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Author: Julia M. Phillips
Every year, NAE sponsors a U.S. Frontiers of Engineering (USFOE) Symposium that brings together some 100 outstanding young engineers (ages 30 to 45) from academia, industry, and government laboratories for three days of sharing ideas and learning about cutting-edge research on a broad range of engineering topics. The competitively selected emerging engineering leaders who attend FOE symposia represent a wide spectrum of backgrounds, interests, and talents, and the event offers them a unique opportunity to learn about the latest research in engineering areas other than their own. Six papers based on this year’s presentations are included in this issue of The Bridge.
The twelfth USFOE Symposium, held on September 21–23, 2006, at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan, encompassed four themes: the rise of intelligent software systems and machines; the nano/bio interface; engineering personal mobility for the twenty-first century; and supply chain management applications with economic and public impact.
The session on the rise of intelligent software systems and machines was chaired by M. Brian Blake and David Fogel. The first speaker, Lloyd Watts, argued that current knowledge of auditory brain function and available computing power are sufficient for us to begin to build a realistic real-time model of human hearing. Completion of the model is not expected for more than 10 years, but shorter term applications, such as noise suppression in cell phones, are closer at hand. Risto Miikkulainen, whose paper appears on p. 5, outlined the creation of intelligent agents in games through biologically inspired computational techniques. He explained how these could lead to the construction of entirely new genres of video games that are more engaging and entertaining than current games. Robert Axtell’s presentation focused on aspects of co-evolution of computer and social sciences. Alan Schultz concluded the session with a discussion of how computational cognitive models could be used to improve human-robot interaction. Building such models, he said, requires that we reconsider how humans interact with each other as peers and translate the details of those interactions into algorithms that govern robot responses and behavior.
The session on the nano/bio interface was chaired by Tejal Desai and Hiroshi Matsui. Speakers addressed the potential impact of nanotechnology on biology and medicine, as well as the impact of biological systems on nanotechnology. Timothy Deming described recent progress in the laboratory synthesis of biological materials with properties not found in conventional synthetic-organic materials. Using these same strategies, he said, researchers have made progress in designing and fabricating entirely new materials with applications in biotechnology. Morley Stone, whose paper appears on p.14, described the incorporation of capabilities found in biological systems into robots to give them new functionality, for example, the ability to climb walls. Rebekah Drezek outlined emerging technologies for quantitative optical imaging for medical diagnoses, focusing on the diagnosis and monitoring of cancer. The presentation by Marcel Bruchez, whose paper appears on p. 19, was focused on commercialization and future developments in bionanotechnology. He described recent innovations in materials chemistry and electronics coupled with chemical specificity derived from biological processes in the development of new magnetic and fluorescent probes.
Apoorv Agarwal and William Schneider chaired the session on personal mobility for the twenty-first century. Andreas Sch?fer, whose paper appears on p. 24, began the session with a discussion of long-term trends in global passenger mobility. Surprisingly, he argued, only a few variables are needed to explain past levels of aggregate, world-regional travel demand and mode choice and to make internally consistent projections for the future. Matthew Barth described the competing demand for unlimited personal mobility with the reality of congestion arising from inadequate transportation infrastructure. He described some recent proposals for constructive ways of surmounting the impasse. Susan Zielinski’s paper, beginning on p. 33, presents a vision for the next generation of sustainable urban transportation called New Mobility. Andreas Schell described an international collaboration, involving automobile companies based on several continents, to advance the state of hybrid-vehicle technology.
The subject of the final session was supply-chain management applications with economic and public impact. Jennifer Ryan and Julie Swann chaired the session. Brenda Dietrich discussed a mathematical and computational approach to optimizing the mix of products produced from a finite supply of initial materials. The method has been used successfully by a number of major companies, including IBM. Mark Wang outlined the U.S. Army’s efforts to analyze and improve management of its supply chain. This complex problem has been addressed in sections. Wang described the dramatic improvements that resulted from the first analyses a few years ago. Larry Snyder and Zuo-Jun Max Shen, whose paper begins on p. 39, consider how management of supply chains can address the added complexity of supply disruptions. He focused on the differing strategies for disruptions in supply and demand. In the final presentation, Michael Johnson described the impact of engineering-based methods on planning for affordable housing and sustainable community development.
The technical talks were followed by extended Q&A sessions with enthusiastic participation by the audience. The program this year also featured 90-minute get-acquainted sessions. Attendees were divided into groups of 10 to 15 individuals; each person then presented a transparency (prepared in advance) representing his/her work and a two-minute introduction and explanation. The balance of time was devoted to discussions of research interests and activities. These get-acquainted sessions turned out to be highly interactive and very educational.
The dinner speaker, a traditional highlight of FOE programs, was W. Dale Compton, Lillian M. Gilbreth Distinguished Professor of Industrial Engineering, Emeritus, School of Industrial Engineering, Purdue University. He discussed the importance of engineering and engineering education to American competitiveness. The interplay of engineering, economic well-being, and society was also highlighted in a number of session talks, as well as in small group discussions throughout the symposium.
It was a pleasure for me to chair this year’s symposium and to have the opportunity to learn from and exchange ideas with these impressive future engineering leaders. I know of no other meeting as interdisciplinary, diverse, and stimulating as FOE, and I hope that the six papers included in this issue convey some of the excitement we experienced in Dearborn in September.
Note: Papers for all of the presentations and the dinner speech will be published in the annual U.S. FOE volume in February 2007.