Building Robots is Better Than Being Replaced by One

Robotics isn’t about humanoids that can dance credibly to Top 40 hits. It’s much more pragmatic, and somewhat more mundane. Robotic arms paint auto chassis or inspect the hulls of oil tankers for cracks.

Or imagine a huge warehouse, where robots zip around the floor gathering inventory so workers have to walk less. That’s what happens at large inventory-driven companies such as Amazon, which took a big step into robotics this week by buying Kiva Systems, one of its robot suppliers, for $775 million. It seems like a good purchase since Amazon spent $4.6 billion on warehouses last year.

In Kiva’s system, suitcase-sized mobile robots carry shelves of inventory around on their backs, bringing the entire shelf to a worker who remains at a workstation to pluck products from the shelf for packing and shipment. It’s very cool.

You don’t have to be a model builder or an expert with a soldering iron to work in robotics (although it may help). Robotics is a field open to many kinds of tech experts. (For examples, scan Dice’s 161 listings under the keyword “robotics.”) You’ll see a diverse collection of jobs, everything from electrical engineers to coders to project managers.

Generally speaking, employers look for degrees in computer science or software engineering along with excellent programming skills, particularly in C/C++. Mechanical and electrical engineers are naturals for robotics, but software gurus will find opportunities as well.

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