Learn about Robots and Robotics


Robotics Engineer

I'm always getting email asking about  how one goes about becoming a robotics engineer. Robotics may be  the most inter-disciplinary of engineering endeavors. A mechanical engineer will design the robot's structure, its joint mechanisms, bearings, heat transfer characteristics, etc. Electrical engineers design the robot's control electronics, power amplifiers, signal conditioning, etc. Electro-mechanical engineers may work on the robot's sensors. Computer engineers will design the robot's computing hardware. Robot kinematics is great application of mathematics applied to robotics engineering. An undergraduate college degree in any of these fields is an excellent way to get started as a robotics engineer.

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So you want to be a robotics engineer? Software engineering is probably the Achilles heel of robotics. The mechanical, electrical and computer engineers have built awesome machines, but they still are extremely difficult to put into production. This is because they are so difficult to teach. An expert technician `has to program the robot's every motion down to the tiniest minutia. In my opinion, the biggest contributions yet to be made in robotics will come from the software engineers. Companies are hiring robotics engineers to develop everything from automated vacuum cleaners to robot dogs. On the industrial side, robot sales topped $1.6 billion last year, up 60 percent from 1998.

Here's how I became an robotics professional. It started with trying to build a robotic hand as a teenager in my parent's garage. This was after I first learned how servo systems worked. I barely got the servo part working, but it was a start. Later I went to college to get an undergraduate degree as an electrical engineer. After that I worked as an electrical engineer for three years. I designed several automatic control systems that were very interesting. One of them controlled a motor with an armature as big as a phone booth! Then I went back to school, this time as a mechanical engineer, and completed the undergraduate mechanical engineering curriculum. After that it was a Master's degree in biomedical engineering and the PhD where I focused on robotics.

If you are interested in becoming a robotics engineer and would like to chat by email, please feel free to contact me. I'll answer if I can depending on how heavy the workload is at my day job. The three paragraphs above have my best answers as to how I became a robotics engineer. I get a few new question about robotics engineering just about every day.  I'll answer some of them here. AS YOU CAN TELL, IF YOU SEND ME AN EMAIL QUESTION IT MIGHT END UP ON THIS PAGE.

76. Dear Rich Hooper, I am an electrical engineering student at Bucknell University working with a design team to improve the control interface for a professor's micromanipulator. Do you have any suggestions for us? We are currently using an "RC style" joystick with the twist controlling z-axis motion and up-down/back-forth controlling x and y. It springs back to neutral when no force is applied.

Dear Student: I would call what you are working on a Human Machine Interface (HMI). I bet there's a visual component (computer screen, VR goggles, etc.) along with the hand controller part. The hand controller part is also often called the manual controller. Frankly, if you only need to control X, Y and Z it's going to be tough to beat a traditional joystick like you already have. My experience is that humans are most precise using the small muscles of their hands and fingers, and that's the scale of a traditional joystick. Some force feedback might be helpful. You could experiment with that, but I don't recommend a manual controller that is at the scale of whole arm or body motion to control a micro manipulator.

If you are going to try to design a force feedback manual controller, it needs to be very high bandwidth. The structure needs to be very light, there needs to be no backlash and the actuators need to be backdrivable. The Phantom haptic device http://www.dentsable.com/haptic-phantom-omni.htm is a good example of a design that follows these principles and is at the scale of small movements of the hands and fingers. You could look at this design and learn from it.

Good luck with the project,


1. What are some of the advancements in robotics?

The biggest advancements have been in the precision, speed and strength of robots. Learning and artificial intelligence algorithms have probably been the biggest disappointments. I don’t think we will see robots even remotely approaching human intelligence by 2050.

2. What defines artificial intelligence?

Artificial means not occurring in nature. Intelligence is the capacity to acquire and apply knowledge.

3. What is the closest to artificial intelligence that mankind has created thus far?

Probably some computer algorithm.

4. Is it possible robots will surpass human intelligence?

It is possible, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting.

5. Besides creating a neural network, are there any other ways of creating artificial intelligence?

Learning algorithms and expert systems are two examples.

6. About how much does it cost to build a humanoid robot?

I’m sure Honda has spent tens of millions of dollars on their Asimo.

7. If a completely self sustaining robot is created is it possible that Hollywood movies like “The Terminator” and “I – Robot” could become reality?

It is possible, but more likely the people that made the robots would just turn them off before it got that out-of-control.

8. With spying becoming a greater problem, will creating surveillance robots add to an already growing threat?

Surveillance robots do make excellent spies.

9. Do you think that the field of robotics engineers will grow in the future or shrink?

I think the field will grow. Do some research on the number of robots deployed world-wide today and compare it with the numbers from ten years ago and then see what you think. You might also like to read Marshall Brain’s Robotic Nation and see what he thinks.

10. Robots like the Mini – Andros III are used to dispose of explosive ordinance devices. Are there any other robots that help in a similar manner like firefighting?

I'm sure there are. Do some research and please let me know what you find. I think the BEAR robot could make an excellent fire fighter.

11. AIBO is able to learn and is capable of simulating emotions. Is there a possibility of AIBO “turning” on its owners?

Nope. I just read that Sony is discontinuing Aibo.

12. I’m about to graduate high school. How do I find a job in robotics?

You really have two choices. The first is to go to traditional college and the second is to go to a technical college.  If you decide to go the traditional college route, then you should probably study science or engineering, though there may be opportunities for folks with humanities degrees to work in the robotics field one of these days. Dr. Susan Calvin was a robot psychologist. If you go to a technical college, then you will have a chance to learn about robot programming and robot applications. A job doing those things would be very interesting.

13. I’m about to graduate college with an engineering degree. How do I find a job in robotics?

When you first graduate college, you will be a very junior engineer. Robots are often the most complex systems a company will make. You will need to first focus on a subsystem, such as the mechanical, electrical, computing or software systems. Once you have become an accomplished engineer in one of those fields, you can consider moving to a systems engineering roles.

14. What sort of classes did you take to prepare for your college career, or what classes did you participate in your freshman year of college?

I didn't take calculus or any AP classes in high school. I did participate in student government, spent several semesters in metal shop and was on a sports team every year. Hopefully some Universities still appreciate varied experience. College had the typical freshman-engineering curriculum - calculus, physics and chemistry.

15. Did you always wish to be involved with robotics, if so what started your interests in robotics? If not, how did you come into being involved?

I've been interested in robotics for as long as I can remember. I'm not sure what started it. I do remember making a robotic hand in my garage when I was about 16.

16. What sort of company or group do you work for, and what is required of you by your employer (in terms of hours, job expectations, etc)?

I work for a company that does custom engineering of computer-controlled machines. We bid on projects in the 1 to 10 million-dollar range primarily. The projects usually last a year or less. We have about 70 engineers and about 15 work in my group. I work about 53 hours a week and try not to make too many big $$$ mistakes.

17. Within your job, what do you enjoy the most and what do you enjoy the least? Why?

I like most aspects of my job. The hardest part is dealing with employees that don't try hard enough or make a lot of mistakes.

18. I was wondering what colleges or universities are good for majoring in robotics.

Any college or university with an engineering program can put you on the path towards a career in robotics. Talk to (or email) someone on the faculty and tell them you are interested in robotics. See what they think.

19. Does your employer offer you benefits?

My employer offers benefits that are typical for a company that employs engineers – health, life & disability insurance, 401k, standard holidays, a cube : )

20. Did you like the college you chose? if not why?

I went to Rice University for my undergraduate degree. The choice was good for me. I recommend looking for a University committed to nurturing its undergraduate students. I know it’s hard to believe, but an 18-year-old living away from home for the first time can use some guidance from time to time.

21. What are the educational requirements for becoming a robotics engineer?

The educational requirements are pretty much the same as the educational requirements for becoming any kind of engineer. That would be an engineering degree from a four-year college. I’ve also seen folks with physics degrees and other science degrees working as engineers. There is also plenty of room for technical college degrees in the robotics field. These would be for the folks that would like to work on the "ground floor" with robots. They are deploying robots and teaching them to do their tasks.

22. What is the typical job function?

See below for a description of what I do on a typical day.

23. What do you do on a typical workday?

I generally get to work at 8:00 AM. Then I’ll:

Spend two or three hours designing electrical circuits or mechanical systems and helping younger engineers learn about these circuits and systems. These engineers also help me by creating drawings and schematics.

An hour or two working on Bills Of Materials (BOM’s) – The BOM is very important to engineers. This is a list of all the materials in the system. It includes wires, resistors, integrated circuits, nuts, bolts and processors, etc. The manufacturing department uses the BOM’s and the drawings to build the systems.

An hour or two in meetings or conference calls

An hour or two writing emails

An hour or two in the lab conducting experiments or trying to understand why the systems I designed are not working the way I thought the would.

I’ll take a 30-minute lunch at noon and go home around 6:30. I usually sneak in a few hours working early in the morning on weekends (I'm writing the answer to this question at 2:40 AM). I typically work 53-hour weeks.

24. My son is 13 and is very interested in robotics, he attends West Hill School in Stalybridge Cheshire. He is to take his options for next year, can you suggest which would be the right direction for him to choose. Will he need A levels? and which University would you recommend he attend. He has been asked for Homework, what he would need in terms of qualifications to do this job. I hope you can help. Your website is very interesting, Brilliant and very informative. Thanks in advance.:

I'm happy to hear you enjoyed looking at the learnaboutrobots site. Robotics is such a broad field that your son could study almost any discipline and end up working with robots. There are robots in art, music and entertainment. The "star" of Isaac Asimov's "I Robot" books is a robot psychologist. I don't know how it is in Stalybridge Cheshire, but here in Austin public school is crammed with reading, writing and arithmetic - at the expense of music, arts and physical education. I have a 13 year old son too. I encourage him to study what he enjoys. I also insist that he participates in at least one cultural extracurricular activity (like playing piano) and one physical (he's on swim team right now) every semester. Tell your son I said hello.

25. Give a brief description of your field of engineering.

Systems engineering - The design of systems with mechanical components, electrical components, computing machinery and software.

26. Do you design you own work, or produce someone else's designs?

Engineers design their own work. Junior engineers get more supervision and senior engineers can make bigger mistakes.

27. What advice would you give a high school student (myself) who is thinking of going into robotics engineering?

The same advice I'd give a middle school student and an undergraduate student. Take the classes that seem interesting to you. See 24 above.

28. If you had to do it all over again, what (if anything) would you do differently?

Take more vacation time...

29. I'm not really good in mathematics, but I'm pretty average. Do you think I have what it takes to become a robotic engineer?

You can definitely work in robotics without being strong in mathematics. You might find getting an undergraduate degree in engineering pretty tough. Most engineering curricula have a lot of math. I'm sure you can do it, though you might need to spend a little more time on your homework.

30. I understand that you are a very busy man, but I need just a moment of your time. I am sure you get this question a lot. Do you know of any specific colleges I could attend in Indiana to get a degree in mechanical engineering? I believe a degree in mechanical engineering could help me become a robotics engineer. Please write back to me as soon as you can. Thank you in advance for your time.

Not a day goes by when someone doesn't ask me about mechanical engineering programs in Indiana  : ) I'm not familiar with colleges in Indiana, but I bet there are plenty that have good programs in mechanical engineering. An undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering would be a great way to get on the path to becoming a robotics professional..

31. My friend and I were brain storming last night till about 4am about a simple robot that could play simple games. The games would involve timing so it would only involve one or two robotic  fingers to fire corresponding with the timing.

You might consider servo center by Yost engineering and a couple of RC servos from the hobby shop. That would get you going for about $100. You could also buy a Robot magazine http://www.botmag.com/. There are lots of ads in that magazine for different robot building kits. Good luck!

32. I know that there are different disciplines in engineering such as robotics. But are there disciplines in Robotics Engineering? What is the correct term? What I am trying to say is that, Are their different fields such as Android engineering, Robotic Toys, Robotic Vehicles, Robotic Tools etc.? How many and what are the names of those different robotics fields?

I would call them branches of robotics. The branches I can think of along the lines you suggest would be mobile robotics, robotics tooling, robot vision, toys and entertainment. The disciplines that shape robotics include controls, mechanisms, dynamics, kinematics, computing hardware and software.

33.  I am an academic coach assisting a high school student with the task of selecting the right college to fit his needs, wants, grades and temperament, that is a smaller school versus a huge 30,000 student factory. He is very interested in mechanical engineering and robotics.

You hit the nail on the head with the needs, wants, grades and temperament part. Take care of those and the rest will take care of themselves. I went to a very small 3,000-student school for undergrad and a huge 50,000-student school for grad. I learned a lot at both places. There are many schools of all sizes around the country where you can study robotics. Find some you are interested in and talk to (or email) someone on the faculty. Tell them you are interested in mechanical engineering and robotics. See what they think. Good luck to you and your student.

34. I am currently a junior in high school. I am really interested in the field of robotics and I would like to know how to get involved in this field. On your site, you talked about making a robot hand in your garage. how?? Did your house have these materials just lying around? Does experimenting with different things at home require any special equipment? I would love to try and make different things at home and I need to also...my mom is starting to get mad about all of the electronic stuff I take apart all throughout the house.

All of my early work was made from electronic stuff I took apart around the house. Our garage had a drill press and a vice, but no precision tools. Tell your Mom not to be mad, you're learning to be an engineer.

There are kits for making robots that you can buy so you don't have to scrounge as many parts. Take a look at the ads in Robot magazine (botmag.com). You can buy decent servos at the hobby store for about $10 each and hook them to your computer with something like Servocenter from Yost engineering

35. I am 42 and in the accounting field. I don't have a degree currently. I am very interested in consumer robotics, but am unsure if it is feasible for me to consider this. Any info you could provide would be appreciated.

I'm sure it's feasible, but I think the monetary penalty would be pretty high. You would lose at least a few years of salary while getting a degree and then you would be starting as a very junior engineer and would have a pretty low salary. Then you would be looking at 10 - 20 more years before you would have enough engineering experience to be a lead engineer on a robotics project. If you really wanted to do it, you could; but you would have to really want to.

36. I am a interested in robotics but am cautious about getting into the field and it being to crowded. I am a mechanical engineering major that plans to graduate in 2009. Do you think the robotics field will get to the point where there is more qualified workers than there is work?

There will be more demand than supply of good engineers that understand computer-controlled electro-mechanical systems for as far into the future as I can see.

37. My idols are Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein (I know the theory of relativity) and The Wright Brothers. I want to either become an engineer or a physicist. I'm only 12 years old, turning thirteen next year. So, let's get to the point. What kind of engineering do you think I should do? What kind of job do you think would suit me?

You asked me questions that only you can answer. Study and work on what you find most interesting.

38. I see you have P.E. after your name. What is a P.E.?

A Professional Engineer (P.E.) is a person who by reason of their knowledge of mathematics, the physical sciences and the principles of engineering, acquired by professional education and practical experience, is qualified to engage in the practice of professional engineering. To lawfully use that title a person must pass a series of exams, have multiple years of engineering experience, at least five positive references from other professional engineers and maintain a license from the state in which they practice. 

39. Do you feel your pay is comparable to the amount of years you spent in college?

The money I earn is fine, but the real pay is the value I place on education.

40. What are some tools that you use regularly in your job?

The tools I use most often are an oscilloscope a Digital Multi Meter (DMM) and a computer.

41. Do you get vacation time from your job? How much?

I get two or three weeks vacation a year. As long as I am getting my job done, no one pays much attention to how much vacation time I take.

42. Do you ever travel for your job?

I generally travel two or three days a month.

43. If you get sick, can you work from home?

I could do some work from home, but a lot of my job duties require me to be at the office.

44. My son is 8. He wants to be a robotics engineer, but my husband is freaking out because he wants him to be a doctor.

He's only 8. By the time he grows up half of all surgeries will probably be performed by doctors controlling robots. The Da Vinci robot is already being used for gall bladder, prostate and even heart surgery. Do a search on Da Vinci robot and you will find lots of information. Maybe you could use his interest in robotics to expose him to medicine?

45. I have been thinking about pursuing a phd to gain further knowledge about robotics and perform research. Would you recommend working in an engineering job for a while and then pursuing a phd, or jumping straight into a phd program? Would you recommend that I pursue one at all?

I do recommend working at a regular job for a few years before pursuing a PhD. After a couple of years at that you will know whether you want to go back to school or not.

46. I am in the navy right now. I am an aviation electrician and it is has to be the most boring job there is. I have some basic electrical knowledge from the navy. What I want to know is what can I do as far as being in the navy to get a degree in robotics or electrical engineering before I retire from the military.

The Navy must have ways of supporting your efforts to get an engineering degree. I saw something called the Navy College Office (NCO) after a quick Google search. The Navy also offers distance learning if you are at sea.

47. Are there any dangers or hazards involved in your job?

Yes. Robots and automated systems can be lethal. They can throw, drop, crush, electrocute and cut.

48. How do I find a job in robotics?

I get emailed this question more than any other. I would say a “job in robotics” means you are getting paid to design, build, deploy or maintain robots. So what industries design, build, deploy or maintain robots? The answer to this depends a lot on how we define “robot.” There are six-axis industrial robots used in the auto industry, wafer handling robots used in semiconductor manufacturing, robotic surgeons, robotic airplanes, robotic vacuum cleaners and the list goes on. I'll call it robotic if it is a computer-controlled machine with moving parts. Based on that definition, there are companies that design, build, deploy and maintain robots in just about every industry you can think of. There are companies that make robotic products and there are companies that do custom robotic systems. I'm sure you can find them using Internet searches or by networking with people you know. I don't personally recommend any one company over another.

Building, deploying and maintaining robots could be very interesting. You would be on the "ground floor" working with robots every day. To get started a person might consider a technical college degree. Networking with people you know or have worked with in the past is always a good idea. Somehow you will need to demonstrate by experience or training that you are qualified.

To get a job designing robots or robotic systems you are almost certainly going to need a four-year engineering degree. Many robotics professionals have Master’s degree and there are plenty of PhD’s around. You also need to understand that when you first graduate college, even with a Master’s degree, you will be a very junior engineer. Robotic systems are typically the most complex systems a company will make. You will need to first focus on a subsystem, such as the mechanical, electrical, computing or software systems. Once you have become an accomplished engineer in one of those fields, you can move up to the more advanced systems engineering role.

49. Hello, I am currently a 17-year-old high school student in Alberta. I am very interested in becoming a robotics engineer. The thing is I'm not sure if robotic engineering is really what I believe it's going to be...Maybe you can guide me. I am planning to go to UofA (University of Alberta) http://www.ualberta.ca/ and then taking the courses I need to get a PhD in Robotics Engineering: http://www.engineering.ualberta.ca/ (I'm not sure if they offer that course)

After I passed the requirements, I would maybe like to get some experience maintaining robots/get hired for robotics designs around Edmonton and Cold Lake (Northwest of Edmonton): 

My real goal though would be to start a project kind of like Kiberton, except maybe get some funds from somewhere like Honda, the government or the Canadian Forces (I'm planning to either be the designer of a big android project for civilian/commercial or industrial uses or possibly, hopefully a military project.) High hopes eh? How much chance do you think I have at succeeding? Do you think I can do it by going to UofA? Would I be obligated to move around the country? Is it a good job for supporting a family?

Thanks alot, I really hope you can help me

PS. My friend and I were having this debate. He's going to go in trades and become a plumber/electrician. I said I was going to go to university and become an engineer. He says that I'm going to waste 6 years, he'll be filthy rich, he'll be able to retire when he's young and I'll spend all my life trying to make as much money as he could. Is this true? 

Thanks for the thoughtful email. First of all, I recommend that you go the
university route. It will not be a waste and you will learn a lot. You will not regret that choice.

Can you make more money in engineering or in the trades? Understand that neither engineers nor "tradesmen" are going to make a lot of money on the ground floor. Going the trades route, you can start your own business and ultimately have a number of plumbers, electricians, etc. working for you. If that sounds interesting, you might go to a university and study business. As an engineer you can also start your own business and have other engineers working for you. Or you could work at a bigger company and have a number of engineers reporting to you (I have about 15 engineers reporting to me). Either way, as you grow in your career you will be more successful if you learn to coach, mentor, leverage and direct others.

Did I mention that I recommend the university route? That’s not the only way, but you will have more options.

PS I asked my son what he thought about your email. Here’s how he replied:

Hey Dad,

Well, you'll have to work with the questions appertaining to the job itself (ie. Moving around the country, having a family. Then again, I guess you are a robotics professional, and I am your son. So that would answer  the family question.)

But I think he should know that, at least to me, it seems like a questionable idea to create plans for a future based upon a certain string of events happening without flaw - making it into UofA, then earning a PhD, then getting a job in robotics, and at last coming up with his wonderful android or military project. If he is truly interested in robotics for the field itself, then this plan will certainly bring him to a sense of contentment/fulfillment, despite any changes in the plans that may occur along the way. However, if his only, or at least main, incentive for pursuing this career path is to end up in the final scenario he's listed here, then he may need to reconsider. What if the PhD doesn't go as planned? What if he isn't able to land a job on a major project right off the bat? Also, his specific interests such as these may change. He needs to ask himself if he's really interested in the field of robotics, and not only in completing the path he's outlined here. If the answer is yes, and an outline is all this is, and he is truly willing to go forth with this, then I'm sure he could be happy as a robotics engineer.

As for his debate with his friend... I'll let you handle this one. If all his friend can think about is how to do him one better by becoming fat and happy first, then I really haven't got anything to say.

50. Do you have any experience making androids?

I don't have any experience making androids. I do have some experience making humanoids. They are usually easy to make. After that it's at least 21 years of work to make them human. I know because I am working on three of my own.

I expect making androids would be similar. They would be on the easy side to make, but would take a lifetime to teach. My favorite android is Commander Data from Star Trek Next Generation. The android astronaut in the first Alien movie is also pretty cool.

51. I have been into robotics for about 10 years. The one thing I want to get into is robotics engineering research and development (R&D). How would I be able to acquire that position?

Your best bet for R&D jobs is networking with people you already know. As is the case with all jobs, you will need to demonstrate that through experience and training you are qualified to do the work.

52. I am an engineering student in Savannah, GA on track for a BS in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech. I have a question that you might be able to answer. I'm interested to know whether it would be beneficial for me to switch over to mechanical engineering. I am very interested in robotics engineering and human-machine interaction, specifically human exoskeletal research. It seems to me that these topics in engineering are more focused in the area of mechanical engineering. Although, I'm sure that many different types of engineers are involved in such research, my question is whether mechanical engineering is a better choice for me in terms of the area of study that I am interested in. Thank you for any input that you can offer me.

I don't recommend switching based on the information you sent, but I do have a simple test to determine whether you prefer ME or EE. Freshman physics basically divides into two parts - Mechanics and Electromagnetism (when I went to college they were two different semesters). If you liked mechanics better, then ME might be the better choice for you. If you liked electromagnetism better, then stick with EE.

You could also spend one extra year in undergrad and take the fundamental ME courses while still getting your EE degree. That's what I did and I have never regretted it..

53. I'm a high school student interested in studying robotics and am now trying to decide between applying to college programs in computer engineering or in computer science. Do you think one field of study, CE or CS, would be better suited for a career in robotics?

Either CS or CE would be a fine choice for getting into the robotics field. I recommend going into college with an open mind and see what you prefer. It might be something different than either of them. Then study what you enjoy and the rest will take care of itself.

54. I am thinking of studying abroad. I've heard mixed reviews about doing so, and wanted to get the opinion of another engineer. I'm considering China or Japan, as they seem to be technological powerhouses (including in the area of robotics). I really appreciate your time...it's nice to be able to talk to somebody who is actually in the field and not a career academic or advisor.

Studying abroad sounds cool. If you are interested, then now is the time to do it. I would like to work abroad (especially in China) but now that I am married with kids in school its not really an option for me. Once the kids are out of the house I'm going to look at that option again.

55. Do you think that there will be a bigger future for pneumatics engineering? I'm not really that interested in the other fields that much, but i do like pneumatics.

I don't know that much about pneumatics engineering, but I'm sure it's always going to be around. If that's what you like, then that's what you should study. Let the rest take care of itself.

56. I m an Italian 25 years old student. I will get soon my master degree in mechatronics engineering here in Italy (politecnico di torino: the best engineering university in Italy) and i am working for a firm concerned in developing software for robotics industrial cells.

I really like what I have studied and, in order to improve myself and my knowledge, I am planning to move to USA to take a PhdDor to start working as intern.

I would like to ask you if you could suggest me the universities which offer PhD in robotics or some firms where I should apply.

I know the word “robotics” actually is used for any electro-mechanical system and this question is vague but any hint you could give me is more than appreciated.

Software and mechatronics is a great combination. I'm sure there are a bunch of companies looking for that skill set. Just keep digging via the internet and you'll find them. But why the intern part? With your background you should be looking for a job as a regular employee. If you want to leave after a year or two to get a PhD; that's your choice, you don't need to discuss that as part of the job interviews.

As you said, just about all the Universities in the USA have PhD programs that involve robotics. As a PhD student, you'll need to pay for tuition, books, fees, food and housing. I recommend looking for a University where you can work as a research assistant or teacher's assistant to cover those expenses.

57. I am currently an undergraduate majoring in Bioengineering in Singapore. My course has little to do with robotics in any way. Its main focus include biomaterials, bioimaging and biomechanics. 

I am concerned about my lack in foundation to enter robotics since I did not do mechanical or electrical as a undergraduate course.

I believe one of the biggest growth areas in robotics in going to be in the medical field. Your degree in Bioengineering will bring a lot to the table that EE's and ME's won't have. Your concern about not having enough background in EE or ME may be valid. Can you find a way to spend a year taking some courses in those areas?

58. I am a Film major, but I want to go to grad school for Robotics. I have quite a bit of experience building robots-- I went to an engineering magnet school for high school, where I competed in robotics tournaments. Now I work building, designing, teaching and troubleshooting robots every day. I'm also minoring in both mathematics and computer science. However, I'm worried my lack of academic engineering experience will make me inadmissible. What should I do?

As long as you can prove you are minoring in mathematics and computer science then you should be fine with engineering graduate schools in robotics. Find a Professor that that believes in you.

Film (and entertainment in general) are some of the biggest applications in robotics. Your major in Film will bring much to the table the EE's and ME's won't have.

59. I am really glad I found your website. I am a 30 yr ready to do a career change. I currently reside in San Antonio and have been working in the health field for over 10 yrs - specifically in rehab. My areas of expertise are in the functional aspect of the human body - ie; motion/mechanics, nevous system, muscular systems, kinetic chain.

I have always been mechanically inclined and always tore things apart as a kid to see what made them work. I love both the mechanic and electronic components of systems. Im not great at math, but I could tell you the demensions of an object by looking at them.

I am considering going into Robotics, but I really dont know which degree to pursure, EE, ME, etc. I would love to be able to design or build a fully functional "artificial limb". Im talking about the nervous system and the computer working together as if they were designed that way. :-)

Another thing that concerns me is what kind of school I should attend. Technical college or a traditional college? Once I pick one, what other credentials am I going to need other than my undergrad degree? Sorry for the long email, hope you can help. Thanks for your time and consideration,

As time passes, I think there will be a lot more robotics in the physical rehab field.

As for ME or EE, I always advise folks to study what they enjoy. It seems that you like both, which is good for robotics. Most schools have robotics programs now. There is also a similar curriculum called mechatronics.

I can't really answer whether technical college or traditional undergrad is better for you. Traditional college is a greater time commitment but you are more likely to get design work afterwards. Technical college will start you on the ground floor debugging, teaching and deploying; but you may face some resistance getting into the design work.

60. I teach an after school progam for engineering. The students (middle/high) design, build, and program autonomous robots for competition. (Not BattleBots). Their robots must complete tasks to score points. They are allowed two controllers and can have 4 objects on the game board at one time. They compete alone during some rounds and with opponents during the final tournament The question has come up during the strategy phase of the game: Should the team build one robot or try to build two robots that cooperate with each other? Do you have any suggestions of which is the more practical approach - one robot or two? The robots are small. They must fit within a 15in x 24in x 15in starting box and are created with IFI metal parts and LEGO. They are running a form of the C langauge using a Chumby and botboard for a controller. They have digital and analog sensors and vision capability.

That sounds like a very interesting after school program. The question of multiple cooperating robots rather than one "more-capable" robot comes up often in robotics. I discuss it a little on this page:


Here are some points I can think of:

1. Getting robots to cooperate is very challenging
2. I think it's easier to get two simpler robots to be reliable than it is to get one more-complex robot to be reliable
3. Two robots can give a degree of fault-tolerance. If one robot breaks, the other can keep going
4. Two robots can potentially work in parallel or as an "assembly line" to speed task completion

61. Hi Dr. Hooper,
I'm a 2nd year electrical engineering student and I'm really interested in robotics. However I've never really built anything to do with robots. I feel like it's a bit too late for me to start thinking about this and I'm saying this due to the fact that people who're good at something start doing it from a very young age!...I would appreciate it if you can give me some pointers on how i can be more involved in this field. What I mean is that how do I start now???
Best regards.

I wouldn't worry too much about not having built any hardware yet. In industry, engineers mostly make drawings and schematics, etc. Technicians and manufacturing folks do the building.

A fun way to get started would be to try to make a simple servo system. You could design the controller.

Good luck!

62. Hello Dr.Hooper
To start with I read your web site.
And I must first thank you for providing this opportunity to send this mail - that's if you open it.
Well I am Akhil from India and I am deeply interested in programming.
I am at High School, we only started programming this year , though i tried learning languages earlier , i didn't get much success. And i am doing a bit more than what they do at school - like i am trying to make small games myself.
So I wanted to ask of what courses i would have to take up if i had to get job where you have to make Inteligent Robots - especially in fields of Automatic Programming and Knowledge Engineering.
It would be very kind of you if you could give me details of the graduate and undergraduate courses that would help for specialising in the software part of humanoids.
Thanking you

Just go to college and study computer science or software engineering. If you also like the computing hardware, go with computer science.

The school you choose will likely have a class or two in undergrad that includes AI. Otherwise you can work on your own. The good thing about studying AI is that you just need a computer to do it. You shouldn't need a bunch of expensive hardware.

Good luck!

63. Hello Dr. Hooper,

I am a new graduate student at UC Merced. I am currently in the PhD physics program. I am currently attempting to learn about different areas of study to research. I found your website today, and noticed you that you have seen people in physics studying robotics. I am curious to know, what made their robotics research acceptable for physics?

I have always been interested in robotics, so I have been wondering lately if it was possible to adopt some type of robotics research while I earn my physics degree. I do not know a lot about the different types of research being done regarding robotics. Since you are a robotics expert, I am curious, do you know of any types of robotic research that can be used during a physics PhD program?

The people I know working in robotics that have physics degrees are really working as engineers rather than physicists.

It is hard for me to think of what would be a good robotics area of study in a PhD physics program because I've never been in a PhD physics programs. To me the "engineering" part of robotics is already really strong and in the incremental improvement phase. The biggest "quantum leaps" to made are in software and mostly computing hardware. I don't think digital computers will ever achieve intelligence. There needs to be some new kind of computer, probably electro-chemical in nature. Maybe there is something physics-related there?

64. Hello Dr. Hooper,

I am 14 and I have already constructed a few robots (4 basic robots made from old electronics lying around the house, and 1 B.E.A.M Solar Powered robot. I am wanting to construct my next robot, hopefully programmable, I was looking online at a few, but most are extending my budget limits, do you have any suggestions on what robot I should get next?

At fourteen it sounds like you are way ahead of the game with 4 basic robots and 1 B.E.A.M. robot. I don't have any great suggestions on what robot you should get next. Are you interested in software programming? You might be able to get a fairly inexpensive robot that has a processor in it you can download programs into. Then you can do almost limitless AI and programming work on your computer and download into the robot to see the results. If you do find something you recommend, please let me know so I can pass it along.

Good luck!

65. Hello Dr. Hooper,

What are some universities that have good robotics programs?

Almost all colleges and universities have programs and classes in Robotics these days (even if they don't offer a specific robotics degree). Another word that's often used interchangeably with robotics at universities is mechatronics. Some of the most well-known colleges and universities that have robotics programs are CMU (has the biggest and broadest robotics programs I know of), Stanford, MIT and Cal Tech. USC (U of So Cal) and WPI also have very good robotics programs. Some public schools that have good robotics programs are University of Florida, University of Tennessee, University of Michigan and the University of Texas.

66. Hello Dr. Hooper,

Obviously I am planning on being a robotic engineer. I know you get many emails on this subject so I hope I won't trouble you by asking some questions. Because I am in 6th grade some of my peers think that it is a far-fetched idea, however they don't doubt I could do it since me along with my best rival are in gifted and talented. I at first wanted to be a scientist, than I read about robotic engineering, I just would like to know how much of a difference is there between a robotic engineer and a scientist? And also what subjects must I major in besides math and science? Can I study to be both? 
Thanks for your time and I hope I hear back from you soon!

I would say the greatest difference between engineers and scientists is that engineers are working on problems that need to be solved in the next year or two and scientists are working on problems to be solved in the next decade or two (or maybe century or two).

As far as choices of classes, study what you enjoy and let the rest take care of itself.

Good luck!

67. Hello Dr. Hooper,

I'm 16 years old currently attending 6th-form/college in England. i have chosen physics, maths, chemistry and business. I am extremely interested in robotics but i have no idea where to start. I don't have a garage with tools and e.t.c. but i do have a garden. I really would like to design and build robots in the future in has always been my dream. i don't know about any safe sites i could go on to buy some starter kit so i could start taking things apart and reconstructing them. What section of engineering do i need to be able to do what i would like to do. Plzz help.

Thanks for the note. It is so insightful. The response to this email is not obvious. My recommendation is to study what you enjoy, take time in the garden, think of how you would like the world to be and then do something to make it like that.

Safe travels,

68. Hello Dr. Hooper,

I come to you for some insight on robotics engineering and how I should go about choosing my major correctly in order to be applicable for more jobs / do what I have passion for. I enjoy robotics, the theory, the practicality, and at most the integration and interface between the different disciplines of engineering. To start, let me give you some background about myself. I transferred from a community college and am currently studying Mechanical Engineering at UC Davis. 

In the beginning, I decided to be a Mechanical Engineer in order to study Mechatronics Engineering in graduate school. Unfortunately, I am doubting whether or not I actually enjoy calculating dynamics and forces being applied to other objects that move in space. Sure I enjoy it. But I also enjoy physics, but that doesn't mean I want to be a physicist. The difficulty of Mechanical Engineering is its practical applicability when in University. I surround myself with electrical engineering and computer science students who are able to apply their knowledge so quickly to the world around them. Yet, I am left sitting there trying to figure out... how can I apply my own knowledge and whether I really want to.

Truth be told, sometimes I feel like I should be programming a micro controller to control some servos and LEDs. How much Mechanical is involved in that except for the calculation for torque of each servo and potentially the mechanical design for the purpose that these servos serve.

I currently am taking a class on the mechanics of manipulators and the theory is fun to explore and apply, but I think its the theory that I only join. When it comes to the practicality of mechanical engineering, I find it very hard to explore due to the lack of resources. For computer science majors resources are always at their finger tips. Electrical engineers? Just go to the local Radioshack or Frye's Electronics. Mechanical engineers? Lets put out your life savings for a CNC machine and then what?

What do you think?

First of all, congratulations on your good work. UC Davis is an excellent school.

I always tell students to study what they enjoy. In the long run, that is what really matters. Given the practicalities of the short run, you'll need to find a job when you graduate. Of all the engineering disciplines, mechanical engineering jobs are the toughest to come by. If mechanical engineering is what you enjoy and you are good at it (meaning the best in your class), then go with it. You will find success. Otherwise, learn how to program. An understanding of the fundamentals of mechanical engineering combined with programming skills will make you a very good engineer. From your email, you seem to be interested in firmware. Apply your mechanical engineering mindset to firmware and you will do well..

Enjoy your  travels,

69. Dear Dr. Hooper,

I am a student that is currently working on a research paper for my  English class. I decided to do it on the career of a robotics engineer. We are supposed to use a personal/email interview as a source in our paper, and from your website, you seem to be knowledgeable. Could you please answer these questions:

What is the hardest part about being a robotics engineer?
Working with other engineers that make a lot of mistakes and don't pay attention.

What is the most expensive type of robot?
Most industrial robots cost between $15k and $60k. Research robots can cost upwards of $500k. There is typically a 4x multiplier on what you paid for a robot compared to what it cost to get that robot into service. Programming, tooling, etc. costs a lot more than the robot.

What is the biggest use for robots today?
That's an interesting question. It depends on how you define robots. If it is doing jobs that people used to do, then ATMs would at the top of my list.

What is the biggest mistake people make when working with robots?
Getting in the way of one.

How fast are robots advancing?
Not all that fast, but over time, automation will replace a lot of jobs people do.

Will robots, in your opinion, be a major part of the future?

Why are robots so important?
Because people are going to have to decide what to do with their spare time.

70. Dear Dr. Hooper,

I stumbled upon your website, learnaboutrobots.com. I am active duty Marine Corps, approaching the end of my enlistment, and am researching the fields necessary to enter the field of Robotics Engineering. If you had some advice you could share with me about necessary majors, it would be greatly appreciated. I'm leaning towards Computer Science as my major, and if possible doing two majors and including Mechanical Engineering as my second one. I'm not sure how plausible that is, but those two fields seem to hold most of my interest. Also, if you could shed some light as to what some of the most lucrative or interesting fields are in the robotics industry right now, it would be appreciated. Thanks!

First of all, I have utmost respect for the Marines. Thank you for serving our country.

Software engineers have an easier time finding jobs than hardware engineers. Of the hardware engineers, mechanical engineers have the hardest time finding jobs.

I always recommend students study what they enjoy. If mechanical engineering is really what you like, then go with it. You will always be most successful doing something you enjoy. If it is a toss-up, I'd go with software, then computer engineering, then mechanical engineering.

Good luck,

71. Dear Dr. Hooper,

Hello, and thanks for all the useful info on your website. I am about to graduate high school, and am very interested in Robotics. Like you, I started young; I've been involved with a robot club since I was twelve. We won a couple provincial competitions, and even made to the World's last year. But... my dad has connections to get me started as an apprentice Instrumentation Technician. He keeps saying: the real-world, hands-on, experience would be good for me; to wait till I'm more mature to start school; that it would help open doors for me once I'm finished school; that it would be a good fall-back position, etc.

I don't know... What do you think? I would really appreciate any time you could take to think about this and give me your opinion.

Without knowing you, I can't say what's the best path. I can give you a few thoughts, though.

If you do need a couple of years to mature and save some money, then the apprentice thing might be good, but remember, the older you get the tougher it gets to go back to school. You accumulate things like a wife and kids that make it financially very difficult.

Without a college degree you likely won't move beyond technician and into design engineering. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, just something to keep in mind.

Are your dad's connections going to suddenly go away just because you went to college?


72. Dear Dr. Hooper,

What should be my first job after retiring from the military (question paraphrased)

Hey Soldier:

Robotics is an extremely broad field. By definition it encompasses the work of electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, software engineers and computer scientists. If you go just a bit further it gets into social systems, sociologists and the humanities. I always find it interesting that the lead character in Asimov’s books on robots is a psychologist named Susan Calvin.

You might like to read the play “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” That’s where the word “robot” first entered our lexicon. Before that there is a history of robotics (at least thinking about robotics) that goes back beyond the Old Testament. Do a little searching on the word “golem” and you will see what I mean. I could go on about humans creating humans in their own image, but that probably isn’t why you wrote.

You asked about your first job after “retiring” from the military. You like electro-mechanical systems, so pick something in electrical, mechanical or software engineering. Of those, software engineers have the easiest time finding jobs, then electrical and then mechanical. I think the biggest advances in robotics will come in the area of computer science. As I’ve written before, I don’t believe there is a path to human (or even dog) level intelligence in digital computers. Work on what you like though, that’s what where you will be the most successful.

Take care,

73. Dear Dr. Hooper,

I'm 33 years old and I'm sitting writing to you from my living room in hopes that you might be able to give me some advise and guidance before I go out and start applying to colleges. I grew up always in and out of trouble and never graduated. I had got into serious trouble in the year 2000 and found myself in prison. Day in and day out I wrote my ideas down so I would have something to capitalize when I returned home. But I guess life and family has taken its toll and has slowed that process of pursuing those goals. I want to rectify my situation and need some concrete advise to make those dreams reality.....

Am I to old to pursue a career in robotics? Will I be frowned upon in the industry because of my record? Should I take and get certified in A+, Network+ and Security+ to understand, connect and secure the programs that will be running the robots I've envisioned? Should I start at a community college and pursue a undergraduate degree in software developement or software engineering?

I don't think you are too old to pursue a career in robotics. You mentioned software and I think that is a really good choice. Of all the engineering disciplines, the software guys seem to have the easiest time finding jobs. I also think that would be the area of engineering that would be least likely to automatically reject you for having a record. The robotics part might be a little tough since a lot of that work is in defense, but if you expand your definition of robotics to include all kinds of computer-controlled machines then that will open up your opportunities. Even if you don't end-up working with machines, other kinds of software can also be very interesting. Databases, for example, are very complex and so are a lot of the algorithms they use in business software.

If you want to pursue a four-year degree, then that would be a fine thing to do. I also think a community college degree would be sufficient to find a programming job. The main thing you are going to need to do is convince an employer that you are a really good programmer. You'll want to do more than just be able to code. You need to really get into the science of software engineering. Read about it, think about it and be able to talk about it. What makes an object oriented language object oriented? Why or why aren't object oriented languages better than structured languages? How do you estimate how much time a programming task is going to take. Also do some internet searching on common software interview questions.

Good luck,

73. Dear Dr. Hooper,

My son is applying to college and is making the decision between a physics major and an engineering major. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

Greetings Parent:

I don't know of any substantive differences in the university curriculum between a first year physics major and a first year engineering major. I advise to let your son go into the university with whatever major he prefers and then encourage him to let his experience with that guide him as to which degree to pursue. He shouldn't feel that one degree is better than another. The degree that is best for him is what he enjoys most and is best at. 30 years ago I went into the university as a physics major and ended-up graduating with an electrical engineering degree. I found that I preferred the more practical aspects of engineering to the more theoretical aspects of physics.

If your son does go the physics degree route and wants to keep his options open as far as a job as an engineer, then he needs to keep in mind that he will need to convince an employer that he can work as an engineer. To this end he could perhaps add an electrical circuits course to his study, or do extra-curricular activities on the solar car team, or robotics club, or ...

People working as engineers typically have engineering degrees, but over the years I've worked with a few engineers that had physics degrees. I've also worked with a few engineers that didn't have college degrees at all.

Best of luck to you and your son!


74. Hello Dr. Hooper,

I am 28 years old and have done IT work for most of my adult life, but the area of software/mechanical engineering has always been an area of interest for me.

I am very much interested into going to school to start training in this field, but our financial situation only allows for online or community college schooling. I need to know where to start so I can get into this exciting career field.

Thank you very much.


If it is a toss-up between software and mechanical engineering, I'd go with software. Programmers have a much easier time finding work than mechanical engineers.

I'm sure you will find programming courses online or at your local community college. Either is fine, but keep in mind that you will be a little behind in the "credentials" department. You will need to become a super strong programmer, either through excelling in your courses, or studying on your own, or both. In your job interviews you will need to wow them with your understanding of the programming languages, their data structures, the theories behind them, etc. You might also look into becoming a data base administrator. I find data bases very interesting. My same comments about becoming a super strong programmer apply to becoming a data base administrator.

Good luck,

75. Hello, what is like when you first start to work on a new robot or invention?


Once I have the idea then the work starts. I'll usually sketch something out with a pen and paper or I'll use a computer drawing program. Then I write down everything important about the project that I can think of in no particular order. Then I'll put those ideas in logical groups, order them and work through them until they are done.













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