive to the human’s reaction and can respond to a human’s action quickly. For collaborative robots, it’s all about coexistence with humans.
Now that you know a little more about the field of robotics, what next steps do you take if you want to learn what it takes to develop and build robots?
Let’s take a closer look at how long it takes to create a robotics application, how to learn the fundamentals in a few steps, and some resources for further learning.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Robotics?
A general consensus on this question is about five years. Of course, this depends on many variables. Robotics isn’t something you can pick up by reading internet posts. You can glean important info from web pages and other resources, as you’ll soon see below, but robotics takes time and energy.
How long you will take to learn depends on education level and dedication to computer science, AI, and deep learning.
How to Learn Robotics: Step-by-step
Below are a few key steps to learning robotics.
- Familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of robotics. If you want any hope of building the next Boston Dynamics full-functioning robot, you are going to need a reliable well of knowledge to draw from. Books, resources, and courses will help you learn all you need to know to start a career dealing with robotics.
- Take robotics classes. The benefit of nearly everything being online now is that you can find various courses. This goes for robotics, too. You will see online courses for things like artificial intelligence, computer science, and machine learning that will instill within you a great toolset to work with.
- Get robotics certifications. You can earn certificates in several fields that can assist you in the field of robotics. For example, you can earn a certification in software engineering and AI. Certificates can be an attractive feature to a resume or portfolio.
- Experiment with robotics. Robotics, along with being a discipline that includes many calculations, math, and data, also emphasizes building robots. There are resources to try your hand at building your own robots. Experimentation with physical robotics, along with computer science and AI, is a great way to get a better idea of what you’re dealing with.
- Pursue a degree and apply for jobs. One of the best ways to enhance existing robotics knowledge is to earn a degree in robotics or a related field. This gives you the prerequisites to apply to different high-ranking jobs at places like software companies.
The Best Robotics Courses and Training
Below we will outline some of the best training, either via online courses or certifications, you can pursue in the field of robotics.
Best Online Robotics Courses
Luckily, online courses are in style for nearly every subject you can think of. There are courses in data science, photography, and robotics. While there are classes that deal with robotics more than others, there are so many subjects that feed into the overall makeup of robotics. They are all worth taking if you’re serious about learning.
- Provider: Coursera
- Length: Seven months
- Prerequisites: None
Offered through the University of Pennsylvania, this robotics specialization course offers eager participants the chance to learn the essentials of robotics, along with some advanced concepts.
The course goes explicitly over how robots perceive their own environment, robotic movement, computer vision, and their construction capabilities.
A crack team of seven different mechanical engineering professors and experts will guide you through four central units: aerial robotics, mobility, computational motion planning, and perception.
- Provider: Udemy
- Length: 11 hours
- Prerequisites: None
- Cost: $100
With nearly 11 hours of lectures and a maximum of 57 students, Ian Juby’s robotics class will teach what aspirants need to know to advance their careers. This introductory course only requires you to have proficient math skills and an aptitude for electrical engineering.
Students learn the ins and outs of putting robots together. The lesson starts with introducing students to the field of robotics and what goes into creating one. Projects include rudimentary mechanical analog electrical circuits. Juby then builds on these early exercises to introduce students to more advanced concepts.
In the course, Juby attempts to instill skills that will help you in a potential job and career development, helping you learn skills to succeed in multiple fields, not just in robotics.
Best Free Robotics Courses
There are notable free robotics online courses to explore if you’re interested in the field. These are especially helpful if you are on a budget and looking for a new hobby or direction in life.
- Provider: edX
- Length: 16 weeks
- Prerequisites: None
- Cost: Free
In this course by Georgia Tech, “students will learn to harness the power of microcontrollers, sensors, and actuators to build useful and interesting robotic devices.”
- Provider: Udacity
- Length: Four months
- Prerequisites: None
- Cost: Free
Udacity offers this course on becoming a software engineer. All robots move with the assistance of software. As with physical machinery, you need a program for the robot to operate. In this free online course, students will learn the basics of robotics and then migrate onto more specific exercises in software development.
You will also learn C++, how to program nodes, and programming paths, and robotic navigation.
Learners will familiarise themselves with Gazebo, a simulation used by roboticists. Through Gazebo, projects and exercises come across much smoother.
Best Robotics Training Books
There have been many books written on various subjects of robotics. Regardless of which type of robotics you’re interested in, the chances are that there is a great book or reference text about computer science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to help you along with your journey toward learning robotics.
‘Robot Building for Beginners’, David Cook
For those who want to start building robots as soon as possible, taking a look at the 5th edition of David Cook’s Robot Building for Beginners is a fabulous idea.
Don’t worry. This isn’t all dry reference material. While there is a bevy of useful and helpful technical literature, much of Cook’s text deals with building your first robot.
Fair warning: it’s not going to be a hyperrealistic android that will learn to mimic human cognitive abilities. It’s more like an RC car.
However, learning how to build this beginner robot opens the doors for those who want to make robotics a possible career.
This definitive introduction to robotics by Peter McKinnon is perfect if you are clueless about robotics and want to learn. It’s ideal for those who are casually interested in robots and serves as a fantastic primer for those looking to learn more.
The author goes in-depth on artificial intelligence, specifically with digital and analog ‘brains.’ Along with valuable and interesting tidbits, the author guides you in the process of building rudimentary robots to put knowledge to the test.
Best Online Robotics Resources
If you want more supplemental material along with classes, or if you simply want to peruse the many robotics resources out there, we have you covered.
The QUT Robot Academy hosts this master class on robotics. It’s a simple, open online learning resource that anyone can access immediately. The masterclass covers a general pursuit of robotics knowledge. Presented by Professor Peter Corke, this series of video lectures are great for an introduction to robotics.
There are no requirements or fees, just nine videos that are pretty short in length. It’s the perfect robotics material to tackle if you find a way to break into the field. There are a few quick quiz questions accompanying videos to check your understanding.
Stanford University’s Engineering Everywhere – Introduction to Robotics
This in-depth course provided free from Stanford University’s School of Engineering. This course is particular and aims to educate students and anyone curious enough to watch about the nuances of building robots.
The course introduces you to robot design, making your own schematics, and includes more advanced mathematical concepts.
While open and free, it might help to know some math to help you along. Some assignments accompany the material that you can choose to practice with or not.
Judging by the name, you could guess Robohub was an excellent site for all things robotics. It’s a site aimed towards robotics enthusiasts, hobbyists, hardcore tech-heads, and scientists.
The site regularly hosts a ton of different articles and blog posts, along with a podcast you can listen to as you go about your day.
They have links to all the noteworthy seminars, events, and interviews with leading experts in the field of robotics. Learning from Robohub is the perfect way for the uninitiated to familiarize themselves with the culture surrounding robotics and maybe even get pointed in the right direction towards a future in the field.
Should You Study Robotics?
Sci-fi has primed us for the day where robots are everyday facets of our world. When you think about it, they really are. Factories, assembly lines, augmentations, androids, and even Roombas are all fantastic achievements in the field of robotics.
If you have the desire, drive, and determination to learn robotics, the path can be enriching. Combining various complicated computer science techniques like artificial intelligence and deep learning, robotics is at the forefront of future technologies.