Engineering never stands still. Since the earliest mechanical engineers started experimenting with winches and water-moving devices, the field has branched and blossomed in innumerable ways. The 21st century saw the dawning of the digital age: something that has had an absolutely vast impact on all engineering sectors. Today’s developments in machine deep learning and Artificial Intelligence have spawned a whole host of new engineering innovations.
Most engineers and engineering students like to keep tabs on the latest developments in their field, but it pays to keep an eye on engineering as a whole. This article takes a look at some of the latest news in engineering. From long-term controversy over the building of a giant dam on the Nile to the latest machine learning-driven nanoscopy developments, this is a quick rundown for engineers and non-engineers alike.
Online Training And Remote Work Blossom
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way people work and learn. Engineering has not escaped these changes. Everything has an online component: from the online Masters degree in Engineering Management to the remote daily tasks of a network engineer. Interestingly, this migration online has come with its own set of engineering problems and solutions. Engineers in training or taking part in remote work need specialist tools to complete their assigned tasks.
Although many engineering teams use general communication tools like Zoom for handling remote or hybrid work, many teams prefer to use specialist software. Tools like Zumvie are designed to help engineering managers to communicate with their teams. Cloud computing networks are essential for the provision of software tools to individuals working from home. The distribution of conventional specialist engineering software is immensely expensive. Cloud computing allows companies to distribute specialist software using remote servers. Licensing for software hosted in this way is much more affordable. Network engineers help companies adapt to remote working by creating secure systems of hardware and software.
Organizations are wrestling with the sheer intensity of the move towards a remote workforce. How can a remote team of engineers stack up against a team working in a lab or workshop? Engineers themselves can provide some of the answers, but the ultimate solution is likely to be more of an interpersonal reset: a more integrated relationship with machines.
Microscopes are essential tools in a broad range of scientific and engineering fields. Since the end of the 16th century, microscopes have enabled human beings to see beyond the macro and into the microscopic world. As science and engineering have advanced, the size of the materials inspected has sometimes reduced in the nanoscopic field. In order to set up a microscope for nanoscopic inspection, a human operator has to work with incredibly small and specific parameters. This is immensely time-consuming and can be very error-prone: a trained science worker is only human, after all.
Engineers have recently developed self-driving microscopes that are specifically intended to aim automatically at nanoscopic particles without the need for extensive and fallible human input. Microscopes equipped with deep learning software can use accumulated data to identify tiny articles of interest and hone in on them automatically. This does not remove the role of the human: it merely allows the human operator to spend more of their time actually analyzing the articles of interest that would have previously taken them a great deal of time to identify and aim for.
Deep machine learning microscopes can identify outliers in atomic level patterns. This may, in the future, allow for the quick diagnosis of complex issues. As an engineering solution, self-driving microscopes have the potential to provoke a great leap forward in biomedical science, neuroscience, and computing. As you will see later in this article, nanoscopic electromagnetism is being utilized in the creation of low to no power computer memory.
Engineering is never too far away from politics. For the last few years, one of the world’s most ambitious engineering projects has been at the center of a raging political storm. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is the largest hydroelectric structure in the entire African continent. It dams a stretch of the mighty river Nile flowing through Ethiopia. Its builders – and the Ethiopian government – claim that the dam will bring a new era of prosperity to the often drought-ridden country. It could, according to some, lift tens of millions of people out of poverty and provoke an industrial revolution in the country.
There is just one problem: the dam blocks the flow of crucial floodwaters into Egypt. For millennia, the people of Egypt have relied upon the swelling waters of the river Nile to irrigate their fields and provide drinking water. The Nile is enshrined in the national identity of the Egyptian people – even being deified by the Ancient denizens of that land. Any blocking of the river Nile could theoretically plunge Egyptian society into chaos. It would have to import a huge amount of water due to its dry climate. The Nile is also a crucial transportation link within the country – allowing goods to travel to inland ports in the African powerhouse nation. As you might expect, Egyptian politicians rallied against the building of the dam, which they argued would cripple agriculture in the nation so heavily as to drive people to starvation.
Engineering concerns were at the forefront of negotiations between the two conflicting nations. Egyptian negotiators wanted assurance that engineers could develop a system to allow an adequate amount of water to flow downstream even during times of drought. It is a sad fact that in a world of changing climates – conflict over water is becoming more of a reality.
4D Composite Printing
You will have heard of 3D printing by now. 4D printing, however, is a much more recent development in engineering that could have many extremely useful applications. 3D printing enables users to transform raw materials into full structures straight from Computer-Aided Design programs. They have already seen a great deal of use in the creation of everything from computer components to homes.
4D printing is a different matter – largely due to the materials used. 4D printing is carried out using composite materials – materials composed of several base materials. These materials are reactive. Environmental stimuli provoke changes in the behavior or physical form of the materials. This might seem like a rather useless development, but it is potentially incredibly useful. In the aerospace industry, reactive composite materials are used to create wing surfaces that react according to heat. In biomedical devices, 4D printed reactive composites can be used to react to create a material that changes attributes when exposed to things like blood sugar.
Indeed, biomedical engineering is the most important area of use for 4D printing. Tissue engineers have been experimenting with the printing of highly reactive composite tissues that mimic the reactive nature of organic human tissue. These composites could be used to create wound healing and organ repairing medical solutions.
Artificial Intelligence is rarely absent from the public eye. New outlets and casual science publications regularly report upon developments in the field, repeating hyperbolic claims about the technology and its applications. Few mainstream media outlets report on the complex issues surrounding the use of AI tech. AI technology can be extremely power-hungry, which poses a problem in our increasingly fuel-scarce world. Computing already takes up around 7 percent of the world’s electricity production, and this could increase with the increased adoption of AI. One recent engineering solution to this has been the development of nanomagnetic computing components.
In traditional computing, certain data is lost when a computer is shut down. This means that plenty of power is needed to perform computing functions using RAM – something that any computer running AI software needs in abundance. Nanomagnetic logic gates can retain binary information without needing any power whatsoever. They create tiny vortexes of magnetism that ‘encode’ data into tiny nickel wires. When the magnetic vortex spins across wiring clockwise, the binary number 1 is encoded. When the vortex influences the wire in an anticlockwise way, the binary number 0 is encoded. This is far more efficient than traditional RAM bootup.
The real challenge for engineers is now the application of this technology in real life. It makes sense that this technology will be used in Artificial Intelligence capable computers, but the economical manufacture and integration of this tech could prove difficult. As AI seeps into everyday life more and more, the need for energy-saving technology running alongside it will become ever greater. Do not expect to see nanomagnetic computing in your home any time soon.
Bioengineering For Infection Detection
Bioengineers are at the forefront of the fight against infection. Engineers working at the University of Texas in Dallas have developed a wearable sensor that is able to detect signs of infection in human sweat. The aim of this sensor is to give people an early warning of infection with Covid, Influenza, and a whole host of other viral diseases.
Wearable sensor technology is nothing new. Heart rate monitors are commonly used by training athletes. Wearable blood sugar testing monitors are being phased in for diabetics in many countries around the world. The development of an infectious disease sensor that can be worn, however, is a major step forward. As we have all seen in the last few years, vulnerable people are left in a perpetual state of anxiety during the pandemic. This technology could be used to offer immunocompromised people an early warning system of sorts – allowing them to live relatively normal lives even in the chaos of a global pandemic. Before developing their sensor, the engineers first had to figure out whether signs of infection could actually be detected in sweat. This meant that a close collaborative relationship had to be formed with biomedical scientists working in other institutions.
Jumping Robot Breaks Records
A team working under the University of California’s engineering professor Elliot Hawkes has developed a machine capable of jumping 30 ft high. While this may seem like a rather worthless advance, the machine’s development has advanced research into jumping as a form of biological locomotion. The team – working in Santa Barbera – created the machine in order to better understand how a robotic device might navigate tricky environments. Their research has particularly interesting implications for space exploration vehicles in the future. In off-planet environments, low gravitational forces make jumping and springing far more effective for locomotion than grounded movements like walking. We may see frog-like planetary exploration robots emerge as the norm in the future. Mechanical engineers have historically looked toward nature when developing machines that move.
Plant-Based Jet Fuel
Chemical engineers are at the forefront of new work to develop environmentally-friendly fuels. The aviation industry produces around 915 million tons of Carbon Dioxide every single year. This is immensely damaging to the environment. A great deal of research is being conducted with the aim of making the aviation industry more environmentally friendly and economical.
One of these research projects, conducted at the University of Washington, has focused on the development of an experimental plant-based jet fuel. The experimental fuel is created using lignin – a compound that helps plants bind. Researchers estimate that a lignin-based fuel could eliminate the need for the addition of aromatics made of petroleum in jet fuels. This would drastically reduce the amount of Carbon Dioxide produced by jet-powered aircraft as they fly. There is still a great deal of work to be done on this experimental fuel. Research is ongoing regarding the ways in which biofuels can be combined with petroleum-based fuels.
Disposable Mask Recycling
The proliferation of non-recyclable disposable masks during the coronavirus pandemic has been bad news for the Earth’s animals. Ingenious material process engineers have now developed a system for integrating disposable mask fibers into a concrete mix – strengthening the structure the mix is used to build. This has been proven to work but would require an intensive collection drive and lots of investment to become a standard practice, but this is something that shows promise in the future.