Robotics: Relating It to Your Career

Robotics: Relating It to Your Career

Hype around Robotics

A lot is going on with robotics and robots. For sure, there is lot of hype too.

The most important question you have not asked yourself is – what does this mean to you?

As Gartner releases hype cycle, you will keep hearing new buzzwords. Managers, consultants and many others keep bombarding everyone with the buzzwords. Education ‘industry’ rises to occasion and They all support and quote one another.

Robotics hype cycle
Gartner 2017

When everyone believes including the business owners and customers, it eventually will happen. This applies to the most –  autonomous driving, Industry 4.0 and also all kinds of bots. In the above chart, at least 5 trends map to robotics. Most trends also overlap with many other trends.

What these mean to working professionals as well as freshmen? When you hear about Robots, what should you do?

I explained in another article why you should keep checking the buzzwords and checking how you fit into different roles in the industry. It is here. The key is to keep assessing where you fit potentially.

So, here is what you should do when you hear new buzzwords

  1. Get the big picture – business landscape, solution landscape
  2. Understand the product components and the technical blocks. Take a training and map to what you already know
  3. Check the skill map and predict what roles will come up due to the new trends.
  4. Update resume just for validation

If you are working professional, you need to know which part of that buzzword will enhance your market. It is possible only if you get the big picture of the hyped up trend.

I recently got a question from someone that he wants to be in Robotics. He has heard about enough IoT, machine learning, analytics, simulation, robots, robotics, bots, smart factory and many more. He got quite confused. Then there are chat bots and Robotic Process Automation where there are no physical robots. He was lot more confused.

Here I want to illustrate how I would analyze new buzzwords as per the steps I mentioned above.


1. The Big Picture

With some basic online research you would easily get to the following about robotics

Physical robots: There are many here, depending upon the end use – robots for surgery, home robots, industrial robots etc. The adoption of robots is going up everyday.

MIT is doing lot of research and keeps posting their inventions online. You could check MIT Labs online.

Robotic Learning

Robots are transforming too many industries and also normal end user lives.

So, you understand and are convinced about how it could impact several industries.

2. The Technical Block Diagram

After you understood the big picture, you should dive little bit into next level technical details. I have one here. This talks about various ‘structural blocks’ within the product.

The block diagram is really simple. It is just the OS architecture. Then I inserted two layers specific to Robotics to it. Robitics layer is core of AI and other learning techniques. The top layer of training and deployment is about training process, scripting and integrations to the environment.

Robotics Technical Block Diagram Architecture
Image: Invento Robotics

The most Robot-specific block above is the Robotics Operating System. The name could be confusing for many. But it can be seen as another software layer. What it does is very specific to Robots. What are the problems this layer intends to solve, how it does it etc. is really the domain of Robotics.

It also should consider how to calibrate various sensors, the simulations, physics parameters etc.

Here is one of the aspects i.e. how Robot is configured from a laptop.

Robotic Operating System Functional diagram of robot

Source: Robohub.orgOnly after knowing some details from specific well-structured courses online, you will be able to map your existing skills with this domain. Same is the case with other domains too.

Robotics Course from University of Pennsylvania 

Inside the course, you will understand the actual technical landscape.

If you just want a simple Robotics course and fastest way to get comfortable, go for Arduino robot as first step. this would be a good start.

Now you are ready for step 3.

3. Mapping it to your skill

This should be done by you, not me. I can tell how Robotics fits into my skills. As I am working on gamification and machine learning, I bumped into OpenAI, the initiative by Elon Musk. Also I looked at Unity3D’s machine learning approach. I am also going to go down this path, for my own venture.

The approach of OpenAI to train the game character is very similar to how it is done in robots. The virtual robots learn the same way. The big difference is the other layers shown in my block diagram above. At the core of robotic learning, there is no difference.

Also I have understood how Robotic arms can be programmed and integrated into system testing of embedded products.

As I know most other layers end-to-end at the product block diagram level, I can claim good understanding of Robotics. Also I can visualize solutions and deliver those.

Now for your case –

If your skills are focused around any specific block in my block diagram above, then you should dig deeper only in those blocks, after the overall functionality. Then you could look at whitepapers on any industry-specific implications. ex: FDA, HL7, ISO26262 etc. This develops good insights and you probably are ready for wider set of career opportunities.

a. To get overall view of Robotics, you could take this course

Robotics Course from University of Pennsylvania 

b. If you understand the big picture already and if machine learning is the missing piece, it is good to dive into this.

c.If you are interested in embedded software part of it, then get into the basics.  Start studying  basic embedded SW skills .

b. If you domain expertise is mechanical or hardware, go for specializations within those.

If you are app programmer, there are plenty of pieces not shown here. The calibration tool suite, analytics applications, mobile app for diagnostics… The list is endless.

4. Assessing Your Market

Update the resume. This is just to visualize yourself. You need not consider leaving the job. But this will make your efforts focused. If you do this, you will also be clear about the choices you make within the organization.

Also even within job, you will be able to do better strategy on adjacent markets and internal innovations. For sure, this would push up your career inside the organization too.

Another note is for managers.. If you know the view shown here, you can identify the right skills for team ramp up. I have seen many folks go by buzzwords in resume and do totally wrong hires.

So far, we spoke about Robotics.

How about Robotic Process Automation?

I see it as piggybacking on the fancy word of robots. It appears like AI powered chat bot. It also integrates with business processes and workflows. If it is applied to HelpDesk application with full back-end integration, it can replace the human in most cases.

I am not convinced yet about, using RPA for DevOps, though the proponents are arguing that way.

There is good business forecast. Companies like Blueprism are reporting very high growth. It is probably good to go for it, if it fits your interest and skillset.

Robotic Process Automation course

To summarize..

As you keep hearing about new buzzwords, it is good to check if it could enhance your career and market. While checking do a deeper study. This way, you are always in control of your destiny.

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