Animatronic Engineer Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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An animatronics engineer might earn an annual median wage of about $94,000. Read about the pros and cons of becoming an animatronics engineer to see if this career is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Animatronics Engineering

Animatronic engineers create robotic devices that are designed to take on the characteristics of animals or imaginary creatures, most often used in the film and amusement park industries. Read on for more pros and cons surrounding this profession.

Pros of an Animatronics or Robotics Engineering Career
High earnings potential (median wages around $94,000 in 2014)*
Minimum educational requirements for entry-level positions (Bachelor of Science often sufficient)*
Allows for creativity*
Opportunity to be on the forefront of emerging robotics technology**

Cons of an Animatronics or Robotics Engineering Career
Low projected job growth (3%-7% between 2012 and 2022)*
Animatronics engineering degree programs don't exist on their own****
Advancement in robotics engineering field might require a graduate degree*****
Potential for long work hours (mechanical engineers often work more than 60 hours per week)**

Sources: *O*Net OnLine, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ***National Robotics Engineering Center, ****National Center for Education Statistics, *****The Princeton Review.

Career Information

Job Descriptions and Duties

Animatronics engineers combine elements of puppetry with robotics, mechanical, electronic, structural and surface engineering in order to create mechanical devices that can be programmed to move and even speak. These engineers work in team environments, coordinating their efforts with others. As an animatronics engineer, you might work with professional artists and sculptors, other engineers, metal workers or even costume designers. You'll need to be able to communicate with team members who understand technical terms as well as those who don't. As a robotics engineer, you'll also need advanced computer skills to be able to work with programmers. To enter this field, you should have strong math and science skills and be good at troubleshooting and problem solving.


Education, Training and Licensing

Entry-level robotics engineering positions generally require a Bachelor of Science (BS) in electrical, computer or mechanical engineering. Engineering degree programs typically allow students to gain hands-on experience, and many schools require or encourage students to participate in co-op and internship programs.

After the first two years of college, prospective engineers can usually qualify for a Fundamentals in Engineering (FE) license, which will allow them to work on an apprentice level while gaining experience needed for a Professional Engineer (PE) license. A PE license may not be specifically required for an animatronics position, but it will be required for many professional positions.

What Do Employers Seek?

Although animatronics engineer positions aren't prevalent, relevant information can be located through job offers in robotics. Most companies seeking robotics engineers are looking for candidates with a bachelor's degree and an understanding of computer technology. The following are highlights from three job postings found online in May 2012.

  • A Connecticut technologies firm was looking for an experienced robot programmer with a background in robotics and mechatronics. Extensive knowledge of coding software and languages was required.
  • In Pennsylvania, a robotics engineer was needed to work with 3D capabilities for autonomous vehicles. This position required a bachelor's degree in software, computer or robotics engineering and willingness to work with sponsors from public and private sectors.
  • A robotics engineer was sought in Massachusetts to help develop robotic medical devices. A bachelor's degree in mechanical, electrical or industrial engineering was required, along with additional education in software or computer engineering.

How to Stand Out

Tailor Your Education

If you choose to approach the field of robotics without going directly through a robotics program in school, you'll need to make sure your education includes a solid workload of programming and mechanical engineering courses. Also, through researching specific job requirements, you can find out which job areas are in demand and find courses that cover things like RADAR and LIDAR sensing. Matlab and PDDL languages may be essential to some jobs, while knowledge of ProE design software may be preferred for others.

Get Experience Early

You don't have to wait for college to get experience in robotics. The Robotics Institute has developed a variety of programs that allow people to learn about robotics through K-12 summer camps and gifted student programs. While you're in college, you can find internships that will allow you to work with experienced robotics professionals, and some schools will allow you to earn college credit for your work. Positions can be found in both full- and part-time formats.

Alternative Career Options

Software Developer

If you're more interested in programming than engineering, you might consider a career as a software developer. These professionals create the programs that run animatronics devices. Most of these engineers could find entry-level positions with a bachelor's degree. The BLS predicted that software developers could see an increase of about 30% in job openings through the 2010-2020 decade. The BLS also noted that, as of May 2011, software developers who worked with systems software earned an annual mean wage of over $100,000.

Mechanical Engineer

Because robotics is such a highly focused area, you might find that becoming a mechanical engineer offers a broader range of opportunity. Again, this career only requires a bachelor's degree and a PE license to gain entry-level employment, and it's considered the most widely applicable engineering discipline. The BLS predicted a mere nine percent increase in employment opportunities for mechanical engineers between 2010 and 2020, and as of May 2010, the average mean wage for the profession was just under $84,000.

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