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Taking place April 2–10, 2022, this week marks the 12th annual National Robotics Week, or RoboWeek. Established by Congress in 2010, RoboWeek serves as a unique platform to engage students and local communities in robotics-based activities, including a series of grassroots events and activities, to inspire students in robotics and STEM fields, and to increase public awareness around the importance of the robotics industry and its impact on society.
The development of modern robotics was brought on by both the introduction of steam power and the harnessing of electricity during the Industrial Revolution. During this time, engineers were charged with developing automatic machines that could speed up production, complete tasks that humans could not do, and replace humans in dangerous situations.
In 1893, Canadian professor George Moore produced "Steam Man," a prototype for a humanoid robot made of steel powered by a 0.5 horsepower steam engine. Steam Man was essentially a gas boiler housed in what looked like a mechanical suit of armor and could walk independently at a rate of 9 mph (14.5 kph) and pull light loads. Then, in 1898, inventor Nikola Tesla, who believed it was possible to build an autonomous, intelligent humanoid, demonstrated a model for a remotely operated submersible boat. Tesla's ideas were not taken seriously until well into the twentieth century.
In fact, the robotics industry as we know it emerged only around the mid-twentieth century. Once research and development teams began to work on these projects, however, robots quickly became integrated into manufacturing and were gradually introduced into the military, aeronautics and space, medical, and entertainment industries.
Once robotics entered entertainment and popular culture more generally, the public was able to run with their own perceptions of robotics’ role in society. The word “robot,” which comes from the Czech word for “forced labor,” first appeared in 1921 in Karel Capek’s play R.U.R. Capek’s robots were far more efficient than their human counterparts and tended toward homicidal violence—a theme that has not quit in pop culture.
Later, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov first used the word "robotics" to describe the technology of robots, and he predicted the rise of a powerful robot industry. It was Asimov who proposed the “Three Laws of Robotics” in his short story “Runaround” (included in the 1950 collection I, Robot) in 1942 (a zeroth law was later added).
The idea that robots cannot be trusted, and perhaps are even out to rid the world of their human overlords, continues to this day—see, e.g., Terminator, The Stepford Wives, and Blade Runner. This is not to say we haven’t embraced the idea of friendlier robots, however, with Rosie from The Jetsons, Bicentennial Man, Optimus Prime, and WALL-E being examples.
RoboWeek is all about inspiring young STEM enthusiasts toward a career in robotics. And there are many paths into robotics, making it easy to engage curiosity meaningfully. The amount of formal education you’ll have to pursue often depends on the field and the job. For instance, working as a technician may require a two-year degree, while a four-year degree will allow you to pursue a job in engineering.
Within a particular field of robotics there are many areas to specialize in across many different industries. Perhaps you’re interested in robotic welding. The automotive industry may seem obvious, but there are also similar opportunities in aerospace, military, and industrial industries.
As a science, robotics requires lots of hypothesizing and experimenting before the best results are discovered; therefore, robotics engineers need a wide range of skills with mastery of electrical engineering, computer science, and mechanical engineering. Robotics engineers need to be computer programmers, hardware designers, and visionaries.
Are you a student who is not sure which field of robotics is right for you? Reach out to online communities or find robotics enthusiasts in your area. Once you have an idea of what’s available in your local community, check out internship opportunities.
Robots are a phenomenon that has engrossed us since their age of existence began, and popular science has reflected the rise in its popularity, from celebrated books to art installations that revolve around human life and technology. A part of human nature is always curious about android life and how their existence might benefit—or destroy—humanity.
We have a wide selection of electronics and circuit components for your own robotics project here at hBARSCI! Check them out here!
NASA’s Robotics Career Corner