New Engineering Concepts

Popular Mechanics had an article that listed new concepts to be aware of which is summarized here. Some are older concepts that have been reborn or upgraded.

  1. Flywheels. Old concept. However, a utility is using it for the first time. Beacon Power opened a 20MW plant that uses flywheels to store energy at off-peak times and draws the energy down at times of high demand and high prices.

2. White space – The electromagnetic spectrum is getting crowded. The FCC ruled that the space that used to be taken by analog television would not be regulated and that anyone could use it. There used to be very little unregulated space in the spectrum. Companies have found that is very good for wifi because it travels further and goes through walls better than wifi does.

3. Fracking – Already old hat and being vilified by environmentalists. It did have a tremendous impact on the supply of oil and on oil and gas prices.

4. Medical isotopes – The reactors that produce them are old and have had problems staying online. This has caused shortages and could cause further problems going forward.

5. Complex event pattern recognition – A lot of companies are mining databases and using pattern recognition to help make discoveries and understand trends. But now some companies are focusing not on databases of information from the past but on data streams that are coming in in the present. This can be used by people on Wall Street for trading purposes or intelligence agencies and anyone else who needs to make split second decisions.

6. Optogenetics – This is a way of stimulating specific neurons. In the past, electrical impulses were used to stimulate different areas of the brain but it wasn’t very specific. With this newer technique, individual neurons can be turned on and off.  It has been used in rodents and monkeys and they are looking to do testing with humans.

7. Mechanophores – Shades of the Terminator and other scifi movies. These are sensors that will change color when they are stressed or damaged that can be incorporated into infrastructure. This way engineers can just look and see if a bridge is compromised. They are working to make them react to different stress levels. They are also looking to see if they can be made to be self-repairing.

8. Cell Phone Medical Diagnostics – More and more apps and devices are being made to attach to cell phones that can help make medical diagnoses. This is incredibly important in 3rd world countries with poor health systems. There may be non-medical uses as well.

9. New Encryption Technologies – IBM has come up with a new “double blind” method that allows databases to be searched without knowing what is in the database. That is above our pay grade of understanding.

10. 100 Gigabit lines – New technologies that have allowed the production of fibreoptic lines that can transmit 100 gigabits per second. That is a big jump from the current 10 and 40 gigabit lines. It could carry 15,000 HDTV channels at once.

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