While technology has changed the world as we know it and continues to impact industries around the world, engineering is one sector in particular where all sorts of new developments and projects are becoming reality thanks to the pairing of computers and humans.
Whether you’re studying an online Master of Engineering right now and want to know where jobs could lead in the future, or you’re simply a science and business buff wanting to learn about the “next big thing,” there are plenty of fascinating technology projects being worked on right now you should know about.
Read on for the lowdown on just some of these developments.
One area experience constant development and improvement is 3D printing. For example, 3D-printed anatomical models have been having a big impact in medicine where they’re being used to improve the outcomes of surgeries because they allow surgeons to practice operations on replicas of patient organs.
However, while these models have been incredibly helpful for doctors, they have still been made of hard plastic, have been difficult to cut into, and have a different feel than live body parts. That is, until now.
A team of researchers led by the University of Minnesota has recently been working on 3D-printed organ models that actually have the same mechanical properties and feel the same as actual living tissue. In addition, they’re equipped with soft sensors which can provide surgeons with feedback so they know the right amount of pressure to apply without damaging tissue.
Because the models offer tissue-mimicking tactile sensation and behavior, doctors can better predict how actual organs will react to surgeries; plus the new creations can enable better surgical planning. The hope is that, eventually, bionic organs printed in a machine will be able to be created and used for transplants, enabling necessary parts to be printed on demand.
Another 3D printing project likely to make waves soon is that of 3D-printed objects which can connect to Wi-Fi without electronics. Engineers and researchers at the University of Washington (UW) are the first to have developed 3D-printed plastic items which can connect to, communicate with, and collect data from, other devices in a building via the internet, but without needing electronics.
The technology could, for example, mean that a bottle of detergent is able to sense when you’re running low on soap, and connect to the internet automatically to put in an order for a refill. Similarly, a water sensor could send an alarm to your smartphone when it detects a leak at your home. The idea is that, in time, consumers will be able to create, using at-home 3D printers, objects of their liking out of commercially-available plastics, and have these items communicate wirelessly.
The team at UW replaced some of the functions within devices which are usually performed by electrical components with mechanical motion. This means that springs, switches, buttons, knobs, gears, and other parts (which can be 3D printed), can control systems, in a similar way to how battery-free watches keep time.
Robotics is, of course, another area seeing massive advancement. One project creating a stir is being worked on by researchers at the University of California.
While typically robots react in real time, by responding to something that happens, the team at the university are working on a system called, “visual foresight.”
Basically, this allows robots to imagine the future of their actions so they can interact effectively with things or situations they haven’t seen before. For example, they can predict what their cameras will see if they perform a certain set of movements, in a particular sequence.
While the predictions are only quite simple right now, and only predict a few seconds into the future, it does mean robots can learn to perform tasks without prior knowledge or assistance from humans. This could therefore have a huge impact on how robots function in the future.
On top of 3D-printed organs, there are other exciting biomedical engineering developments in the works. One of these is what’s known as the golden nanopill. At the University of Texas, a team of researchers, in collaboration with people from the University of Reims, are working on complex plasmonic nanovesicles.
These are minute capsules which can be taken as a pill that then navigate the bloodstream and travel to a specific location in the body to deliver a drug precisely where it is needed. These pills could be hit with a short pulse of laser light when in the right position, getting the nanoparticles to change shape and release their contents in a particular spot, on-demand.
This drug-delivery method is being examined via the use of supercomputers, which are showing researchers how plasmonic nanoparticles can be most optimally designed and activated. The potential of this biomedical breakthrough is enormous, since it could transform medicine, particularly when it comes to the treatment of cancers and the study of the brain.