The days of being responsible for a single engineering or scientific domain are ending. The days of designing complete, integrated systems are upon us. Look at the consumer products making an impact on everyday life. Today’s automobiles include more than 70 embedded controllers to tune an engine’s performance on the fly. Some of these automobiles can place and receive phone calls, provide navigation, and drive and park on their own. Basic cellphones are a thing of the past—smartphones are in everyone’s pocket, have millions of applications, and wirelessly connect to a growing array of devices.
Using smartphone apps, you can even control home security and lighting while away on vacation. These examples are only the tip of the iceberg.
So what can you learn from today’s innovations to help shape science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and prepare the engineers of tomorrow to solve grand challenges?
First, consider the components of today’s technology innovations to understand what is driving them:
Processing Power Is Abundant—With modern technology like multicore processors and FPGAs, systems can process signals and perform arithmetic in nanoseconds. And history has proven that processors become cheaper and faster every year, allowing for their use in more products than ever before.
Sensors Are Smarter—Taking a physical phenomenon and converting it to an electrical signal has opened doors for millions of applications. Sensors make it possible for electronic systems to hear, see, touch, and act, resulting in automation for countless decisions.
The Software Is the Instrument—Hardware is not merely the physical device anymore. Software drives the functionality of hardware and can transform it into any device you can imagine. The smartphone is a technological feat, considering all the power packed into the palm-sized device, but we all know that the apps are what make it truly revolutionary.
The World Is Connected Wirelessly—Access to the Internet is now ubiquitous in most developed regions and has the power to connect people and devices regardless of their location. The cumbersome wires that have long been the bane of electrical engineers have recently disappeared due to advancements in wireless communication protocols and lower power requirements.
Though all of these components are revolutionary on their own, bringing them together has sparked even greater innovation. Combining the elements of communication, computation, and control into a single system has resulted in the rise of cyber-physical systems. These cyber-physical systems feature many of today’s innovations and require new skills from graduating engineers who are being asked