We asked that question of a few engineering faculty at Santa Clara—letting them know that we were open to pie-in-the-sky ideas and inventions they realistically expect to see in the next decade.
Clean, limitless, nonpolluting energy for the benefit of all of humanity. It is not obvious where this will come from, what breakthrough will enable this, or if it will ever happen in the next 10 or 20 years. Fusion energy always seems to be just over the horizon. Fossil fuels are finite and pollute. Wind and solar, while renewable, do not seem able to meet future demands at current performance levels. Energy usage drives our quality of life as a society and the state of life on the planet, and we and future generations can use a major advance.
Dean, School of Engineering
A personal genome blueprint: The cost of sequencing your genome will soon drop to $100, roughly the same charge as a common test for blood cholesterol. Analysis of genomes and age-related changes therein will make personalized medicine a reality and help physicians target specific drugs and determine specific dosages. A physician might be able to recommend corrective treatments many years prior to onset of disease.
The vast amount of data required by personalized genomic medicine will trigger a new bioinformatics industry; the growth of search management companies such as Google will be mirrored in the management and analysis of genomic data.
Chair, Department of Bioengineering
The mini, the maxi, and the multi: The “mini” is miniaturization—incredible advancements in micro/nanotechnology—from concepts such as nanomaterials, which have incredible applications, like nanobots injected into your bloodstream.
The “maxi” means truly large-scale, complex, and often highly interdisciplinary systems. Examples include the large hadron collider, Burj Khalifa (the tallest human-made structure), and the Mars Curiosity rover. These challenge not just our technology but also our ability to manage and orchestrate such systems, given the interplay of disciplines and the budgets and development time they require.
“Multi” refers to the collective work of numerous engineering systems—sometimes called “systems of systems” technology. Examples include clusters of robots that work together to perform revolutionary capabilities (an area of research in our lab at SCU), complementary software services linked through the Internet, intelligent highway transportation systems, and many homeland security and national defense systems.
Director, Robotics Systems Laboratory
Advances in solar and clean water, and overcoming the greatest barrier for engineering for justice: My first instinct is to write something absurd: “I’d like to see a 95-percent-efficient photovoltaic panel built entirely from discarded batteries and wastewater-treatment-plant sludge.”
Followed by something obvious, but seemingly profound: “I’d like to see clean water fall from the sky.”
Then my overbearing serious side has its say: “I’d like to see a stronger focus globally on engineering to meet basic needs in a sustainable way. The world community invests about $4–5 billion per day on infrastructure, and roughly the same fighting and preparing for war. For perspective, global goals for improvement of access to water, sanitation, and health could be met with just a 20 percent increase in infrastructure spending. Imagine the just world we could help to build if we could learn how to beat our swords into plowshares!”
That last one is kind of off target as far as highlighting an invention or an advancement in engineering per se, but it gets at what I see as the greatest barrier to engineering for justice: human nature. We have all the technology we need to live comfortably in a world without hunger, human-caused global warming, or mass extinctions. We lack the will to put the structures in place (and maybe settle with a standard of living that is more spartan) to solve these.
And if I have learned anything at SCU, it is that engineering students are eager and enthusiastic about solving the world’s pressing problems. If we could shape a society that unleashed them into the world with the resources and political support they deserve for this effort, we’d be in good hands.
Robert W. Peters Professor of Civil Engineering
A new way of teaching and learning: The next 10 years will see an explosion in the use of the Internet and other communications media in engineering education. Media will deliver content, facilitate understanding of the content, and give it real-world meaning. This does not mean the end of the teacher, but it does mean a new role for the teacher. It will mean less lecturing and more guiding.
Professor of Electrical Engineering
A common platform for engineering education: We are progressing toward interdisciplinary approaches. In the future we will need a common platform to interact fruitfully with each other. We need to establish a formal time and place for us to brainstorm and mutually come up with innovative ideas. Our future lies in these kinds of opportunities. The School of Engineering plans to provide facilities as well as opportunities for interdisciplinary interactions among faculties across disciplines within and beyond the university. As such, the School of Engineering would also be known for its innovative solutions to serve the less fortunate or underserved people across the world.
Wilmot J. Nicholson Professor of Civil Engineering
A really, really smart app for the kitchen: Recipes that can control the oven, stove, etc. for the time/temp combinations required in the recipe, and an overall app that keeps track of what ingredients you have, what they will be used for, and what you need to buy—and that could suggest recipes based on what you already have.
Professor and Chair of Civil Engineering