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When explaining to someone what mechatronics is, I ususally end up stating that it is synonymous with robotics. While I think it is mostly true, are there any subtle differences between the two?

The obligatory google search suggested that robotics is a subset of mechatronics involving autonomy. I'm not sure I completely agree. Is there any qualifier that would for sure separate a system into one or the other? Or is it just a different label?

I've also noticed some schools will have a robotics undergraduate degree but mechatronics graduate degree. Does this make any difference?

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Mechatronics is a reaction to the fact that one can not design good next gen products without knowing both the electronical and mechanical realms. Having kickass electronics can not overcome a bad mechanical design. Conversely a badly done electrical system can not control the mechanical part so that you gain benefits over traditional mechanical engineering. This is not to say you can not have specialists, but the overal design needs people with a broader view.

There are two or possibly three schools of mechatronics engineers. Some are electrical engineers, and some are mechanical enginers or possibly control enginers. So the fact that somebody is a mechatronics engineer tells quite little of what their education entails.

Now robotics is quite clearly a subfield of mechatronics because mechatronics includes all kinds of things that arent entirely robotic in nature. Things like active vibration damping, electroactuated hydraulics, and many industrial automation things fall into this category.

So Robotics is just more specific moniker. Its still not very specific but more specific.

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I don't think that they are fundamentally that different. Possibly mechatronics would lean more towards industrial automation in a process and manufacturing type context whereas robotics implies more of an experimental and product design type approach ie robotics is product and mechatronics is plant.

Similarly robotics tends to imply a more self contained and packaged system and also has some implication that its function is analogous in some way to the form of a human of animal, perhaps also including autonomous or remotely controlled vehicles.

In the context of an undergraduate degree the basic syllabus is likely to be fairly similar although you might expect a small difference in the focus on application and the background of the academic staff.

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According to the course "The Mechatronics Revolution: Fundamentals and Core Concepts" from Georgia Tech:

Robotics is a large multidisciplinary field including topics such as

  • Computer Vision

  • Path Planning

  • Mechanical Design

  • Controls

  • Dynamics

  • Human Robot Interface

  • Mechatronics

Mechatronics could be viewed as a component of robotics, an integral part of the overall field of robotics that deals with hardware-software integration. The implementation of robotics systems can't really be accomplished without some type of mechatronics components. [...]

While robots rely on mechatronic devices in some form to operate, it's important to also understand that not all mechatronic devices are robots. So even though robot robotic systems require mechatronics, not all mechatronic devices would be considered a robot.

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