So you're interested in robotics, but what exactly does the field entail? Robotics is the study of robots - their design, construction, operation, and use. Robots are machines that can perform physical tasks either automatically or with guidance. They contain sensors, controllers, power supplies, and actuators that allow them to manipulate the physical world.
Robots can be anything from humanoid machines walking on two legs like you see in the movies, to small, wheeled robots which look like remote-controlled toy cars. In practice, the most common types of robots are robotic arms, like the one we make, which you might see in car factories or other manufacturing businesses.
Historically, robots have always been more exciting in the movies than in real life. If you started working in robotics 10 years ago, you might’ve been a little disappointed to find robots don’t look like the Terminator.
But that was 10 years ago - things have changed.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that AI is changing technology at the fastest rate since the Internet was invented. You’ll also have seen real uses of computer vision - the ability for computers to see the real world and make decisions. You may even have seen the (near) advent of futuristic superconductors earlier this year.
In other words, some of the technologies that enable Hollywood robots are here. The field is poised to explode in the coming years:
These are not trends which are perpetually “only 10 years away”, these are robots which are available today, or will be in the next 2-3 years. These are the kinds of robots you can help bring to the masses, improve and perfect on or otherwise work with.
To give you an idea of the breadth of the industry, here are some of the areas robotics is most recently having a big impact on:
Okay, so obviously robotics is exciting - but is there a lot of money in it? And do you need a PhD and an IQ high enough to make Einstein blush if you want to make any more?
The short answer is Yes there’s a lot of money in robotics and No, you don’t necessarily need to have an extensive education to work in the field.
First, here’s the baseline: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for robotics engineers in the U.S. is over $95,000 per year.
We’ll get to the specifics in a second, but beyond just the income potential, here are a few other reasons to choose a career in robotics:
Now that we’ve established there are multiple great reasons to seek out a job in robotics - the pay included - let’s look at some of the jobs available to you.
There are broadly 3 areas you can be involved in with robotics:
Robot operators control industrial robots on assembly lines. They monitor the robots, load materials, and troubleshoot problems. According to Indeed.com, there are over 1,500 robot operator jobs open right now in the U.S. The average pay is over $46,000 per year. Most robot operators start with just a high school diploma and short-term on-the-job training.
Robotics technicians install, test, maintain and repair industrial robots and automated systems. They need to know electrical systems, programming, and mechanics. Often a high school diploma is enough to get started with an apprenticeship, but an associate’s or bachelor’s degree can help get your foot in the door. Robotics technicians earn over $61,000 on average, which can increase as high as $80,000-$95,000 for experienced technicians.
Robotics Engineers tend to work on the trickier aspects of robotics, such as building robots from scratch or dealing with complex deployment situations, such as connecting the robot to several pieces of existing equipment or devising safety protocols for a particular factory deployment. Robotics Engineers are generally required to hold a bachelor’s degree, but in return, they can expect a starting salary of close to $100,000/yr, with most experienced engineers making around $170,000/yr. Some companies pay as much as $300,000 per year for talented robotics engineers.
Robotics Programmers are a specialized version of a Robotics Operator, focusing on the intricacies of programming and testing a robot. This is a very varied role since many robot manufacturers have their own, purpose-built software to control the robot. Surprisingly, this role doesn’t always require a degree, but holding one in Electrical Engineering or Mechatronics will open lots of doors for you. Otherwise, a vocational diploma or apprenticeship can be enough.
Regardless, for your efforts you can expect to earn north of $65,000/yr on average, with some robotics programmers making $80,000 per year. Either way, you’ll also have easy opportunities to move sideways into Robotics Engineering if you want to grow your career in the future.
If you want to gain an early insight into the field, many robotics companies offer paid internship programs for high school students. This is a chance to gain real-world experience, learn technical and soft skills, network, and explore career options. Robotics internships often pay $15-20 per hour. Check out this website for a directory of internship opportunities in robotics.
Even if you’re not directly building and deploying robots, there are lots of other roles which can help bring robotics to the world:
To embark on a career in robotics straight out of high school, you'll need the right education and skills. While a bachelor's degree in Engineering or a related field is typically required to become a robotics engineer, there are plenty of other options:
One option is to enroll in a robotics engineering program at a technical or trade school. These usually offer an associate's degree or certificate and teach you skills like using CAD software, programming PLCs (the computer which powers a robot), and troubleshooting hydraulic and pneumatic systems (i.e the systems which make the robot move). With the right experience, this can easily lead to an entry-level job as a robotics technician.
If you want to become a fully-fledged robotics engineer, you'll need at minimum a 4-year engineering degree. Some schools offer programs specifically focused on robotics engineering where you'll study robot mechanics, programming, and automation. You'll learn skills like designing robotic systems, integrating sensors and controllers, and testing and optimizing robot performance.
If a degree isn’t for you, consider studying electrical engineering at a trade school or learning to program in your own time. Both of these routes open up opportunities in robotics design and programming. You could also consider looking for an entry-level robotics operator role.
While you’ll start off just monitoring the robot and making sure it’s doing the right thing, over time you’ll likely be exposed to programming the robot, repairing it and everything else that comes with being a robot technician. With that kind of experience, it’s easy to move upwards into better-paying robotics roles with more responsibilities.
If you’re a few years away from graduating high school, make sure you take math, science, and programming classes in high school to build a good foundation. Participate in robotics clubs or competitions to gain hands-on experience. Learn CAD design, programming languages like C++, and basic electronic skills. With the right education and experience, you'll be on your way to an exciting career designing, building, and programming the robots of the future.
If STEM subjects aren’t for you, you may still find that taking technical classes gives you the skills and confidence you need to graduate into robotic technician apprenticeships. After all, the physical aspects of robotics are arguably more important than programming them!
So you're still in high school but interested in robotics as a career? You might not have to wait around to figure out if the field is for you. Here are some tips on how to get involved with robots before you finish school:
The best way to dive in is to join your school's robotics club or team, such as a FIRST Robotics Competition team. If your school doesn't have one, talk to your science or tech teachers about starting one. Robotics clubs and teams are a perfect way to get hands-on experience building and programming real robots. You'll also make valuable connections with mentors and peers.
Competing in robotics competitions is a fun way to put your skills to the test. Major competitions for high school students include FIRST Robotics Competition, VEX Robotics Competition and robot combat competitions where you build fighting robots (BattleBots, anyone?). Doing well in competitions can lead to scholarships and looks great on college applications.
If robotics clubs and competitions aren't options, you can still learn a ton online. Websites like Coursera, Udacity and EdX offer free online courses in robotics, programming, engineering, and related fields. You can also find many tutorials and projects on sites like Instructables, Hackster and Adafruit. Start with the basics, like building simple circuits or programming a virtual robot, then work your way up from there.
Reach out to people currently in robotics careers and ask them questions about their jobs and backgrounds. Most engineers and technicians will be happy to chat with a curious high school student. You can find people by searching on LinkedIn or at local companies that make robots or autonomous systems. Speaking with professionals is the best way to learn what different robotics jobs are really like day to day and you may even find an opportunity to get some work experience.
Now let’s talk about what you can do when you leave school (or when it’s almost time) and want to take your first step into a robotics career. Many companies offer internship and apprenticeship programs specifically aimed at students looking to launch a career in this exciting field.
Internships allow you to work at a company for a limited time to learn skills and explore career options. For example, the REC Foundation offers robotics internships where you can help teams design, build, and program VEX robots. You'll get hands-on experience in areas like software engineering, mechanical design, and project management.
Your high school guidance counselor may be able to help find internships available to you. You can also check this website to find placements.
Apprenticeships provide paid on-the-job training and combine work experience with related technical instruction. The RME Mechatronics & Robotics Apprenticeship program teaches skills like robot programming, troubleshooting automated systems, and integrating robotics into manufacturing processes. Even as an apprentice, you can easily earn a salary of up to $40,000 per year.
To find an internship or apprenticeship, check sites like Indeed, Monster and Glassdoor. Look for programs aimed at high school students that provide opportunities to gain experience in areas that interest you, like:
An internship or apprenticeship in robotics looks great on college applications and resumes. The experience you gain can help determine your career path and open up opportunities in this fast-growing field. With the right training and skills, you'll be on your way to an exciting career as a robotics engineer, technician or programmer straight out of high school.
Not necessarily. While a degree in robotics, computer science, or engineering can be helpful, many robotics jobs value skills and experience over a specific degree. The key is getting the right training and building a solid portfolio of robotics projects. Some options:
With the right passion, interest and some early skills built, you can land entry-level jobs like:
The robotics field is growing fast, especially for young people with technical skills. While the pay for entry-level jobs may start around $25,000 to $50,000 per year, experienced robotics engineers can make $75,000 or more. Not too shabby for a career you can launch straight out of high school!
So there you have it, an overview of the many exciting career paths in robotics available to you straight out of high school. If you want to create the next Hulkbuster, the opportunities are vast and the potential for career growth is enormous. If you have a passion for building, designing and programming robots, now is the time to pursue it!