Preparing IT to Work With Robots

In many science fiction stories like The Matrix, mankind gets in trouble because robots take a dominant role in society. However, the real challenge may come from the devices doing as they were designed: taking a subservient role in seemingly menial labor, like folding t-shirts in a retail store, as the video below shows.

Like it or not, robots are arriving everywhere, whether to fold shirts or to assemble consumer electronics. This will have a big impact on people with an information technology degree. Not only will they have to understand networking, servers, and software, but they will likely get pulled into the world of robotics.

Those in the IT departments of manufacturers will probably understand the concept. In factories, equipment is often run by devices called industrial controllers that, in turn, are connected to computers that oversee the work. Frankly, many of these devices already are specialized forms of robots. Working alongside robots means that IT personnel will need to pay special attention to some areas of technology that may be new to them or different enough that it calls for additional learning or attention:

  • Specialized hardware — A robot may seem exotic enough, but far less impressive-looking types of hardware will require as much attention, if not more. Mechanical devices called industrial controllers are commonplace on factory floors. No reason why they wouldn’t be used in other areas of a business. They are programmable devices that can direct the operation of equipment. Robots, particularly devices that could do multiple jobs, depending on programming, will likely need some similar sort of device that will enable centralized control.
  • Networks — Industrial machinery, including robots, need to be tied to a network. Otherwise, programming and maintenance would require personnel to physically move from one device to another, decreasing efficiency. However, the networks used for complex equipment are typically structured differently from data networks. They are often slower and almost always separate. They may be wired or wireless. Whatever the structure, someone, and that probably means IT, will have to install, maintain, and integrate the network with other systems.
  • Software — A robot, like industrial machinery, needs custom programming. They must be directed how and where to move in an existing space, what actions to perform, and how to know when additional actions are needed. This isn’t done with off-the-shelf applications, but with specialty programming languages.

The robots are coming, there is no doubt. The only question is whether you, and your career, will be ready to handle them.

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