Last week, we learned about the many applications of remotely operated vehicles, better known as underwater robots. But it turns out that robots of all types are currently in demand, and with robots comes a growing need for robotics technicians.
In fact, Bill Gates, leader of the personal computer revolution, predicts that the next hot employment field will be robotics, and he is not alone in this thinking: Increasing evidence suggests that robots will have the same impact on our future economy as the computer had on the information age.
•The Robotic Industries Association reported in February, 2008 that North American robot orders jumped 24% in 2007.
•Robotics and robotic systems currently make up a $100 billion dollar emerging global industry.
•Service robots for personal use worldwide are projected to increase by 160% over the next three years.
•Scientific American Magazine issued a special report early in 2008 entitled “Your Future with Robots: How Smart Machines will Change Everything.”
It’s clear that the United States needs to be competitive to be part of this booming trend. But right now, Japan is the global leader in both the development and use of robotics, with the U.S. a distant second. (Japan is far outpacing the USA in patents; however, the United States leads in the development of software programs used in robots and robotic systems.) And many other countries are also emerging as major competitors. In December, 2007, it was reported that the South Korean government plans to invest the equivalent of $1.6 billion dollars to build two robot theme parks as part of an effort to boost that country’s robotics industry. European Union countries are also strong competitors: In 2005, the BBC news reported that the European Union’s 25 member states have a 35% share in the global manufacturing of robots.
In Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, a publication produced by the U.S. National Intelligence Council, it is predicted that service robotics will be a significant process-altering technology over the next decade, noting that in domestic settings, widespread use of the technology could leverage manpower and change care for a growing elderly population. In addition, mobile platforms currently optimize industrial production processes, shopping guides help customers to navigate their local do-it-yourself store, and autonomous forklift trucks simplify logistical processes. In 2009, IEEE (the world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology) offered this series of webinars addressing mobile robotic devices.
In addition to growth in manufacturing and use of commercial and consumer robotics, the US military has set a goal for having 30 percent of the Army comprised of robotic forces by approximately 2020. Robotic devices for U.S. military applications are manufactured exclusively by companies in the U.S. for use on land, in the air, and on the surface and under water. (In 2006, robots in defense, rescue, and security applications accounted for the highest share of the total number of service robots for professional use and this number is projected to increase by over 75 percent over the next three years.)
As noted by Major Kenneth Rose of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, there are many advantages in robotic technology in warfare. “Machines don’t get tired. They don’t close their eyes. They don’t hide under trees when it rains and they don’t talk to their buddies … A human’s attention to detail on guard duty drops dramatically in the first 30 minutes … Machines know no fear.” In response to national defense implications and the economic impact of robotics as an emerging technology, a Congressional Bi-Partisan Robotics Caucus has been formed to focus on key issues facing the robotics industry.
Over the past year, surveys conducted by the NRTC indicate both a need for technicians with skills specific to the manufacture, operation, and maintenance of unmanned robotic vehicles and demand for more than 700 additional technicians over the next three years. Also of note, these jobs offer an excellent pay scale ($25,000-50,000/yr. locally and up to $72,800/yr. nationally).
There’s no question that increased applications of unmanned, mobile, robotic devices in many sectors are creating an urgent need for highly skilled technicians with this expertise. Just ask Bill Gates.