Really! Humanoid robotics is no longer the stuff of sci-fi fantasy and high school competitions. James J. Kuffner Jr., an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute in Pittsburgh—America's largest robotics research facility—believes the U.S. is less than two decades away from welcoming humanoid robots into their homes. They would resemble the Roomba—that little round vacuum that skims through your house sucking dust—only bigger, better and looking a lot more like you and me.

Robot Central, an online research and analysis service covering the robot economy, says the global robot marketplace is predicted to grow from $10 billion in 2007 to more than $50 billion in 2012. Companies around the world are seizing that potential. Their creations are becoming faster, smarter and more life-like. While the U.S. excels at information technology, Asia has emerged as the hardware leader. Take, for instance, Toyota, which in December 2007 unveiled its violin-playing personal transport robots. YouTube watchers may have caught a recent creepy video posting of Simroid, a dental training robot with an alabaster complexion, head and body motion and, well, sensitive teeth. Simroid is the latest product of Japan's Kokoro Company.

And then, of course, there's Honda's ASIMO, affectionately known as the world's most advanced humanoid robot. In December, Honda Motor Co. announced new intelligence technologies that enable ASIMO to identify oncoming people through its eye camera, calculate traveling direction and speed, predict movements and choose the most appropriate path. The good news: Now the thing won't run us over.

All kinds of great opportunities exist for careers in computer science and robotics. Robotics is the science and technology of robots, their design, manufacture and application. Robotics requires a working knowledge of electronics software and mechanics. All robots share the features of electronic sensors, and a movable structure under some form of autonomous electronics, computer and software control. Organizations like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are looking for hands-on problem solvers to work on future aerospace projects and research. Why wait? Lots of high school students participate in robotics competitions like the FIRST LEGO Leagues’ LEGO-based Sumo Challenge, where two LEGO robots face off on a small game board. The last one to touch the outer line wins.

Maybe you want to take your love of robotics one mechanical step further. High School freshmen, sophomores and juniors in New Jersey are invited to apply for an intensive one-week or two-week summer Robotics Camp offered by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at The College of New Jersey in Ewing. This year’s session will be held July 11-23 on the TCNJ campus. Students will be introduced through a residential college academic experience to the field of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and will learn about microcontroller programming, sensing systems, digital electronics, computer vision, virtual simulations and more. Check out the Resource Corner below for a link to more details. The deadline for camp applications is May 15, 2010.