If there is one thing that we can be sure of in the 21st century, it is that robots will be with us. At the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering at the University of Essex, they like to use the term cobotics–the collaborative working of humans and computers. The University has recently launched a new programme ‘BEng Mechatronic systems’ where students will learn to design, build and test robotic systems. “Students pursuing the programme can opt for careers where they might help create anything from self-driving cars to collaborative robots or ‘co-bots’ of the future which will work alongside humans in factories, homes, farms, and extreme environments,” says Anthony Vickers, head of the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex.
The course is a combination of electronics, mechanics and software development which is what Mechatronics is about. “One will gain knowledge of engineering processes, product design, as well as the use of digital electronics and computer-aided (CAD) software. This will enable the students to create their own mechatronic systems, developing them from imagination through to reality,” Vickers says.
“Many of our undergraduate students having studied courses such as BSc Computer Science, BEng Electronic Engineering and BEng Robotic Engineering, have gone on to higher degrees and are now playing their own role in the exciting field of cobotics. Based on student request and feedback, Essex added BEng Mechatronic Systems to align with new research areas within the School, and to provide completeness to the work in cobotics,” Vickers adds.
Careers in the field
Though an emerging growth area of employment, a student of Mechatronics can work in industries such as aerospace, automotive, banking, manufacturing, energy and power production, to name a few, all of which are reliant on the latest mechatronic developments. ”Since robots are going to be integrated into virtually every industry in increasing numbers, so this course connects directly to the needs of industry and the future challenges. We see companies wanting to work with us on projects directly related to the content of this course from strawberry-picking robots to the integration of artificial intelligence,” says Vickers. The degree course with its mix of compulsory and optional modules, normally lasts three years, but there are four-year degrees available if students are interested in studying abroad or work placement options.
“We are seeing areas of engineering now becoming more and more specialised. This means it is starting to get more difficult to secure a job in different sectors without specialist knowledge which would give students a head start in their careers. With many businesses looking for students with advanced engineering and design skills, mechatronics will help them develop intelligent systems to provide real-world solutions.