The rise of robotics, and what it means for engineers

RioTinto
Image: Shutterstock

Artificial intelligence (AI), automation and robotics are revolutionising the way we work. Pretty much every industry is being affected, from healthcare to transport, retail to construction, and defence to resources. And at the controls of the automation revolution are engineers.

Bright future for engineers

A report commissioned by Google called The Automation Advantage says by 2030, machines are likely to take over at least two hours of the most repetitive manual jobs we currently do each week. This will give us more time to do higher-value tasks – but it will also mean the loss of some, more menial jobs.

It’s not that machines will replace us, but rather people who use machines will replace those who don’t. Which makes the future bright for engineers.

The Australian Centre for Robotic Vision has produced Australia’s first Robotics Roadmap, which says the Australian robotics industry includes more than 1100 companies employing almost 50,000 people and earning an estimated $12 billion a year.

The centre was set up by Dr Sue Keay, who is now the research director of CSIRO’s Data61 Cyber Physical Systems program. Data61 partners with government, industry and universities to advance AI technologies.

Tomorrow’s engineers

“We look for software engineers, computer scientists, mechatronic engineers (with both mechanical and electrical skills) and those with aerospace experience,” says Sue. “Increasingly we also need people with materials and design engineering backgrounds because we need to understand what materials we should use to build our robots.”

Meet the evolutionary engineer

Part of the job Sue and her team do involves working out how to continuously improve robots, making them better, stronger and more productive.

“Humans evolved over millions of years, improving slowly, but with robots we can use machine-learning algorithms to massively speed up the mechanical evolution process,” she says.

“We can improve how we design and build them to make them even better at, for example, walking on sand. You can’t really do that without engineers who can apply machine learning. You could call them evolutionary engineers,” says Sue.

Australia builds world’s biggest robot

UK-based global mining giant Rio Tinto has automated its iron ore trains in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. These trains operate from 16 mines and travel to four ports on the WA coast, where the ore is loaded onto ships for export.

Credit: Copyright RioTinto.

The trains are remotely controlled from an operations centre 1500km away in Perth. This project (called AutoHaul) is the world’s biggest robot and the world’s first fully autonomous, heavy-haulage, long-distance rail system.

Matthew Brace

Eng+AI+robotics study paths

Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) (Mechatronic), University of Sydney

Bachelor of Computer Science (Major in Machine Learning), University of Queensland

Bachelor of Software Engineering (Artificial Intelligence), Torrens University 

Eng+AI+robotics jobs

Robotics engineer: $47K–$110K

Automation engineer: $55K–$102K

Software engineer: $60K–$124K

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Engineering 2019.

CwS Engineering

STEM Contributor

Author: STEM Contributor

This article was written by a STEM Contributor for Careers with STEM. To learn more, please visit our contact page.

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