What Is Robotics?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Get a clear answer to the question, “What is robotics?” Then, learn more information about robots and robotics, including how you can turn robotics into a career.

[Featured Image] A robotics engineer works on a project at their desk with a laptop and a robot model.

Robotics blends engineering and technology to create intelligent machines called robots. Sometimes human-controlled and other times autonomous, robots can provide entertainment or perform tasks that people might find tedious, complex, or hazardous to health or safety. If you work in robotics, you may design, develop, operate, and maintain robots.

Who uses robotics?

You can find robotics used across many industries, from automatic to agriculture to health care. Those who might use some form of robotics include:

  • Aircraft inspectors

  • Astronauts

  • Automobile manufacturers

  • Disaster responders

  • Factory owners

  • Financial consultants

  • Pharmacists

  • Pipeline developers

  • Restaurant owners

  • Retailers 

  • Surgeons

What is robotics used for?

Robotics can assist with various essential functions for professionals and ordinary homeowners. The following are some common examples of uses for robots:

  • Auto accident response

  • Bricklaying

  • Crop planting, pollination, and harvesting

  • Emergency risk analysis

  • Hotel guest services

  • House cleaning

  • Military sentry duty

  • Mining ore transport

  • Oil drilling

  • Pizza delivery

  • Restaurant table service and floor cleaning

  • Specimen collection on other planets 

  • Surgical assistance

5 types of robots

Robotics engineers design and build robots to perform different functions. Explore five different types of robotics and their various designs.

1. Pre-programmed: These robots have a pre-programmed design. They function to perform specific tasks, and they only execute the functions within their programming, with no deviation. Examples of pre-programmed robots include a mechanical arm with a single task on an assembly line and a robot that performs a specific medical procedure.

2. Teleoperated: These robots often operate in conditions that humans cannot or those that might pose safety risks to people. They work through human-directed remote control. Some examples include robots that perform underwater tasks, such as repairing pipelines or submarines, and robots that search for and rescue humans following a disaster like an earthquake.

3. Autonomous: These robots operate independently of human supervision. Autonomous robots perceive the environment through built-in sensors and adapt accordingly. Examples of robots that work independently include delivery robots and devices for vacuuming floors.

4. Augmenting: These robots enhance or replace human functions. Augmenting robots have sensors that may respond to a human’s brain or other body parts like muscles. Examples of augmenting robots include prosthetic limbs that can help humans with injury or disease regain motor function and exoskeletons that augment physical abilities. 

5. Humanoid: These robots have a design that mimics humans, either in action or appearance. Humanoid robots help humans with personal assistance, education, entertainment, manufacturing, research, and search and rescue. Examples of humanoid robots include Atlas, designed by Boston Dynamics, and Sophia, designed by Hanson Robotics.

Benefits of robotics

As evidenced by the different types of robots in use today, the field of robotics offers a wide array of benefits to society as a whole. Standard benefits are:

  • Increased human safety when robots perform tasks in dangerous environments

  • Higher workplace productivity when robots handle difficult or repetitive tasks 

  • Greater accuracy at work when robots perform jobs susceptible to human error

  • Lower costs in the workplace when robots supplement human efforts with longer hours with no need for breaks, and increased accuracy without the element of human error

  • Reduced loneliness when robots provide personal assistance for people living alone

Drawbacks of robotics

According to a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, adding one robot for every 1,000 American workers reduces wages by .25 to .50 percent. It lowers the employment-to-population ratio by .18 to .34 percent [1]. More drawbacks of robotics include:

  • An inability for robots to think critically

  • An inability for robots to manage unexpected circumstances

  • Lack of empathy when robots perform tasks like customer service

  • Costs for new robot-related training in workplaces 

  • Security risks associated with robot hacking

Getting started in robotics

It may help to follow certain steps to start a career path in robotics. Consider earning a degree or other credentials, building your robotics skills, and exploring different robotics careers you can pursue. 

Robotics degrees

The degree you get for a career in robotics depends on the field you choose. For instance, a job as an electromechanical technician typically requires an associate degree in electromechanical technology, a computer programmer job often requires a bachelor’s degree in computer and information technology, and a robotics (mechanical) engineer job usually requires a bachelor’s or sometimes a master’s degree in electrical or mechanical engineering.

Courses, certifications, and licensing 

Extra courses, certificate programs, and certifications can help increase your knowledge of robotics and boost your market potential. If you decide to pursue a career as a robotics engineer, you’ll need to become licensed if you plan to supervise other robotics professionals. Licensing usually involves:

  • Getting an engineering degree from an ABET-accredited program

  • Four or more years of engineering-related professional experience

  • Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam

  • Passing the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

Robotics skills 

Robotics careers call for a wide range of skills. Common types of skills needed by professionals in this field are as follows:

  • Analytical skills

  • Attention to detail

  • Communication

  • Coding skills

  • Creativity

  • Dexterity

  • Math skills

  • Mechanical abilities

  • Problem-solving

  • Programming

  • Writing skills

Robotics careers

To get a feel for the type of work you’ll do and the salary you can earn in robotics, take a look at a few positions in the field.

Computer scientist

Median annual US salary: $136,620 [2]

Job outlook: Projected job growth of 23 percent from 2022 to 2032 [2]

Job description: Develops, tests, and improves computer software systems 

Sales engineer

Median annual US salary: $108,530 [3]

Job outlook: Projected job growth of 5 percent from 2022 to 2032 [3]

Job description: Demonstrates knowledge of complex technical products and sells them to businesses

Robotics (mechanical) engineer

Median annual US salary: $96,310 [4]

Job outlook: Projected job growth of 10 percent from 2022 to 2032 [4]

Job description: Designs, develops, and maintains robots

Next steps on Coursera

Consider taking the Machine Learning Specialization on Coursera to start building knowledge and skills for a robotics career. Developed by DeepLearning.AI and Stanford, this highly rated course provides a solid foundation in key machine learning concepts and explains how machine learning helps solve real-world problems. When you finish the course, you’ll know how to apply the concepts and skills you’ve learned and earn a shareable career certificate.

Article sources


National Bureau of Economic Research. “Robots and Jobs: Evidence from US Labor Markets, https://www.nber.org/papers/w23285.” Accessed March 4, 2024.

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