If you’re the type of person who notices technology and electronics, you may look around and feel like you’re in the middle of a science fiction movie—robots are everywhere! Robots and robotics have infiltrated every aspect of our lives, in ways both obvious and subtle. To a large degree, the smaller number of manufacturing workers in auto and other manufacturing industries would have been impossible a generation or two ago, bringing with it growing opportunities doing robot repair.
Before technology revolutionized auto assembly, placing robots in the assembly process, the task of building cars was human labor intensive. However, car manufacturers learned that by automating their manufacturing plants, they could increase efficiency, reduce errors, cut costs, and become more competitive. Rather than human workers, robots began to weld metal to metal, fit engines to chassis, and connect transmissions to drive trains.
The same dynamic that changed the automotive industry soon revolutionized other manufacturing as well. Worldwide, the robots population has increased from one million to about 20 million. As robots have evolved, they are rapidly finding many roles in business, our personal lives, in hospitals, homes, and schools. Service robots do necessary work underwater, in defense, rescue, construction and demolition. We could no longer make cars, movies, or computers without them.
They dispense medicines without error in hospitals. RP-7i, a robot whose head is a screen, enables twenty-four-hour attention by specialists even in remote medical facilities. Robots can assist in taking care of our children and our aged parents. Baxter, a new human-friendly robot, adapts can work alongside human workers safely.
Glenn Dantes, a partner in a firm called ICR Inc. that has created several niches for itself in the growing robotics field, says, “Anywhere a person is doing a physical task, a robot can do that task.” Dantes notes that vision systems that provide feedback are resulting in an increasing number of industries converting to robots. Japan is a driving force in developing these new technologies because of high labor costs and its aging workforce. There’s no end to the types of robots or the capabilities that will be developed. Within the next five years, experts anticipate that robots will clean homes and offices, wash clothing, provide plant and lawn care, and teach dancing.
This growing rush to robotization is part of a larger trend that futurist Arnold Brown calls “othersourcing.” Othersourcing includes outsourcing and offshoring. Some people decry the many jobs being lost to increasingly smart and capable robots, thus taking a “glass half empty” perspective, but there is a clear “glass half full” story here. Robots are high maintenance—in more ways than one—and being trained to perform that maintenance could provide you with many years of steady income.
What’s more, the confluence of millions of people living longer and the avail-ability of robotic assistants like the “Nursebot” and the “Carebot” that “live” in the homes of elderly people have enabled seniors to continue to live independently. This means that when something goes wrong with their robotic caretaker, those robots will need immediate attention.
We foresee self-employed technicians pro-viding this on-call care as well as company or franchise crews like “Geek Squad” or “Geeks on Call®.” We think the edge will go to the independents because of their pricing advantage and their motivation to retain customers and build their businesses.
The more precise the robot, the more regularly it will need to be adjusted and tuned up. The more demanding the task, the more regularly circuitry will have to be replaced. The more dangerous the circumstances of its function—from bomb and chemical sensors to “handling” molten steel—the more its “limbs” will require repair. As robots continue to play a more prominent role in our economic and personal lives, the need for qualified robot repair technicians is growing quickly.
Robot repair technicians install, service, troubleshoot, maintain, and repair robots and automated production systems. Robot technicians employed by robot manufacturers also assist in the design, manufacture, and testing of robots. In short, as a robot repair technician, you could easily find yourself called upon to perform important, demanding, and creative maintenance on robots.
Ironically, in order to do well in this field, you will need to have reasonable communication skills. Inevitably, before you work on a robot or robotic system, you will have to speak with a person who will describe the initial problem. However, beyond communication skills, you will need to have a good technical sense and a strong, basic understanding of electronics and circuitry.
An associate degree or technical certificate is needed to get started in this field. You should have a background in computer programming languages. If you train yourself in the basics of this field, you will be able to work in a broad range of environments or specializations.
You will need to have the patience of a “tinkerer”—one who enjoys playing with something until it is perfect. However, depending on the specific robot and its function, you will have to work under time constraints. This means that you will have to be competent enough to efficiently assess, diagnose, and correct any problems you find.
While it is possible to repair a broad range of robots, it is likely that you will become expert in a narrow field of repair as robots become more specialized. For some, that might be computers, manufacturing robots, automotive robots, or medical robots. You might focus on home-use robots—from caretaking robots to electronic butlers.
You can learn more from associations like Robotics Online, the Robotics Industry Association’s web site, and Robotics International Tech Group of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and sites the Robot Café and International Robots Links for schools can be found at Education-Portal.com.
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