Engineering, which has always been defined by its ability to constantly innovate and evolve alongside high-tech growth, is now advancing at a faster rate than ever before thanks to the rise of powerful technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and IoT.
Although mastery of these technologies will be critical in future engineering applications, it’s the evolution process itself that will truly shape and define the profession. Here are a few examples of unique engineering advancements that will push the future of engineering further than it’s ever gone before.
Aerospace Engineering on Mars
Arguably the most exciting contribution aeronautical engineers of the future will make is the continued exploration of space. Many leaders in this area, including NASA and entrepreneur Elon Musk, have their sights set on either exploring or colonizing Mars in the not-so-distant future.
Although Mars exploration and colonization was once just a fantasy imagined by science fiction novelists, the dream is coming closer to reality. In order for this endeavor to be successful, aeronautical engineers will play pivotal roles in developing spacecraft capable of transporting large groups of civilians into space.
In addition, because a supply chain between Earth and Mars poses a significant number of logistical challenges, engineers will be integral to creating expedient and economical solutions.
Global Food Supplies Through Agricultural Engineering
According to the United Nations, the global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050. Feeding a population of this size is no easy feat and will likely be close to impossible with our current agricultural and livestock methods.
Agricultural engineers will be focused on finding solutions that can address this issue, which will likely involve the development of increasingly sophisticated autonomous harvesting equipment, a revision of energy usage and waste recycling techniques, creating better forms of nutrient compounds for crops, and finding new ways to grow food.
Agricultural engineers will also likely end up crossing paths with other branches of food engineering. For example, in order to address sustainability issues within the livestock industries, agricultural engineers may find themselves working with engineers who are developing plant-based meats or 3D printed foods.
Precision Diagnostics and Treatment in Medical Engineering
The future of the biomedical field will continue to hinge on the improvement of diagnostics and the enhancement of treatment. Future medical engineers will aim to augment the healthcare industry with greater accuracy and increasingly sophisticated technology.
This will involve an increased overlap with other branches of engineering, such as nano-robotics and genetics – both of which can be leveraged to develop enhanced drug delivery systems that will be tailored to individual patients. It will also likely generate a higher demand for more sophisticated medical implants and bionics.
Medical engineers of the future will also focus on integrating other technologies, such as artificial intelligence and IoT, into hospitals and emergency treatment facilities.
Smart City Construction with Civil and Electrical Engineering
As people migrate to urban areas, there has been a growing interest in the concept of the smart city. Utilizing technologies such as sensors, IoT, artificial intelligence, and automation, these cities are designed to create efficient urban systems that are not only sustainable but also provide their populations with enhanced comfort and safety.
The central goal of civil and electrical engineers will be focused on developing infrastructure and complex systems for these hyper-connected cities. Because every element of a smart city needs to be linked together, entire cities will need to be re-planned, refurbished, or built from scratch. These plans will also need to accommodate the presence of emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles, smart buildings, alternative energy generation, and unique architectural materials.
Everyday Life Improvements with Electronics Engineering
Electronic gadgets are some of the most rapidly evolving products in the modern world. The increased demand for mobility, as well as the growing appeal of immersive technologies, has created some of the most innovative gizmos, including smart devices, augmented and virtual reality, and wearables.
While consumer applications for such devices are the most visible, there is an increasing number of industrial and commercial applications emerging behind the scenes. Thanks to Industry 4.0, these technologies have completely revamped the way that we manufacture, treat illness, grow crops, and beyond.
For engineers, the future will involve making these devices smaller, more accessible, and even more precise, with an increased reliance on nano and quantum computing, both of which have the potential to usher in an entirely new, unimaginable technological landscape.
A Sustainable Future Through Environmental Engineering
As individuals and businesses become increasingly concerned about the environment, they will look to environmental engineers to develop sustainable technologies and methods to replace current systems.
These future engineers will have a nuanced understanding of the best ways to harvest alternative energy sources, improve wastewater treatment and management, leverage safe material handling and mining techniques to obtain precious resources, and alleviate the global plastic trash problem that plagues the oceans. Some environmental engineers will focus on more specific elements, such as developing alternative fuels for ships or utilizing automation and artificial intelligence to create cleaner machines and equipment.
Ongoing Technology Development with Software Engineering
While the future is sure to see the rise and fall of many technological innovations, it’s almost certain that these technologies will be highly reliant on computers and software. In order to support such massive systems, software engineers of the future will need to continue developing agile, state-of-the-art programs.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning will surely continue to play a major role in software development, as well as complex data collection and analytics.
The Future of Engineering Education
Regardless of specialty, engineers have always been characterized by their dedication to and passion for lifelong learning. In the future, education will continue to be one of the most paramount pillars of engineering.
Furthermore, because so many disciplines are becoming increasingly cross-linked, engineers of the future will need to take a multi-disciplinary approach to their studies and constantly add to their knowledge base by learning things on a just-in-time basis.
In his keynote speech at the 2017 IEEE Vision Innovation Challenges Summit, Stanford University engineering professor James Plunger said that the engineers of the future “will be a different breed of people than the engineers we educated in the 20th century.”
From his perspective, doctoral education probably won’t change substantially, but undergrad education will need to change dramatically and masters-level education will likely disappear. Lifelong professional learning will also become increasingly important and prevalent with additional educational opportunities available online.
Education programs may also focus more on the importance of integrating engineering with liberal arts studies, in order to increase creativity – which would ultimately help to prepare engineers for an uncertain future.
The Future of Engineering
Because engineers deal with real-world scenarios, the role of engineering is constantly evolving in order to meet the fluctuating needs of society and the environment, and, because of Industry 4.0, engineering is transitioning toward a new technological Renaissance. Utilizing ingenuity, a constantly-growing knowledge base, and creativity, the engineers of the future will face the challenges that lie ahead.
Image Credit: Stock-Asso / Shutterstock
Author – Kristen Manganello – Kristin received a bachelor’s degree in English from Rutgers University, and worked various writing and editing jobs in a wide range of markets. While she thoroughly enjoys writing about tech trends and how they relate to the manufacturing industry, fiction writing is her true number one passion. She has written several short stories and unfinished novels that she hopes to get published one day.