Robotics autonomy in industry – Is it just the same thing over and over?

TLDR: What do experienced [software focused] roboticists spend most of their time on? Is it all about integration, optimization, and calibration, or is there something else? Do you develop new “features”? If so, what do these features look like? What would you say to someone discouraged about a field where it seems everyone is solving the same problems over and over?

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I’m looking for the opinions of some experienced roboticists, especially those doing active research or work in industry, and especially thoughts from those working on the software side of robotics. I have recently transitioned from a journeyman software engineering role into more of a robotics software role in my daily work (graduate level internship).

I am becoming disillusioned with the actual work of robotics after holding it up as my goal for a while (at least 6 years now). I’m not sure if this is a side-effect of having to work from home or from the work I actually do. With more serious industry level projects, I’m left wondering: is that it? Is the software/autonomy side really only about integrating different pieces of the Sense-Plan-Act pipeline while calibrating/configuring the system to the specifics of your robot? Is there variety to the actual software outside of research? If not, I am considering either attempting my own startup or going back into software (where I get to work on unique and varied problems with a team focused on quality instead of research paper deadlines) and keeping robotics as a hobby.

I still enjoy robotics where I am part of a small team that can have full control of the mechanics, electronics, software, and move quite quickly, so maybe what I am missing is the right kind of environment. So far I have found this kind of environment with robotics competition teams, in makerspaces, and [from what I can tell] in robotics startups. Does this kind of environment exist elsewhere? It doesn’t seem like it exists in most medium-large size robotics companies.

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