Robotics is going to be a vital skill this year and now is the best time to start learning. Whether you are a hobbyist building robots for fun or a technician using them at work, here are some great ways to learn robotics in 2017.
Robotics is well and truly on the rise. Throughout 2016, various events and trends in robotics have propelled robots into the public consciousness. The year's headlines were filled with drones, collaborative robots, medical robots and autonomous cars.
Now is a good time to start learning robotics. The field is popular enough that there are many sources of robotics training, both free and paid. However, it is not so popular that the field is saturated.
In this article, we outline some of the best ways to learn robotics in 2017.
What Do You Want to Do With Robotics?
First things first. The best way to learn robotics will be different for everyone. Yes, there are common skills which all roboticists have. However, it all depends on which stage you are in with your learning and what you want to get out of robotics. You might be a hobbyist with a interest in robotics, a student looking to start your career in robotics or a technician who needs it for a job. Here's how each of these will affect your learning path:
Explore Robotics as a Hobbyist
Now is a great time to learn robotics as a hobbyist. Whether you have been making robots for some time or are only starting out now, there are loads of options to develop your knowledge.
If you have never done any robotics before, educational robotics kits are a great place to start. There are hundreds of different kits and new ones are developed all the time. RobotShop has a pretty big list, but simply typing "robotics kit" into Google will produce a lot of results. Look for kits which you build yourself and are highly reconfigurable and programmable. Avoid those which are more like toys.
At any level, you can start learning about robotics by:
- Taking online courses.
- Joining robotics clubs.
Both of these are discussed in more detail below.
Formally Study Robotics for a Career
A lot of our readers have been asking about how to start their robotics career. More often than not, this means looking at options for formal study, in either a university or college.
We already have some very popular posts on studying robotics. I suggest you start with the post "What to Study for a Career in Robotics?" — after you have read the rest of this post, of course.
If you are already engaged in formal study, you may also benefit from boosting your robotics knowledge by:
- Enrolling in a University and College course.
- Taking online courses.
- Joining Robotics clubs.
See below for details about these.
Use Robotics in an Existing Position
If you are interested in collaborative and industrial robots, you probably want to learn robotics for your job as an engineer or technician. In this case, you probably want to develop your knowledge of the practical aspects of robotics.
You are probably not the only person in your business who needs robotics training, so a company-wide training program could be a good option. If you are in this position, keep an eye out on this blog as we have something special for you coming up very soon. For starters, read the post "Four Reasons To Develop In-House Robotics Expertise."
Two popular ways of learning about industrial robotics are:
- Taking manufacturer training.
- Joining an online robotics community.
These are described at the end of this post.
Where to Learn About Robotics in 2017
Here are some great ways of learning about robotics in 2017:
University or College Courses
The traditional route for starting a robotics career is still the most common. It means enrolling in an engineering program, either at undergraduate or postgraduate level, to earn a formal degree.
Which university or college should you choose? This is a difficult question. It depends entirely on where you live, what you want and how much experience you already have. Only you can decide. Thankfully, we have written the following posts which can help you to decide which option is best for you:
There was a huge buzz around Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) a few years ago, but the hype seems to have died down recently. However, there are still some great robotics courses available. The trick to getting the most out of a MOOC, I have found, is to take one course at a time and really commit to doing it — otherwise you risk dropping out after the first week.
At time of writing, here are a few of the upcoming robotics MOOCs:
- Swinburne University of Technology — Mobile Robotics course on Open2Study, January 2017
- University of Reading — Begin Robotics course on FutureLearn, January 2017
- Queensland University of Technology — Making Robots Move course, January 2017 and Build a Robot Arm, February 2017
These are all individual courses, with no certification at the end of them. However, if you wanted to take a more formal approach to MOOCs, Coursera has a 6-course Robotics Specialization run by the University of Pennsylvania.
A lot of MOOCs rerun every few months, so keep your eye on the upcoming course dates. Class Central has this useful list of 21 robotics courses, which is regularly updated.
For non-time-specific courses, the RoboticsCourseware site is sponsored by IEEE RAS and gives links to some free online robot learning websites.
If you are a hobbyist or a student, it is essential that you get some hands-on experience building robots. Robotics clubs and hackerspaces are on the rise. They are the perfect place to meet other people who are interested in building robots. You can find clubs in your area by searching for "robotics club <your city>", "hackerspace <your city>", or "makerspace <your city>." Hackerspaces are clubs for people who like making anything — not just robotics — but a lot of members are skilled in electronics and engineering.
Manufacturer or Third Party Training
For industrial robotics training, most big manufacturers provide training for their robots. Examples include Universal Robots Academy, ABB University and KUKA College. However, manufacturers are not the only option. There are also third party training suppliers, such as one-to-one training provided by integrators.
As it is the start of the year, some providers have just released their training schedules for 2017. Now is a good time to plan your training for the rest of the year.
Online Robotics Communities
Learning robotics is a collaborative process. Every new application presents challenges which are easier to solve when there are other roboticists available to help you out. The DoF Robotics Community, which we launched earlier this year, is going from strength to strength. It is the perfect place to develop your robotics knowledge, get feedback on your applications and help out with the questions of others.
Keep an eye out for more training related blog posts coming up soon on the Robotiq blog.
What do you want to learn about robotics this year? How have you learned about robotics in the past? What training sources would you recommend? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or the DoF professional robotics community.