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Robots at Work

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Robots that once existed only in the fertile imaginations of science fiction writers are today becoming more and more a part of everyday life. From assembling cars on the factory floor to vacuuming our living room carpets, the demand for robots is on the rise. So, too, are the opportunities for the robotics engineers who create and build them.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Department of Labor, for each year from 2002 through 2012, employers in all manufacturing industries are projected to need 17,000 industrial and manufacturing engineers, 2,000 materials engineers, 14,000 mechanical engineers, 7,000 industrial engineering technicians, 7,000 mechanical engineering technicians, and 273,000 metal and plastics workers. This includes computer programmers and operators, machine operators and tenders, machinists, and welding and soldering workers.

Japanese industry currently uses 320 robots per 10,000 employees, while Germany uses 148, Italy 116, Sweden 99, and between 50 and 80 each in the United States, Finland, France, Spain, Austria, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, In order to remain competitive in the global market, American companies will need a growing number of robotics engineers to help automate their factories.

According to a 2004 report by the California Employment Development Department, the development and use of robots are spreading beyond factory floors where they first appeared several decades ago. “The ‘service’ or mobile robot industry is growing and these new applications and innovations demand new skills'’ the report noted. The number-one skill in demand is that of robotics engineer. The engineer is responsible for designing industrial robots and automated systems, as well as specialized robots in a number of fields.

Jobs for industrial robotics engineers can be found in the automobile industry, the health sciences, aerospace, agriculture, bioengineering, chemicals, computers, electronics or electrical, engineering physics and mechanics, heavy industry, food manufacturing, mining, oil processing, maintenance services, and remote exploration. In addition to assembling cars and computers, robots are being used to perform tasks ranging from the packaging, labeling, and wrapping of products to the moving and storing or disposing of toxic chemicals and other hazardous materials. The military uses robots for surveillance, missile navigation, and the handling of unexploded bombs.

What follows is a sampling of the many uses for robots and the specialized tasks for which they are being designed. Each project described represents a wide array of intriguing jobs for someone trained in robotics engineering.

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