Engineering Innovations: Reflecting On 2017

engineering innovations

This year has flown by and we’ve seen some truly spectacular engineering innovations from across the globe. Reflecting on 2017, the biggest winners include renewable energy technologies, quantum computing, SpaceX reusable rockets, drone technology, medical breakthroughs, robotics and floating train tracks.

Once thought of as impenetrable, technology is now breaking barriers. Think about how far we’ve come in just the last 10 years, not to mention since the first moon landing. We have autonomous ground and air vehicles, we’re able to explore the vastness of space, teach our kids how to build robots and nanobots targeting cancer cells. We really are living beyond imagination!

Here is our list of the top 6 engineering innovations of 2017

  1. Kymriah Cancer-killing Cells

Over the past decade, researchers have targeted unique traits of the human body’s defense system. Immunotherapies train our own body to detect distinct variances between healthy and unhealthy cells. 2017 saw the FDA approve Kymriah, the first human gene-edited therapy for the treatment of cancer. It modifies the patient’s T-cells to add a receptor that locates malignant ones so the “killer-T’s” can attack them.

The primary reason for success is that the modified cells are specific to the patient and their disease. Reported to kill a type of leukemia in young people, Kymriah and similar drugs could one day treat many other types of cancers. This is a major breakthrough and can quite possibly change the way we approach the disease for good.

  1. Hywind – The First Floating Wind Farm

Five large turbines off the coast of Scotland generate enough electricity to power around 20 000 homes with clean energy. The 30MW wind farm, operated by Statoil in partnership with Masdar, is located 25 kilometers offshore Peterhead in Aberdeen. The new design could also lead to wind farms being located in deeper waters with stronger winds and less visible from the coast. Through their government’s support to develop the Hywind Scotland project, the UK and Scotland are now at the forefront of this exciting new technology.

  1. Replicating Robot Arms

The Franka Emika robot was launched in early 2017 with reports suggesting it’s safe and can’t ‘kill anyone’. That’s a slogan robotic companies of the future might want to hold onto especially once artificial intelligence and advanced robotics are really out of the bag.

Enough digressing. According to the IEEE Spectrum, the robot is safe as it uses sensors to measure strain on its seven joints. The safety feature works because the software controlling the arm contains a comprehensive model of how the robot should move and how much natural strain the joints should feel. If there is even the slightest difference, the arm will stop immediately. The magic doesn’t stop there; the robotic arm can also make copies of itself. In fact, 80% of the production done on the Franka Emika factory floor is done by the robots themselves. How confident are you feeling about technology right about now?

  1. Underwater Snake Robot

The robotic snake, created by Norwegian underwater robotics company Eelume, has been designed to help inspect and repair undersea pipelines and oil rigs. It is equipped with cameras, lights, tools and can also be shortened or lengthened when needed. Even more impressive is the ability to reach confined areas that would be very difficult for humans to attempt. The robotic snake can also permanently remain underwater meaning it is not deterred by inclement weather and won’t disrupt any surface operations. This technology is expected to drastically reshape the future of the subsea energy sector.

  1. Quantum Computing

One of the more complex engineering innovations is likely Quantum computers. They don’t work like regular supercomputers and take advantage of quantum physics principals like “superposition.” In theory, they can run specific programs, like encryption-cracking algorithms so much faster than regular computers. This year, IBM Q research has built and tested an operational 50 qubit prototype processor which is a massive improvement from its previous record of 17 qubits. The 50 qubit system is a significant leap toward practical quantum computers.

Google is also working on a 50 qubit computer which could surpass current supercomputers, achieving a milestone called Quantum Supremacy. The technology is tricky so we shouldn’t count the chickens before they hatch. There is a good chance though that quantum computers will finally break that elusive barrier sometime in the next year or two.

  1. Floating Train Tracks

Besides Japan’s Maglev train, Sound Transit – a public transit authority in Washington – has developed a light-rail track concept allowing rails to be constructed on floating bridges. It incorporates steel platforms with flexible bearings which will keep the tracks in line as a traditional railway line would. The East Link Bridge project should be completed by 2023 where 50 000 commuters will ride trains across the water from Seattle to Mercer Island.

It’s impossible to mention all the engineering innovations but we decided to list a few more that we felt were worth mentioning.

  • AquaRefining – A clean way to recycle lead
  • Machine-bred bug army – to reduce mosquito population in disease-stricken areas
  • Synthetic spider silk for consumers
  • Small-scale 3D Printers 100 times faster than laser methods currently in use
  • Videogame rehabilitation – Rapael Smart Glove helps stroke victims
  • Embrace Neonatal MRI

It seems modern day technology and engineering are almost limitless. What we dream of or see in Hollywood is no longer far-fetched or science-fiction. Fact is, mankind is a curious species and for that reason, we’ll either thrive as a species or be the creator of our own demise.

What are your thoughts on some of the engineering innovations we listed? Do you have a few more you’d like to share with our readers? Please leave your comments in the section below or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter.

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