When most of us think about robots, we automatically picture C3PO, Optimus Prime, the Terminator and a host of other humanoid movie robots that have entertained us over the years. In reality, though, today’s working robots are less about forging human similarities and more about performing very specific tasks in industries like manufacturing, engineering and healthcare.
While robots from the movies entertain and showcase the bounds of human achievement, the robots of today are designed to perform and function alongside humans to maximize productivity, efficiency and safety.
For Canadians interested in robotics, Ontario is home to some of the country’s largest and most successful robotics programs. One robotics program earning a lot of attention lately is the University of Toronto’s Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics.
Despite only being in existence for the past six years, the institute already boasts large student and alumni bodies, as well as a faculty that includes members from disciplines in industrial and aerospace engineering, biomedical engineering and the computer sciences.
“Robotics innovation and research has become a significant drawing card for students at universities and colleges,” mentions Goldie Nejat, director of the institute.
As robotics becomes more advanced, it’s also reshaping a host of other industries, including healthcare, automotive manufacturing, food processing, aerospace, and information and communications technology.
“We have a very strong history of being a research intensive facility,” continues Nejat. “Students coming here have the opportunity to do interdisciplinary research and work on real world problems in emerging areas. For example, socially assistive robotics is a very new field.”
Meanwhile, at Toronto’s Centennial College, students study more of the practical side of robotics, as opposed to theory. Centennial College designed their industrial robotics program in part to help college students meet growing industry demands. The school’s curriculum includes an automation and robotics fast-track program tailored for engineering and science university graduates.
“At university, these graduates may learn a lot of math, physics and theory, what we offer is the practical aspect of engineering,” says Tito Khandaker, professor and program coordinator at Centennial College. “Students get to work in real-life applications, not just with ideas on paper. It’s an approach that has become very valuable and useful for employers.”
Thanks to the specialized training offered in Ontario, robotics grads in the province, and indeed throughout North America, are in high demand. They are even being hired in sectors not traditionally associated with robotics, such as oem contract manufacturing and the solar energy industry. To state it plainly, the future has never been so bright for robotics grads as it is today.
A range of healthcare industries, for example, are increasingly finding a need for graduates with an education in robotics. Last year when the Humber River Hospital reopened its doors, doctors, nurses and maintenance staff were not the only employees at the state-of-the-art facility. With Humber River Hospital being the first fully-digital hospital in North America, boasting digital beds, autonomous delivery robots and surgical robots, the hospital hired an entire robotics team to oversee its advanced tech features.
When it comes to manufacturing today’s medicines, meanwhile, robotics are playing an undeniable role, with pharmaceutical companies introducing new robotic technologies into their manufacturing process and actively looking for graduates to manage these new technologies.
Apotex, for example, one of Canada’s largest generic drug makers, has made a concerted effort in recent years to outreach to the next generation of scientists and engineers by participating in community events like last year’s Manufacturing Day in Brantford, Ontario or awarding scholarships at its annual Innovation Day.
Despite most industries being in the early adoption phase when it comes to robotics, the future certainly is bright. As robotic technology becomes more advanced and pervasive, needless to say, knowledge workers in the field will be in high demand. In fact, it’s estimated that the robotics industry will create 500,000 new jobs around the world by 2020. Those are strong employment projections that many other industries would be very happy to have.