“The robots are coming, the robots are coming!”
Imagine a distant future where Bilbo Baggins from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is crying out on top of his voice as a flying robot army appears on the horizon to save humankind. Though the idea of robots as our saviours may seem ludicrous, Robotics technology can transform lives in large-scale manufacturing industries by raising efficiency and safety levels.
Edugraph speaks to Charles MacLeod, course director of Robotics and Autonomous Intelligence at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, the UK, on the scope of Robotics and the availability of international scholarships in that field.
Edugraph: Big industries are all moving towards automation to eliminate safety hazards. At this juncture, what’s the scope of Robotics in the next couple of years from now?
Charles MacLeod: The pandemic has affected industrial production in a variety of ways over the last two years. In this situation, the production line can be kept alive 24*7 by applying robots to perform all mundane and repetitive tasks.
When we talk of automated systems, there’s a massive scope in the research domain. We can collect data from various processes, using it for decision-making and autonomous performances. By bringing together our resources, we can use collaborative robotics to produce transformative changes.
How can one differentiate between Robotics and autonomous intelligence?
Charles MacLeod: Autonomous systems have a wide-reaching umbrella. Robotics is a discipline that’s just one piece of the autonomous systems jigsaw. Within the jigsaw there are sensors, signal processing, decision support, all warped together by artificial intelligence. For instance, if we were to look at an autonomous inspection system for validating the integrity of a power plant, the robot would be one of the components — it needs path planning and generation to know where exactly to go, Then you need sensors to localise because you don’t know where to go if you don’t know where you are. Next, you have to do signal processing and analyse data. Finally, you’ve to visualise the entire process and give decision support. So, the robot is just one component of automation. Software and sensors make the robotic systems intelligent.
Could you tell us about the course Autonomous Robotic Intelligent Systems offered by Strathclyde University?
Charles MacLeod: This one-year master’s course focuses on Robotics, Intelligence and Automation for industrial sectors. Its curriculum covers sensing, processing and decision support for these application areas.
Though the course revolves around industrial optimisation, it also touches upon consumer-type Robotics. We also focus on heavy engineering, manufacturing and product optimisation. We have strategic partnerships with the likes of KUKA Robotics, a leading supplier of industrial robots and systems. Through that we can access state-of-the-art hardware and equipment to focus on industrial challenges.
As part of this course, students study a variety of courses focused on the disciplines of Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science and Software. They also study Design, Manufacturing and Mechatronics applications through laboratory-based activities and classroom lectures.
What academic background is required for students wishing to study this course?
Charles MacLeod: We accept students who have a firm grip on basic engineering and science principles. They can come from various disciplines like Electronics Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Mechatronics, Design, Computer Science and Physics.
You need to be well-versed in software and control systems to extract data from various sources for performing autonomous decision-making in Robotics technology.- Charles MacLeod
Does the University of Strathclyde provide any scholarships for this course?
Charles MacLeod: Of course, we offer a lot of international scholarships to attract global talents to our institute. We’ve an extensive scholarship programme in place. It’s one of the largest in the UK for different types of degrees. However, everything depends on the applicant, the funding available at the time of application and some of the pre-requisites for the application.
What are the skills that a student should acquire to pursue a career in Robotics?
Charles MacLeod: Multidisciplinary engineering skills are very important for students interested in Robotics. It’s also important to possess practical skills to be able to implement ideas into reality. Apart from these, you need to be well-versed in software and control systems to extract data from various sources for performing autonomous decision-making.
Are there research facilities available for students at Strathclyde University in the pandemic situation?
Charles MacLeod: Though the pandemic has impacted the arrival of international students, things are moving back to normal. We see more and more students coming back to the campus every day. We have established a new sensor-enabled Robotics hub where students can carry out their research. At present, we have three Robotics facilities where students can work to learn the industry crafts and prepare dissertations.
What kind of career prospects are available for students after studying Robotics?
Charles MacLeod: Robotics students can work in a lot of sectors and application areas. For instance, some of our recent graduates have gone into the manufacturing sector, while others have focused on automotive applications, steel-work applications or the construction of similar renewable type infrastructure. Some others have been working on developing robots for pharmacology and pharmaceutical drug manufacture in the medical robotics sphere. The rest have gone into the service sector where Robotics technology is being used to ensure the integrity of structures and current assets.