Posts Tagged ‘ROV’

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.

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.