Training the next generation of robotics engineers

ROBAUTO runs a variety of free robotics engineering workshops. Working with communities to design, test and bring to market robotics prototypes is part of our business.

During this process I get to meet a wide range of people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. And while everyone is different, they all have one thing in common – they are intrigued by robots and the prospect of earning a living in the robotics industry.

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Teachers, parents, librarians and students all want to know more and typically in most communities there are a variety of programs popping up from library maker spaces to competitive robotics leagues for kids (and parents).

The fact of the matter is technology is evolving and tomorrow’s engineers will need to have a firm grasp on the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics regardless of their career path.

Here are a few suggestions to get started in robotics:

1. Learn Command Line & Linux. Students don’t need to be master programmers by the time they are in college. In fact I sometimes question if engineers will actually code in the future or if most code modules will already exist. Regardless, I see far too many aspiring engineers not really understanding networks, devices, security and code sharing. This is the foundation of everything.

2. Unplug. Let’s not encourage kids to be stuck behind devices. Product design, personality development and light manufacturing are all important aspects of robotics. Half of my time is spent interacting with robots and groups and half is in the lab working on engineering.

3. Teach Electronics Organization. One of the difficult things about hardware is that now as an engineer you are dealing with 2 different working systems. The code needs to work but the hardware also needs to perform as expected. So many times during prototyping engineers encounter bugs that have to do with a loss of power through either a bad connection or a low battery. Bug free hardware comes from disciplined assembly.

It’s important to learn how to properly solder, organize wires, charge batteries, label and test electronic circuits. Teaching students to keep a clean, organized and safe work area is a good first step.

Look for globs of solder, precariously taped connections and the use of power tools on delicate circuit boards!

4. Teach Design Thinking. Today’s product development process involves more than ever solving customer problems. As engineers we want to solve the hardest problems. That is our nature. Let’s work to make design thinking based innovation a natural part of a young engineer’s thought process.

5. Keep it Fun and Casual. Robotics leagues are great. They teach teamwork and materials management and deadline based engineering. School is important, it teaches structure and is well-designed to educate. But let’s also make sure to keep robotics fun. Students want and need informal learning opportunities which allow them to just tinker.