An Ode to Engineers Who Think BIG

By Contributed Article | July 14, 2014

People with imagination and the will to manifest it are behind every development from fire-starting to cell phones. That’s why we offer an ode to engineers who think BIG.

femaie-scientist-300x300Engineering is how people turn technology into solutions, and, like any other tool, is only as good as those who wield it and their imaginations. Without the ability to conceptualize how the pieces go together and possible ways to do it better, humanity would be trapped in hunter-gatherer mode to this day. People with imagination and the will to manifest it are behind every development from fire-starting to cell phones. Our ability to think big is the reason we are the apex predator on this planet with the ability to shape our environments and our very selves.

Unfortunately, many people today seem overwhelmed with both the complexity of modern products and the myriad ways technology is being applied in the world around them. Engineering is seen as some kind of arcane art practiced by boffins hiding in labs and living with their mothers. This has always been the case, and is only made more apparent to us because the process has sped up due to the information revolution. If you don’t believe me, watch “Singing in the Rain” for its plot. Everything new brings disruption because change is painful.

But we need change. We need to move forward and create better solutions than the ones we have. From radio to robots, military to manufacturing, and every other application area in between, only by dreaming big and trying to create those dreams will we find those solutions. To paraphrase Pasteur, chance favors the imaginative mind.

Holding back that imagination is the cause of half our problems. Did you know Kodak invented Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) more than three decades ago, and sat on the patents so long they ran out by the time others had independently developed the technology? Someone without imagination made that call. Did you know the jet engine was conceptualized decades before WWII in England but was squashed by one general who didn’t think the concept would work, setting back jet development by more than 20 years? That man lacked imagination.

Today the very people who are using unethical market practices and administrative roadblocks to damage the prospects for any success in the areas of alternate energy in the power grid and the viability of electric cars are manifesting that same stifling lack of imagination (multiplied by lack of desire to change) in the shortsighted comments about how uncompetitive alternate energy is in the power grid and the viability of electric cars in the marketplace.

The Wireless World of the Internet of Things

It cannot be understated how much the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) will impact your life, as cloud-based services and devices proliferate. There is a lot of churn and confusion in the market as we are still literally making it all up as we go along, but services and functionalities will sort themselves out relatively rapidly as money flows from users’ hands to those of the successful product developers. The ability of devices to use the Cloud for infrastructure support and management is already changing how people and businesses use technology and interact with the world. There is a lot of fluff in the market today as novelty devices using first-generation cloud technology flood the market, but as the technology and the application spaces mature we’ll see more useful devices come to the forefront.

Tech developments like fractal antennae, envelope-tracking, and other wireless-device enhancements are developed and deployed in industrial and consumer applications first, often because a large mainstream market needs to be there to support more advanced application solutions. That pet monitor and WiFi T-shirt create the additional market demand that allows the chip manufacturer to make those wireless chips in volumes large enough to make the prices low enough for everyone to use them in their products.

Fear of Innovation

One of the problems is that technology is a lot like the blind men and the elephant. Each of the men perceived the elephant within their scope of observation, which made each a little right about the nature of an elephant, but completely wrong about the gestalt. For example, the person that denigrates smart-home technology as an affectation probably can walk to the light switch. That perception is significantly different for the aged or infirm. One man’s fish is another man’s poisson.

We need to dream big and make bold plans in order to bring about the future we desire. This is a critical issue because the world is now a flat marketplace, and if you don’t create your future, someone else will create theirs, and you will be forced to live in it. We need imagination, we need oddball devices and gadgets, basement and backyard tinkerers and inventors, and we need to dream big dreams.

A lack of imagination can be deadly to technology adoption. Only by thinking big, thinking beyond the present to that novel (and often a little odd) application solution, can we conceive ways to improve our technology and the core science behind it so that it can be applied to our current problems.


Alix PaultreAlix Paultre is the editorial director of Power Systems Design. He can be reached at [email protected].

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