Robotics: let your skills off the leash
Ever since the robot dog K-9 appeared in Doctor Who in the 1970s, geeks of a certain age have fantasized about having a metallic sidekick that does most things a real dog would do but doesn’t need to poop and can beat them at chess.
Fast forward forty years and some of those geeks must have been working at Boston Dynamics, the MIT spin-off that got funding from DARPA to develop a quadruped robot for the battlefield. Following on from that project, the result of which became known as BigDog, Boston Dynamics revealed a smaller robot canine to the world in 2016. It is called SpotMini and it is awesome in every way – as this YouTube video shows. Last week BD announced that SpotMini was going on sale to the public, and Dr Who veterans everywhere went into paroxysms of joy.
The joy was short-lived – BD stated that it was for industrial use and that it would cost ‘as much as a car’, but the prospect of seeing SpotMinis out in the wild is still a thrilling one. Maybe it won’t be that long before a version of this quadruped mutt will actually bring you your slippers in the morning.
SpotMini is the kind of high-profile project that raises interest levels in studying robotics and its associated disciplines. Assuming this to be the case with this most pooch-like of robots, we thought we’d give a rundown of some of the top robotics courses out there at the moment. What’s the successor to SpotMini going to be? There’s only one way to find out – build it yourself!
The Penn State MicroMasters® Program in Robotics gives a career-changing grounding in Kinematics and the Mathematical Foundations of robotics, Vision Intelligence and Machine Learning, Dynamics and Control, and Locomotion Engineering. It’s a one-year program on EdX, and after taking it nobody is going to kick your robot dog over.
For a shorter course covering Kinematics and Motion Planning, there’s Columbia University’s Robotics Certificate. Also delivered on EdX, this 10-week cert gets you talking Robot. Interestingly/worryingly, you cannot take this course of you are from Iran, Cuba or Crimea. Can’t imagine why.
Of course it’s not all about robot dogs. Not even slightly. Most robots are found in industrial production facilities and production lines. If it’s just-in-time manufacturing you want to get into, then you’ll have to be just in time for the live online classes in Robotic Process Automation using UiPath given by Edureka.
The four-year MEng at the University of Bath is a deep dive into robotics. The first two years cover the underlying principles of electronic, electrical and mechanical engineering. This includes programming in MATLAB, a crucial tool for careers on this field. In years three and four things go full RoboCop. You’ll study robotics and autonomous systems, do two major group design and business projects, and cap it all off with an individual MEng project. Just try not to make any autonomous killer robots, mmmkay?
A more compact MSc at the University of Buffalo, NY will train you up in Robotics and Automation for a quicker entry into work.
The Graduate Portfolio Program at University of Texas Austin is a highly flexible, kid-in-a-candy-store pick-and-mix smorgasbord of robotics deliciousness that lets you plot your own career speciality in robotics. Core courses include Visual Recognition, Robot Learning, Decision and Control of Human-Centred Robotics and others, but the list of approved elective courses is much longer and includes Musculoskeletal Biomechanics, Medical Device Design and Manufacturing, Cyber-vehicle Systems, Satellite-Based Navigation, and many more tasty subjects.
This article will pretty soon be out of date but robotics will be a growing field for the foreseeable future, so if you come across this a while from now, get googling and find your perfect Robotics course. If it’s an on-campus course, your SpotMini will carry your books for you as you design its successor.