Did building blocks transform into a stunning robot in the hands of your child when he was a tiny tot? Did construction kits and automatic toys fascinate him? Robotics may be the career path for him.
By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj
'Meet Mitra, the ‘Make in India’ robot that greeted Ivanka Trump, PM Modi at GES' - Times Now, Nov 28, 2017
This headline, which has caught the attention of almost the entire world today, is about India's friendly neighbourhood robot Mitra. It is said to be available for rent for corporate events, birthday parties, tech fests, conferences and weddings. It can be a show-stopper at parties, greeting guests, taking photographs and videos, or playing music. In a year or two, it may even serve as a companion for a child at home or as a caregiver for the elderly. With so much that a robot can offer, a career in robotics is something parents should start planning for their children.
Years ago, when he was hardly five, when anyone asked my nephew what he wanted to become, pat would come the reply, “A pilot!” That was the time when he dwelt in the world of comic book heroes such as Superman and Batman. Only with great difficulty could we make him understand that humans can’t fly. So, the closest he could translate his aspirations of imitating his superheroes was to dream of being a pilot. Years rolled by ... the ‘pilot’ became a ‘doctor’ (thanks to the prodding of family members who believed in conservative career paths). As he stepped into his teens and started enjoying the company of iPads and smart phones, he thought he had his calling in Electronics and Communications Engineering. Finally, after his Class 12 board exams, during family discussions, he came up with, “Robotics!” It took us all by surprise. But then, we shouldn’t have been, for only a year ago he had visited NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) on a field trip and had come back impressed with robotics engineering. So, we added that to our shortlist of options for him.
Conservative career paths may beckon most teens. But, just as it was in the case of my nephew, we should encourage our children to take up vocations that are different, offbeat and ultimately define the ‘modern’ teen. One such career choice is robotics.
Our robot, Mitra, can perform face recognition, speech recognition and autonomous navigation. It can give suggestions, and based on the information it gets from you, it can also provide contextual support.
Regarding humans losing their jobs to robots, it is the other way round. We ourselves are building robots and we have a manufacturing unit, which will provide job opportunities for 200 to 300 people. So, I don’t think robots can destroy the job market.
When it comes to the question of whether robots can surpass human intelligence in future, I can say this - The software that we have made for our robot can do so many things like face recognition, contextual support, etc. So, in future, robots will be certainly able to surpass human intelligence. - Mahalakshmi Radhakrishnan, CEO of Invento Robotics
Here’s what you and your teen need to know while considering robotics for a profession.
It is a field of engineering that deals with the conceptualisation, design, structure, manufacture and operation of robots.
Kiplinger, the leading publisher of business forecasts, in an article published as early as March 2013, predicted thus – ‘Over the next decade, the number and variety of robots in the workplace will soar.’ It also states that already about 1.4 million industrial robots are deployed across the world, apart from several million robotic devices designed for consumer use in homes.
The article mentions the following fields where robots are already employed:
Apart from these fields, robots have also been deployed in the following areas:
The list is not exhaustive. In almost every field, there is application of robots – even in controlling and navigating flights!
John Markoff, in an article titled, ‘Planes without pilots ’, published in The New York Times (April 06, 2015), mentions that experiments are already on to replace human pilots with robots on cargo planes. He also mentions that commercial planes are already heavily automated.
Well, if robots can replace human pilots, they can just about replace anything and anyone! Can’t they?
This implies that the scope for robotics is really wide. Isn’t that enough of a reason to encourage your teen to pursue a career in robotics?
Now, let’s see what the job specifications of a robotics specialist are.
Your child can either become a robotics engineer or a scientist. While the former will include more of design, development and execution, the latter will involve more of research.
A career in robotics spans many fields of engineering – Mechanical, Electrical, Electronics, Computer Science, Mechatronics, Artificial Intelligence, Nanotechnology and Bioengineering, to name a few.
The key responsibilities for a robotics engineer or scientist will include:
Now that you’ve understood the profile of a robotics engineer and the scope in this field, the next step would be to identify whether your child has the skills required to take it up for a career.
The next step would be to equip your child with the relevant academic qualifications.
Your child can directly pursue a graduate degree in engineering in robotics. Or, she can opt for any other engineering course preferably in mechanical, electrical, electronics, computer science or mechatronics disciplines. This can be followed by specialisation at the master’s level in artificial intelligence or robotics.
While a few colleges in India offer robotics in engineering at the graduate level, others offer it at the post-graduate level. Also, some colleges offer robotics as an elective subject at the graduate level. So, your child has quite a few options when it comes to equipping himself with the required academic background.
Armed with all this knowledge about the field of robotics, you can surely encourage your child to pursue it and make a successful career out of it.
I got interested in electronics when I saw my father repair some of my broken toys. I then started taking apart some of these toys to see how motors and gears work. Watching YouTube videos on magnetism, motors, gears, etc., also kindled my interest. I learnt how to use a multimeter to check batteries and connections. My aunts and grandparents presented me with some basic electronic kits and some solar-powered toys that needed to be assembled. I really enjoyed assembling them. Seeing my interest, my parents enrolled me in a robotics course run by Otomatiks, which we came to know about through my school. In this course, I first learnt basic electronics and programming. Then I learnt to make several simple robots with obstacle avoidance and wall-following capabilities. I am now in level 3 of this course. During my last summer holidays, my father and I decided to use the various robot parts we had at home to make an Internet controlled video surveillance robot. We looked at YouTube videos and detailed instructions available at www.instructables.com to create it. Through this project, I learnt how to write basic scripts and use a Raspberry Pi to control a robot.
- Ishaan Abraham Pichamuthu, a nine-year-old from Vellore, Tamil Nadu whose discovery of a whole new freshwater species of jellyfish will be added to the 2017 edition of Animal Discoveries records by the Zoological Survey of India.
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Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj