In This Issue
Winter Bridge on Frontiers of Engineering
December 18, 2019 Volume 49 Issue 4
The winter issue of The Bridge is focused on the 2019 Frontiers of Engineering symposium.

Guest Editor's Note: Visions of the Future

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Author: Jennifer West

This year’s US Frontiers of Engineering Symposium was hosted by Boeing, September 25–27 in North Charleston, SC, and brought together a very diverse group of talented young engineers representing the best and brightest from academia, industry, government, and nonprofit sectors across all engineering disciplines. The event was an opportunity for the invited participants to learn about cutting-edge and impactful engineering developments and to network and engage in intellectual discussions crossing traditional boundaries in engineering.

The focus areas for the meeting were

  • Advanced Manufacturing in the Age of Digital Transformation
  • Engineering the Genome
  • Self-Driving Cars: Technology and Ethics
  • Blockchain Technology.

The meeting was introduced by John L. Anderson, president of the National Academy of Engineering, and by Perry J. Morrissette, senior engineering manager for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

The first session, on advanced manufacturing, was cochaired by Jim Aske and Li Chun Chang of Boeing and Tarik Dickens of Florida State University. Gabriel Burnett (Boeing) presented a clear vision for the future in his talk “21st Century Engineering Systems.” Chris Lang (NASA Langley) then discussed “Computational Materials for the Design and Qualification of Addi-tively Manufactured Components.” This was followed by a stimulating talk by Chris Hubicki (Florida State University) on “Robots That Walk,” previewing the future of manufacturing, and perhaps also gymnastics! The session ended with a thought-provoking talk by Pamela Kobryn (Air Force Research Laboratory) on the concept of the “Digital Twin,” which is designed to simulate the future performance of a system based on knowledge of its past and projected use.

A breakout session after lunch provided small groups with the opportunity to connect and discuss their research, conversations that hopefully will lead to many new interdisciplinary collaborations. Sohi Rastegar, head of the Office of Emerging Frontiers and Multi-disciplinary Activities at the National Science Foundation, then gave a short talk, “Where Are the Emerging Frontiers of Research and Innovation?”

The second session, “Engineering the Genome,” was chaired by Charles Gersbach (Duke University) and Renee Wegrzyn (DARPA). The first two presentations were held Wednesday afternoon, and the session continued with two more talks Thursday morning. Kris Saha (University of Wisconsin, Madison) gave a wonderful overview of how technologies like CRISPR work and why there are off-target impacts, in his talk “Genome Editing with Precision and Accuracy.” Omar Akbari (University of California, San Diego) followed with a vision for eradicating malaria-bearing mosquitoes using genome editing, in his talk “Using CRISPR to Combat Human Disease Vectors.” In the third talk, “Microbes and Manufacturing: Moore’s Law Meets Biology,” Patrick Boyle (Ginkgo Bioworks) described the maturation of synthetic biology and impacts in fields ranging from food production to aerospace. Closing the session, Samantha Maragh (NIST) discussed efforts toward “Empowering Genome Editing Through Standards,” a critical step for widespread applications of these technologies.

On Wednesday evening, the participants enjoyed a fascinating lecture by Joan Robinson-Berry, vice president of engineering, modifications, and maintenance at Boeing Global Services. We were left with a moving message about the importance of diversity and inclusion in engineering.

The third session, “Self-Driving Cars: Technology and Ethics,” was chaired by Chris Heckman (University of Colorado Boulder) and Hae-Jong Seo (NVIDIA). Dr. Heckman provided some background for the audience in his talk “Autonomous Vehicles: Challenges and Opportunities.” Tae Eun Choe (Baidu) talked about the “Perception of Low-Cost Autonomous Driving,” introducing perception algorithms in Apollo, the largest open autonomous driving platform. John Basl (Northeastern), an associate professor of philosophy, provided interesting perspectives on the use of hypothetical scenarios (“trolley cases”) to program autonomous vehicles for accident responsiveness, in his talk “Why Everyone Has It Wrong about the Ethics of Autonomous Vehicles.” Dora Sadigh (Stanford) gave the final talk of the session, “Influencing Interactions in Autonomous Driving,” discussing how to accomplish safe and seamless interactions between autonomous vehicles and human-driven vehicles.

On Thursday afternoon, the group was treated to a fantastic set of tours at Boeing. The facility in South Carolina is integral to the fuselage fabrication and final assembly of the 787 Dreamliner. The group was able to see the manufacturing of the composite fuselage, the integration of fuselage sections, and the final assembly processes. We also visited a rapid prototyping facility where engineers and mechanics work together to design and build new tools useful to the assembly processes. This was a truly impressive visit!

The final session, “Blockchain Technology,” was held Friday morning and chaired by Petr Novotny (IBM) and Elaine Shi (Cornell). Dr. Shi started the session with some fundamentals in her talk “Blockchains: An Introduction.” Hong Wan (North Carolina State -University) gave a talk entitled “Blockchain beyond Crypto-currency: An Overview,” discussing differences between public and private blockchains and a variety of potential applications. Jacob Leshno (University of Chicago), an economist, talked about “Crypto-currencies as Marketplaces,” showing how a decentralized system like Bitcoin could provide an alternative for services previously available only through trusted firms, allowing for exciting new economic models for the future.

The next US Frontiers of Engineering Symposium will be held September 14–16, 2020, hosted by the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado. I encourage you to nominate outstanding young engineers to participate in this program so that we can continue to facilitate cross-disciplinary exchange and promote the transfer of new techniques and approaches across fields in order to sustain and build US innovative capacity.

About the Author:Jennifer West (NAE) is the Fitzpatrick Family University Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at uke University.