Robotics is the field of electronics engineering that revolve around the design, constructions, operation and maintenance of robots. Robots are autonomous machines capable of locomotion that perform specific tasks and functions according to their programming.
In engineering school, some students can study this field. For starters, they will know that building their robots require three basic building blocks.
Robots are machines that are autonomous (not intelligent, mind you), which means you can leave them to perform their functions without assuming direct control. The machines can do this because of programmed computers set in their machinery.
This is where the computer science factors in. To give your computer the brain with which to write their instructions, functions and parameters, you need microcontroller units (MCUs) – technically small computers that can accept input, dish out output, and process and store data.
With the microcontroller being the brain of your robot, its electronic circuitry represents their other ‘organs’. This is where electronics and electrical engineering comes in. These electronics are the instrument of the microcontroller for accepting input, dishing output, and executing commands. The electronics can be anything from sensors (input), motors (locomotion), relays and actuators (output).
Aside from these electronics, robots also incorporate the most basic of electrical accessories in their design such as fuses to protect the circuits, cable tie mounts to keep wiring sorted, and rubber insulators to prevent shorting.
Mechanical Parts and Salvage
Robots are not all computers and circuits. They also have moving parts. This is where mechanical engineering comes in. In the design of robots, students also use mechanical parts such as metal bars, gears, pulleys and the like.
For example, to design a robotic arm that lifts more than a few dozen pounds, but only have an electric motor with a torque of less than six, you must devise a mechanical solution to multiply the base torque of the motor (cue pulleys and the right gear ratio). On the other hand, for a robot with a swivelling turret, a simple motor would not do. You would have to utilise bearings and couplings in process – things that you would normally associate with mechanics.
Salvage materials also comes in, because not everyone has money to get made-to-order aluminium or whatnot. Salvage is more common in small-scale hobby projects.
This is what makes robotics an exciting and challenging field as it melds computer, electronics and mechanical engineering. So start up your design and invent something cool.