As we wrap up our celebration of National Engineers Week, we look toward the future, exploring some of the most promising advances in the field. Earlier this week we focused on Virtual Reality and its benefits in a wide range of applications. Today we highlight four more exciting technologies that present rewarding career opportunities for the next generation of engineers.
One of the most fascinating challenges for today's bioengineers is to build living machines. With greater mobility and sensory capabilities, these "bio-bots" are superior to traditional robots.
In research at Harvard University, bioengineers focus on the role that sensing and mechanical design plays in motor control. Integrating advances in biomechanics, systems analysis, and neurophysiology, Harvard's bio-bot research represents promising advances in biomedical instrumentation, tele-operated robots, and intelligent sensors.
At the University of Illinois, engineers have developed tiny bio-bots that can walk and swim. "As engineers, we usually build with materials like wood, steel or silicon," said Rashid Bashir, the head of the university's Bioengineering Department. "Our focus here is to forward-engineer biological or cell-based systems." Bashir's colleague Taher Saif adds: "These machines are now viewed as partially living, with… the ability to heal if there's an injury. Now that we've got them working, we are trying to understand how the cells organize themselves and what language they use to communicate."
For more on this fascinating field, check out the Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society website.
If anything could trump a machine that swims, it might be a drone—a machine that flies. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers offers five new applications from "the extreme edge of the drone zone:"
- Delivery service – Why ask humans to sit in traffic, with their car engines spewing emissions, if a drone can deliver goods more safely and cost-effectively? Domino's Pizza is investing heavily in drone research, testing devices such as the DomiCopter, the Domi-No-Driver, and the Domino’s Robotic Unit (DRU).
- Firefighting – Engineers in South Korea are developing firefighting drones that can withstand extreme temperatures, scale buildings, see in the dark, and find people in need of rescue.
- Mini-Blimps – For companies hoping to take their branding efforts to Goodyear Blimp heights—but on a more manageable scale—innovators at Aerotain bring us Skye, a 10-foot helium-filled sphere-shaped drone that can perform attention-grabbing aerial stunts.
- Interstellar Exploration – World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking, and Russian Internet investor Yuri Milner are collaborating to develop StarChip—a light-propelled nanoprobe, theoretically capable of making the 25 trillion-mile trip to Alpha Centauri in about 20 years. Read more on the Breakthrough Initiatives program website.
- Safer Wars? – Of course, military applications first made the word “drone” a household term. Recently, the Russians have introduced a nimble multi-copter armed with anti-tank rockets. Check out this drone in action on YouTube.
Petroleum, chemical, and other oil-and-gas-related engineering disciplines have been hot fields for many years. Considering the world’s burgeoning demand for energy, this field’s growth spurt is not likely to end soon. An article in Renewable Energy World shares a few trends to watch:
- Solar energy – especially in India, which has allocated $3 billion to develop the country’s solar panel manufacturing infrastructure, hoping to boost solar capacity to 100 GW by 2022, if not sooner. Energy industry innovator Dexmatech adds that “2016 will be remembered as the year when solar became the cheapest energy source – beating out coal in many parts of the world and renewing hopes for a decarbonized future.”
- Offshore wind power – New advances in this field are predicted for 2017, due to collaboration between offshore wind and offshore oil and gas developers.
- Energy Storage – Once we generate energy, where do we store it? Experts say that in 2017, many countries will be examining their energy market structures and adjusting policies to meet the needs of energy storage, as “Storage-as-a-Service” scales dramatically upward.
The relatively new field of “green engineering” goes hand-in-hand with renewable energy engineering, as many of today’s brightest minds focus on ways to nurture our planet. The Polaris Engineering website provides examples of green engineering, ranging from biodegradable Starbucks cups to NASCAR stadiums, now retrofitted for energy-efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Designing or re-engineering facilities for energy efficiency is a major trend, especially with regard to heating and cooling. Many industrial facilities now use a combined heat and power system that captures waste heat and redirects it into the building.
Green Conduct describes how civil engineers are joining the green movement, designing homes that utilize less power and water. Civil engineers are also making great strides in the field of recycling, using green concrete recyclers, for example, at construction sites. Similarly, the Asphalt Research Consortium is spending $5,000,000 on a new project designed to make asphalt more green and sustainable.
We hope you’ve enjoyed Envision’s series of Engineers Week blogs. The future is bright for today’s aspiring engineers, with an exhilarating range of intriguing fields and technology beckoning – opening the doors for technological advances that can benefit our planet and the human race. If you’re a student ready to take technology innovation into your own hands, check out Envision’s Engineering, Technology and STEM programs. You could be building your own robots this summer!
STEM Camp for Elementary School Students -- Pathways to STEM
STEM Camp for Middle School Students -- NYLF Explore STEM
Career Engineering Camp for High School Students -- NYLF Engineering & Technology