December 20, 2019
While it’s certainly true that robots have been used to explore our solar system and make leaps in manufacturing processes, the field of robotics is not the exclusive property of those with PhDs in mathematics, computer sciences, or engineering. In truth, many hobbyists with a passion fueled by all things robotics have successfully turned this engaging pastime into a fully-fledged career. If this sounds like you, you’re definitely among good company, but you might be a little unsure about how to turn your interest into something more.
Learn the Basics
If you think about it, everything that you’re good at started with humble beginnings. The approach used to build your knowledge of robotics is no different than the approach used to learn how to fish, how to drive a car, or how to learn a new language. The first thing you have to do is to become familiar with the basic skill set necessary to ensure your success in the future. When it comes to robotics, the “basics” may seem like heady topics, but with enough effort and perseverance you should be able to develop enough of a foundation in the core competencies to bridge the gap between hobbyist and professional. Here’s a breakdown of some of the subjects with which you’ll need to be familiar.
- Basic coding – The absolute basics of robotics, coding is vital to getting your robot to do anything. If you aren’t well versed in coding for robotics, you should try and familiarize yourself things like using functions, conditional statements, and variables. Since there are many different coding languages to choose from, consider cutting your coding teeth on C++ and Python, which are the two most common coding languages when it comes to robotics. If you think you might have trouble learning this on your own, consider enrolling in coding course.
- Linear algebra – If you’re currently in high school, great! Sign up for as many algebra classes that your school’s curriculum offers. If you’ve already said farewell to high school you should still be able to enroll in some courses at the college level, hire a tutor to help you dust off the cobwebs, or try your hand at teaching yourself. While you don’t need to be a math wiz to be successful with robotics, algebra is very useful when it comes to programming a robot or altering its code.
- Physics – Don’t worry, you won’t need to unlock the secrets of black holes, quasars, or the quantum realm. Having said that, having a background in the basic principles of physics will help you to understand how your robot works and how it will interact with the world around it.
- Computer science – Computer science will solidify your robotic skills and rounds out the list of subjects that should at the very least be marginally familiar to you.
Build Your Robotics Skills
With the necessary academic skills part of your repertoire, you can begin to get your hands dirty and see what the robot-building community is up to.
- Build your first robot – If you’re a tinkerer, try building your first robot on your own. If you prefer a more structured path to learning, consider picking up a robot building kit. While either route is fine based on how you like to learn, the latter option will help you better understand the order of operations when it comes to robot making.
- Take robotics courses – Whether its online or in a physical classroom, taking robotics classes will eliminate all of the guesswork surrounding what you need to know versus what you don’t and can help you answer many of the questions a novice robot maker has. Take advantage of the face time you get with your instructor; their industry experience can pay dividends for you as you plan your journey to a career involving robotics technology.
- Join a robotics club – If for no other reason than to open yourself up to your local robotics community, joining a robotics club is a great way to make friends, share a passion, and learn from people like yourself. Maybe you’ll come to know of a program offered in your area, perhaps you’ll learn what to avoid.
- Participate in robotics competitions – Nothing improves your skills more than a competitive build! Whether you sign up for local or larger competitions, you’ll be able to test your robot’s mettle in a number of different ways. If you win, great. If not, there is still value in participating. Ask for feedback from judges, panelists, and other competitors about how your robot measures up. If these sorts of events are outside your comfort zone or if you don’t like to be the center of attention, you can acclimate yourself by attending a few competitions as a spectator before deciding to sign up.
Study Advanced Robotics
Knowing the fundamentals and having hands-on experience will take you places, but they can only take you so far; eventually, you’ll need to study advanced robotics. Advanced robots require knowledge in advanced subjects, such as trigonometry and statistics. If you can enroll in a post-secondary program that includes these subjects, do it. Otherwise, consider reaching out to someone in your robotics community who may have expertise in advanced robotics to teach you the basics.
Part of becoming proficient in robotics is learning how to use the Robot Operating System. The ROS is the most widely operating system for those building robots. Using the ROS will rely heavily on the coding skills you developed using C++ or Python.
Consider getting a degree in a field like robotics engineering. Doing so will open many doors in the robotics field. If robotics engineering is not offered at your post-secondary institution of choice, you could also opt for a degree in mechanical engineering.
A Few Extra Tips
We couldn’t end this article without imparting a few more pearls of wisdom to help you turn your hobby into a professional career. If you’re on a budget but want to keep your robotic pursuit going, it might interest you to know that some of the major robot manufacturers offer free training for their robotics. Be active in your favourite online robotics community. Your presence will allow you to collaborate with other robot makers, and may allow you to make some very important industry connections. Lastly, never stop tinkering with your robots. If your hope is to become an expert in robotics, you need to make time regularly to work on your projects.
If you’re interested in robotics, but you aren’t sure where to start when it comes to picking up the hobby (or turning it into a career), consider this article as your preliminary step-by-step guide.
When it’s time to make the leap professionally, know that George Brown College’s Robotics Technician Certificate Training Program will help you build all the skills you need to turn a passion into a highly rewarding career.