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The Role of Systems & Control Engineers in Robotics and Automation

The Role of Systems & Control Engineers in Robotics and Automation

man working on robotic arm for manufacturing

We rely on complex systems for almost every aspect of our daily lives. Smart grid systems deliver electricity to our homes and satellite communication networks transmit information worldwide. Intricate computer and mechanical systems also support agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing and numerous other industries.

Systems & control engineers have the problem-solving expertise to develop and improve these critical infrastructures and technologies. They use theoretical knowledge and technical skills to coordinate and integrate components into unified systems.1 This article explores how systems & control engineers drive innovations in robotics and automation across industries.

Core Concepts in Systems & Control Engineering

Systems & control engineers use feedback loops while designing and developing projects. This process involves monitoring a dynamic system’s inputs and outputs to refine performance.2 For instance, say that a systems engineer is developing an automatic cruise control system. The engineer can program the system to detect deviations in speed using sensors and then throttle the engine or apply the brakes automatically to maintain the desired speed.

Professionals in this area also use control theory to create intelligent robots. Control theory uses mathematical formulas to analyze, predict and control the behavior of robotic systems.3

Programming and Operating of Robotic Systems

Systems engineers use mechanical solutions and software during the programming and operating of robotic systems. These technologies enable them to implement precision control mechanisms that guide robotic movements.3

Mechanical components often involve switches, sensors and actuators. These mechanisms allow robotic systems to move smoothly and efficiently and adjust to environmental stimuli. Associated software uses algorithms and mathematical formulas to analyze data and control the robot’s actions.3

Developing Robotic Automation Systems

Sophisticated automation systems allow robots to perform many human actions without human intervention. Systems & control engineers develop algorithms that process information and use it to make decisions. They also use sensors to give robots navigational autonomy. When equipped with the right technology, for example, a mobile robot can detect obstacles in its path with sensors and plan a route around them. This function lets robots operate safely and efficiently in changing environments.4

Industrial Automation and Manufacturing Processes

The manufacturing industry relies on systems & control engineers to improve production accuracy and efficiency. Many manufacturers use robotic process automation to perform routine tasks, such as unloading trucks, handling materials and packaging products. Additionally, robotic arms can execute production line tasks that require precise movements, such as assembling tiny components.5

Machine Learning and Adaptive Control

Adaptive control enables systems to adjust their behavior automatically in response to environmental changes. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning improve the adaptive capabilities of systems by allowing them to learn from data. To wit: Researchers at Flinders University created an unmanned underwater vehicle that uses AI and sensor controls to navigate uncertain ocean environments.6

Collaborative Robotics

Manufacturers of all sizes increasingly implement collaborative robotics (“cobots”). These systems enhance efficiency by allowing humans and robots to work together to complete tasks. Cobots can also increase workplace safety by performing operations that may be risky for humans.7

Businesses in many industries have successfully deployed cobots in their processes. For example, the sheet metal manufacturer Raymath uses cobot welders to replicate human actions and operate difficult-to-staff workflows. Additionally, hospitals and schools use the AI-powered vacuuming cobot Whiz to help humans clean large spaces at desired performance levels.8

Healthcare and Medical Robotics

Robotic systems streamline healthcare workflows and improve patient outcomes. For instance, surgical robots enable clinicians to operate on patients remotely, increasing access to specialized procedures. Many healthcare organizations also use robots to automate aspects of patient care, such as delivering prescription medication to hospital rooms and supporting rehabilitation therapies.9

Automation in Agriculture

Recent advancements in automation systems have revolutionized the agricultural industry. These new technologies can perform many farming processes more efficiently and accurately than humans.10

Precision spraying systems, for instance, use sensors to detect spaces in rows of plants and automatically stop spraying, reducing waste. Additionally, automated harvesting systems can gather ripe crops more efficiently than humans can. These innovations can help farmers adapt to challenges such as workforce shortages and climate change.10

Integrating Artificial Intelligence in Robotics

Systems engineers increasingly integrate AI in robotic systems to improve decision-making and robot cognition. These AI-powered robots have more autonomy to interact with humans and their environment. Like humans, they learn from experience and refine their capabilities over time. Intelligent robots, for example, can assist retail customers and improve the quality of their interactions over time.11

Ethical and Safety Considerations

Robotics and automation offer many benefits but also pose many ethical and safety risks. Industrial robots can cause injury to employees. The Texas Department of Insurance recommends implementing safety measures to prevent these accidents, such as installing floor sensors or light curtains that turn off robotics systems when an employee gets too close.12

Robotic systems can also raise privacy and security concerns. In 2023, critics denounced the New York Police Department’s use of mobile robots to identify and record citizens in subway stations as invasive and racially biased.13 Systems engineers can address these concerns by minimizing bias and prioritizing data privacy.

Future Trends in the Design and Development of Control Systems

Robotics applications are constantly changing and evolving. Systems engineers will likely integrate Internet of Things devices and cloud servers into the design and development of control systems. These smart technologies allow systems to communicate in real time with secure networks of devices.14 Additionally, advancements in AI-based image recognition will enable robots to respond to their surroundings more effectively.15

Industry Demand and Career Opportunities

The demand for systems & control engineers will likely grow as more companies embrace robotics and automation. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the employment of industrial engineers—a category that includes systems & control engineers—will increase by 12% between 2022 and 2032.16

Drive Innovation in Robotics and Engineering

Become a leader in the rapidly evolving field of systems & control engineering. Gain a working knowledge of the latest concepts and technologies in the online Master of Science in Systems & Control Engineering program at Case Western Reserve University. Our prestigious faculty teaches multidisciplinary courses on biological robotics, energy systems, data mining and other topics. This flexible online master’s program allows you to tailor your educational journey to your professional goals while keeping your current job.

Learn the expertise and soft skills needed for the career path you want. Schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor to learn how to start.

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