We all know that technology has changed the world dramatically in recent years, and continues to disrupt industries of all types, in all locations across the globe. For engineers, and for businesses which employ them and/or use their developments, the meshing of engineering and technology is particularly powerful right now. By pairing humans with computers, some of the most exciting projects going around are currently being released, or are under development.
Whether you’re interested in control systems engineering, biomedical engineering, computer engineering, or another specialty, it’s important to stay up to date on the latest developments. Read on for three key tech areas in which engineers are having a big impact.
Robotics is an area which is being heavily invested in by many different types of industries, and engineering is no different. One of the most exciting projects under development is a robotics system called “visual foresights.” While usually robots react to data in real time, responding to things as they happen, researchers at the University of California are working on making it possible for robots to imagine the future based on their actions.
This will mean that the tech will be able to interact proficiently with situations or items they haven’t seen before. For instance, they might be able to predict what their in-built cameras will see if they perform, in a set sequence, a certain set of movements.
At the moment, the predictions robots can make through this visual foresight are only quite limited, and reach into the future by just a few seconds. However, this step forward means that robots can now, and will soon be better able to, learn to perform jobs without having any prior knowledge, or help from humans. This will in turn open up a whole new avenue for how and where robots can be utilized.
Another topical subject is 3D printing. It is also going ahead in leaps and bounds, particularly when it comes to use in medicine. For example, 3D-printed anatomical models are being used more and more to help doctors improve the outcomes of their surgeries. This is because the models help surgeons to practice operations (on specially-created replicas of patient organs) in advance.
While these models have until recently been made of hard plastic, have a different feel to real living tissue, and are tough for surgeons to cut into, things are changing. A team of researchers led by the University of Minnesota has been developing 3D-printed organ models which are more advanced than the older plastic ones.
The new versions actually have the same feel and mechanical properties as living tissue. They’re also better because they can come equipped with soft sensors to provide feedback during practice options. This enables medicos to know when they’re applying the right amount of pressure without damaging fragile tissue. It also makes it easier for surgeons to plan surgeries effectively, and to predict how patient organs will react to and heal from operations. Eventually it’s believed that bionic organs may be able to be printed on demand as required for transplants.
Another big 3D project in the works is the creation of printed objects which can connect to Wi-Fi without the need for electronics. At the University of Washington, teams are developing 3D-printed items, made from plastic, which can connect and talk to, and collate data from, other devices in a building. This is done via the internet, but without the usual need for electronic components.
The engineers at the University replaced some of the electronic functions typically performed by components with mechanical motion with pieces which can be 3D printed. This list includes buttons, springs, knobs, switches, and gears. It is hoped that consumers will one day be able to use their own, domestic 3D printers to create objects out of readily-available plastics, and have these devices communicate wirelessly. For example, a bottle of laundry detergent could sense when the soap is getting low, and automatically connect to the internet to order a refill.
Biomedicine is another exciting field. Apart from the aforementioned 3D-printed organs, engineers in are working on many other developments.
A team of researchers at the University of Texas, in conjunction with others at the University of Reims, are concentrating on complex plasmonic nanovesicles. This is the term for minute capsules which can be taken as a pill. Once swallowed, they navigate the bloodstream and move to a set location in the body to deliver a drug in the exact spot where it’s needed. By hitting the pills with a short laser light pulse once they’re positioned, the researchers believe the nanoparticles will change shape and release their contents on demand.
This innovative drug-delivery system has enormous potential and could truly transform medicine. This is especially the case in the treatment of cancers and the study of the brain, where only certain parts of an organ need to be targeted.