I guess I need to create a FAQ section for this blog, as this is another of the questions I get a lot of when I'm out giving talks.

How do you prepare for a career in Robotics?

Like many fields, Robotics is multi-disiplinary. We cover a lot of ground. On my current robot development team I have a manager, a business development guy (with a banking background), a mechanical engineer, two software engineers, and a systems engineer. Later we will probably need a technical writer.

The real secret, especially at my level, are presentation skills. We spend a lot of time making presentations, to customers, to other departments, and to management. I probably do four to six a week. In my experience, the designers who do well are the ones with the best communications skills -- you must be able to talk in front of a group, to organize your thoughts, and to communicate what you want to do to others. If you can't do that, leading any sort of team is very difficult. While many robot designers are "one man bands", that really limits the type of projects you can do, and certainly you would have problems at any major company.

The next secret is to take advantage of contests. I owe a great deal to taking part in the DARPA Grand Challenge, a race of full-sized self-driving cars. There are a great many robot contests, from LEGO's to the full AUVSI contests for college teams. At whatever level, these are great learning experiences. I have been involved in BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science and Technology) and think they have a good, well rounded program that really provides a taste of being a real robot maker. I'm sure FIRST and the other high school programs are excellent, but I've only been involved in BEST.

For high school study, of course you must take all the math and english you can lay your hands on. As Sinbad says, "MATH IS POWER" and that is certainly the truth. Out here in the "real world" we generally look up all the formulas in the book and do all the tough math in computers. You will not generally encounter tough math problems unless you get into UAV design and start doing CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics). I struggled all through math class but retained enough to be functional. We really use a lot of trigonometry, so learn those sines and cosines. If you also struggle in math, don't let this disuade you.

Two other courses that I have never regreted taking in high school were typing and drafting. I don't know if they still call it drafting -- its probably CAD or something like that, but I learned with a pencil, a triangle, and a T-Square -- yes, back in the Cave Man Days. These have to be very high up on my list - typing is critical for stuff like making this blog, and drafting, or mechanical drawing, is a tremendous skill in translating your thoughts onto paper and is the only way to talk to machinsts and fabricators.

The other skills in robots include lots of computer programming. I have a strong background in computer simulation, which I think is a good background for any engineer. Of course, simulations are just a type of computer game (we used to say that the only difference between a computer game and a simulation is who pays the bill). As a design tool, we use simulation all the time, and it is very valuable. I also rely alot on computer graphics, so if you find a good computer graphics or especially computer animation course, take it.

From there some sort of introduction to electronics would round out the education. We use a lot of microcontrollers, which are a different sort of animal from other types of computers. There are some very good self-teaching courses for these, and I'd suggest getting either the Parallax BOE kit or the OOBUG to learn how to deal with PICS (Programmable Integrated Circuits).

Well, I know that was a lot, but let me encourage those of you who are thinking about a career in robotics -- this is the way of the future and in the next few years this career field is going to explode in popularity.

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