Archive for May, 2010

Help Wanted: Robotics Technicians

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

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.

Consider:

•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.

ATETV Episode 36: Math & Science = Success

Monday, May 24th, 2010

This week, we learn how a love of math and science can be applied to a challenging career in Laser and Photonics Technologies, talk with a student who is charting a new future in Geographic Information Systems, and hear how one community college is preparing students to meet the growing demand in Alternative Energy Technology.

In our first segment, we visit Central Carolina Community College where students in the Laser and Photonics Technologies program explain why the math skills they gained in high school are so important to their current curriculum.

“We do a lot of math here — trig and trig functions and a lot of algebra,” explains student Katie Renshaw. “I like technology, I think it’s cool and whenever I take placement tests I have good math and science scores, so that was a plus [in choosing to study Lasers and Photonics].”

Adds student Todd Devine, “[I would tell high school students] if you are interested in lasers, focus on your math and science because those are the things that will help you in the laser field. It [involves] a lot of equations and angles and a lot of theorems, so you need to make sure that you remember them and study them.”

Central Carolina Community College’s Gary Beasley agrees. “If you like science and math, then [Laser and Photonics Technologies] is an exciting field to get into. We give students a placement test and if they don’t score high enough to get into the program, they can take courses to increase their knowledge in whatever area [they need] whether it’s a math developmental course or an English developmental course.”

And if you like lasers, the effort will be worth it. “If you’re struggling with math in high school, if you just study hard and work through, it will all pay off,” says Todd. ” [This field is growing] and it’s not going to disappear.”

Another field that offers students a growing selection of career opportunities is in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), as we learn in our second segment, when we talk with Dave Nicholson, a student at Central Piedmont Community College.

“Geospatial technology is taking known location attributes from the real world and putting them on paper and making a map out of them,” Dave explains. The technology is used in a wide variety of applications, and for Dave, his long-time interest in maps has led him to go back to school in search of a new career and a secure future. “When I got out of high school back in the 70s, I ended up going into the Navy.” Since then, Dave explains, he has also worked in commercial electronics, as a radio technician and for a paging company. After being laid off from several jobs, Dave learned about the GIS program at Central Piedmont, and is not only looking to pursue a rapidly growing field, but a field that he thoroughly enjoys.

Finally, in our third segment, we visit Sinclair Community College where a program in Alternative Energy Technologies is preparing students for the explosion of jobs being created in the fields of solar, wind and biodiesel energy.

As employer Mike Traen of Certified Energey Raters, LLC, explains, the country’s growing awareness of the need for responsible energy use has led to tremendous advances in Alternative Energy technologies. “I think that this is important for [everyone] to understand.”

At Sinclair Community College, students are putting their newfound understanding of Alternative Energy to use on their own campus. “Biodiesel fuel has to meet a certain quality standard so that it can be used in equipment without causing damage,” explains Instructor Bob Gilbert. “It became a real educational tool [for us] when our students were able to test the biodieselthey were producing in our college’s own lawn equipment to make sure it was within the required standards.”

And this type of innovative application is beneficial for the students and college alike. As student Senya Oji-Njideka sums up, “I’m glad that Sinclair is so on top of their game.”

Exploring the Depth of the Ocean

Thursday, May 20th, 2010
ROV Jason

ROV Jason

In this week’s episode, ATETV was at the MATE ROV competition in San Diego, where we heard from students who were busy designing and crafting remotely operated vehicles. This led us to wonder, just what is an ROV made of and what are these underwater robots used for?

Remotely operated vehicles can plumb 3,000 to 12,000 feet below the ocean – depths that would be far too difficult and dangerous for human divers to access — and were initially developed by the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s for use in deep-sea rescue operations and recovery of objects from the ocean floor. Ranging in size from the proverbial breadbox to a full-size minivan, the unmanned devices are typically constructed of aluminum and titanium and painted in high-visibility yellow. They are outfitted with a special substance to ensure buoyancy.

The ROVs are tethered to ships, enabling a human controller to be located above water where a series of communications cables, and energy sources are housed. At a minimum, the robotics contain a camera or other visual device that enables them to “see” underwater, but many of today’s ROVs are also outfitted with a wide variety of sophisticated tools. Today’s robots are also generally equipped with hydraulic “arms” that enable the human operators to work long-distance, similar to the way surgeons use laparoscopic instruments when performing minimally invasive surgery.

In recent weeks, ROVs have been in news reports on the oil spill cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico, where the underwater robots are playing key roles. In fact, ROVs have been a staple of the oil industry since the mid-1970s, when they began replacing human divers and manned submersibles for drilling support and subsea construction services to enable deepwater exploration and development projects throughout the world.

But as it turns out, ROVs have lots of different functions – and lots of jazzy names. “Jason,” for example, is a scientific ROV developed at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Falmouth, Massachusetts, named after the mythical Greek adventurer and ocean explorer and used for studying the depths of the ocean floor. And on the opposite coast, in Monterey, California, the Nature Conservancy is using an ROV dubbed “The Beagle” for a five-year study to assess the impact of trawl fishing in soft-bottom seafloor habitats. (The Beagle was named in honor of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the famous research ship he sailed to the Galapagos Islands.) Check out the Nature Conservancy website to watch videos about how ROVs work and glimpse the ocean depths through the “eyes” of these underwater robots

ROVs have also been used to locate historic shipwrecks, including the Titanic; to perform mine clearing and other harrowing military tasks; and to enable salvage operations for downed planes or sunken boats, serving as “birddogs” to assess potentially dangerous conditions before scuba divers are sent in.

Gee, in answer to our original question, it seems like ROVs do pretty much everything!

ATETV Episode 35: On the Pulse of the Future

Monday, May 17th, 2010

This week, we visit a community college that is working hand-in-hand with the fuel cell industry to prepare students for jobs of the future, hear from a professional firefighter who has returned to school to study Civil Architectural Technology and visit an ROV underwater robotics competition that is helping students and employers to connect with one another.

In our first segment, we visit Stark State College, where a state-of-the-art Fuel Cell Technology program is providing employers with student employees trained in the industry’s most up-to-date technologies and mechanics.

“We’re in the process of developing technology that will eventually be designed into a product — the stationary solid oxide fuel cell system,” explains Mark Fleiner of Rolls-Royce Fuel Cell Systems, which has its headquarters on the Stark State campus. “[The Stark State Fuel Cell Technology] program gives us the opportunity to work [directly] with students, to get students into our business to see how things work in our company and to see if there’s a good fit between the student and our business needs.”

And the college’s focused approach of aligning educational curriculum with industry needs is beneficial for students and employees alike. “External partnerships for colleges are critical because it lets us keep our hand on the pulse of what’s happening in our fields,” says Stark State’s Dennis Trenger. “Without [our] business partners coming back and saying, ‘Here are the skills that we need for future employees,’ we’d be shooting in the dark.”

In our second segment, Sinclair Community College student Jon Flynn describes his return to the college’s Civil Architectural Technology Program — after 15 years in the firefighting field. “In 1993, I believe it was, I started this program at Sinclair,” Jon explains. But a switch to a Fire Science Technology major led Jon to a career as a professional firefighter. Now, he says, he’s back to where he started so that he’ll have another career to fall back on.

And, as he describes, today’s Civil Architectural Technology is a whole new field compared with 15 years ago. “The technology has come so far compared to when I was initially in the program,” he explains. “There was no such thing as green building and not nearly as much emphasis on saving energy.”

Today’s focus on sustainable buildings has Jon excited about his future. “I’ve always dreamed of being able to design a building for a client that was completely self-sufficient, [making use of] solar power, wind power [or] geothermal technology. This might be a little bit down the road, but we are certainly going in the right direction.”

Finally, in our third segment, we talk with participants at the MATE (Marine Advanced Technology Education Center) International ROV competition. “ROV stands for remotely operated vehicle,” explains Jill Zande of the MATE Center. And, through this annual underwater robotics competition, students are not only developing problem-solving, critical-thinking and team-work skills, they are learning that there are a sea of opportunities open to Marine Technology students.

“One of the things that this contest does is open [students’] eyes to disciplines [that they might not otherwise have considered]” explains Fritz Stahr of the University of Washington. “You know, we have students who come here from an engineering [curriculum] and now they’re beginning to see something of oceanography. We have others who are coming from a science background and they begin to realize that there are a lot of challenges in engineering. The career paths available are varied and they can range from marine policy to actual engineering design and from the building of new instrument systems to the actual role of the research scientist, using ROVs to gather data about how the oceans work.”

As today’s episode demonstrated, when it comes to emerging technologies, community colleges really do have their hands on the pulse of the future — where a sea of opportunities await.

ATETV Episode 34: Internships, Information and Innovations

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

This week, the “I’s” have it as we look at the importance of internships, the growing fields of Information and Communication Technologies and innovations in Biotechnology.

In our first segment, we talk with employers from a variety of industries who agree that student interns have provided their companies with vitally important support. “We [currently] have a number of full-time employees who started out as interns,” explains William Bither of Atalasoft, Inc. “It’s been a good way for us, as an employer, to really evaluate how [an individual] will fit in with our company.”

Adds Keith Parent of the Court Square Group, “It’s great if [a job candidate] has already had an internship [and been exposed to the same field as ours]. We like to find employees that come in with an internship background.” And, he adds, for the student interns at the Court Square Group, “If the student fits and likes what we do, I’d love to be able to offer them a job and keep them on.”

And, as we learn from Jill Heiden of ESAB Welding and Cutting Products, many internships are paid positions, enabling older students with families the opportunity to explore new ventures without sacrificing income. “This allows students to not only go to school, but to be productive and provide for their families,” she explains.

Finally, notes David Marlin of Metacomet Systems, graduating with a job reference already in hand can provide the leg up a student needs in today’s competitive job market. “The experience you get on the job is so valuable,” he emphasizes.

In our second segment, we examine a different kind of networking as we explore the Computer Information Technology (CIT) program at Springfield Technical Community College.

“CIT encompasses many things in the [computer] industry,” explains Springfield’s Andrew Maynard. “We’re preparing programmmers for programming jobs. We’re also preparing web programmers for web programming jobs. There’s also a technical side [of the industry] which is very close to the hardware and then there’s the business side.”

Adds student Sean Coughlin, “We’re dealing [directly] with the physical equipment, the cables, everything. This hands-on, real-world stuff is wonderful.”

Juan Valenzuela couldn’t agree more, as we learn in our third segment. “I’m enrolled in the Biotech program at Southwestern College,” he explains. “I actually received my bachelor’s degree in biology and I’m [returning to school] because I’ve been applying to a number of places and learning that a lot of employers require experience. So with this program at Southwestern, I’m hoping to get an internship.” And with his hands-on applications conducting DNA purification and other sophisticated Biotech experiments, Juan can pursue a Biotech career with a newfound confidence. “It’s one of the best things that I could recommend,” he adds.

What Makes a Building “Green”?

Friday, May 7th, 2010

What Makes a Building “Green”?

In this week’s episode, Architectural Technologies student Christina Sullenberger succinctly summed things up when she told us, “Everything now is becoming green.”

She was, of course, referring to today’s emphasis on “green building.” But what, exactly, makes a building “green”?

According to the website www.greenhomebuilding.com, in the case of residential homes, much of a building’s greenness boils down to the use of energy. For example, how much energy is used in the building materials themselves, in their transportation and assembling? And, once a building is constructed, how much energy does it require to keep its inhabitants comfortable?

“Green” buildings require less energy for a number of reasons: They are constructed from an area’s local materials, which means they didn’t have to travel as far to reach their destination and didn’t burn as much fossil fuel in the process. They are also less likely to be processed by industry. So, for example, in Colorado, local building materials might consist of rocks, sand and adobe. “Green” buildings also rely on recycled materials. By using existing materials, “green” builders keep materials out of landfills and keep them from being transported for further processing. And “green” buildings take advantage of the sun’s heat. Good passive solar design provides just enough sunlight to be absorbed by the room’s surrounding thermal mass (usually masonry materials) so that the heat will be given back to the room when the sun goes down.

Now, for a look at some buildings that more than fit these descriptions, check out www.inhabitat.com. Dedicated to “design that will save the world,” inhabitat.com has come up with some fascinating examples of sustainable architecture: everything from a two-story pavilion in China constructed entirely of bamboo…

Bamboo German- Chinese House

Bamboo German- Chinese House

To a cozy Minnesota cabin made of used shipping containers…

Holyoke Cabin- Minnesota

Holyoke Cabin- Minnesota

A minimalist adobe brick home in Texas…..

Texas Adobe Home

Texas Adobe Home

And even a mixed-use building in Armenia literally covered in native plants which act to absorb heat and filter air and water.

Lace Hill: A Living Green Mountain

Lace Hill: A Living Green Mountain

Christina was right: Green really is everywhere.

ATETV Episode 33: New Industries Mean New Opportunities

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

This week, we look at two up-and-coming industries – Wind Energy Technology and Architectural Technology – and take another look at internships and their key role in workforce development.

In our first segment, we talk with Mark Guilloz, operational manager for two wind power plants in Northeast Colorado operated by enXco Service Corporation, who explains that today’s need for skilled wind technicians is phenomenal. “The [wind power] industry is growing so rapidly that the manpower, the knowledge, the expertise that we’re reaching out for is very difficult to find.”

What does it take to make it in the field of Wind Energy? Well, a sense of adventure and a love of heights doesn’t hurt, according to Mark. “As a [Wind Energy] technician, you’re not just going to be in a controlled environment,” he explains. “In many cases…you’re going to kind of be in a pretzel sort of position, maybe upside down or sideways, and you may be sitting out on the ledge of a turbine…over 200 feet in the air with the wind blowing and maybe a little bit of snow.”

Now that’s a career that’s really soaring!

But, if you like to keep your feet planted on the ground, you might be better suited to the field of Architectural Technology, which, as we learn in Segment 2, is also undergoing rapid growth, the result of a current demand for green buildings.

Christina Sullenberger is enrolled in the Architectural Technologies program at Sinclair Community College. As she tells us, “Everything now is becoming green, so I’m continuing my education and furthering my knowledge and going into a field that’s up-and-coming.” With her newfound knowledge in energy analysis and other skills necessary for today’s emphasis on green buildings, Christina hopes that this experience will be a stepping stone on a path to a four-year college degree and a career as a licensed architect helping to ensure that both new and existing homes become more energy efficient.

Finally, in Segment 3, we learn how community college internships are preparing today’s students for the workforce of tomorrow. “Our primary mission is workforce development,” explains Robert Grove of Wake Technical Community College. “So we work very closely with industry representatives, and advisory committees [to develop curriculum].” But also key are the internships and co-op work experiences that enable Wake Forest students to get OJT – on-the-job training.

“To get out there and to get your hands in and work with people that are actually doing what you’re being trained to do is invaluable,” adds Robert. “You can’t replace that kind of experience. It’s fundamentally key to being successful.”