Engineering hope

Patch broken or damaged nerves and re-establish the brain-muscle-sensory control loop. Detect cancer as it forms. Create a robotic exoskeleton that helps a paraplegic walk. Create a computer with human thought capabilities. Wipe out illiteracy. Predict the future. Wirelessly power and share resources among electronic devices, including artificial hearts. Are you sharing engineering inspiration? Post your comments.

04/01/2009


Patch broken or damaged nerves and re-establish the brain-muscle-sensory control loop. Detect cancer as it forms. Create a robotic exoskeleton that helps a paraplegic walk. Create a computer with human thought capabilities. Wipe out illiteracy. Predict the future. Wirelessly power and share resources among electronic devices, including artificial hearts.

Which of these will inspire young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)? For its 125th anniversary year, IEEE assembled a panel of experts covering seven emerging technologies in biomedical engineering, biometrics, computing, robotics, telecommunications, and wireless power. Applied to manufacturing, such advances could result in automatic guided vehicles that never stop to charge, more nimble and autonomous robotics, sensor arrays that communicate and receive power wirelessly, smarter trending for better pattern recognition, and more advanced predictive controls.

And yet, because young people may think other pursuits are more lucrative or fulfilling, they may not have realized the excitement, fulfillment, innovation, and other rewards to be found inside engineering and other STEM-related careers. Having more engineers retire than young people who choose engineering creates a skills gap that could slow, halt, or reverse the quality of life in the U.S. and beyond.

Among IEEE presenters, Miguel Nicolelis, co-director, Center for Neuroengineering, Duke University Medical Center, spoke in favor of funding for major scientific projects. Such projects go beyond immediate advancements and benefits to encourage and uplift young people about the excitement of engineering.

"After I saw an American going to the moon , I believed science could do anything," Nicolelis says. By the likes of what was discussed by the panelists, it seems science still can do anything, hopefully for good: predicting the future, creating smarter-than-human computers, strapping on robotic exoskeletons, and enabling fully wireless electronic networks to self-configure.

While any technology can be used for good or evil , I prefer many of the Star Trek views of the future as opposed to a Terminator future . Misapplied applications of technologies could determine our type of death, rather than quality of life. Engineering can cure destructive problems with benevolent technological solutions. Let's encourage that.

MHoske@cfemedia.com


ONLINE extra

- 7 human-technology emerging technologies, photos, graphics

- TalkBack: Please answer the following questions using the posting and comment tool below. How would you apply these technologies? Are you sharing engineering inspiration?

- Skills gap: Math scores improve, children retain engineering misconceptions

- Swarm robotics: Debugged naturally for 120 million years

- AIMing for Automated Vehicles





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