Keep Moving Forward

Each year, we survey our audience to get their take on how technological innovations are actually affecting the people on the front lines of designing and engineering new products.

Each year, we survey our audience to get their take on how technological innovations are actually affecting the people on the front lines of designing and engineering new products. This year, we decided to also feature some of the design engineering teams at the forefront of creating products that promise to be disruptive.

Another year is almost history and we can look forward to advances in a number of foundational technologies that will have far-reaching implications to design engineering. 

 

What those technologies will be is becoming clearer, as 5G mobile networks promising vastly faster wireless speeds are making their public debut, artificial intelligence is being incorporated into more software that is enabled by ever-increasing compute power, while industrial additive manufacturing is beginning to hit its stride—thanks, in part—to increased material development. What the implications of those technologies will be for design engineering is still a matter for debate, but “disruption” is the term most used to describe them (see page 11). 

Each year, we survey our audience to get their take on how technological innovations are actually affecting the people on the front lines of designing and engineering new products (see page 8). This year, we decided to also feature some of the design engineering teams at the forefront of creating products that promise to be disruptive: autonomous vehicles, hyperloop projects, supersonic passenger aircraft and exoskeletons. 

Getting There

There’s a reason those articles focus on transportation. Humankind’s need to get where we’re going faster has a number of side effects—fatal accidents, pollution and lost productivity among them. Electric powertrains, self-driving vehicles and innovation in mass transit may change all that when combined with new business models. For example, some companies have announced their intent to enable autonomous passenger flights, combining the Uber model with advances in electric motor technologies to create what are essentially flying cars. 

“ We should recall that the goal is to make things better for the humans, in spite of all their flaws.”

— DE 2018 Survey Respondent

At the Dassault Systèmes 3DEXPERIENCE Forum in Boston this summer, Joby Aviation’s Sean McCluskey shared how the company is using lattice and topology optimization in conjunction with additive manufacturing to help accomplish the company’s goal of creating an air taxi service using its electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing (eVTOL) vehicles. 

At the 2018 Siemens Industry Analyst Conference in August, Teri Hamlin, VP of Siemens eAircraft USA, shared why the company is using digital twins for every product it makes to address the complexities of electrical propulsion. “By 2050, we think electric propulsion will be the standard,” Hamlin said. “We’ll see the first FAA certified systems coming toward the end of 2020.” 

There are more than a dozen companies pushing the autonomous eVTOL aircraft future forward. If flying cars aren’t your thing, check out the advances made in hyperloop projects (page 18) and commercial supersonic aircraft (page 22) thanks to simulation, sensors and new materials. 

Innovation is moving quickly. For startups to disrupt existing markets and established players to avoid being victims of that disruption, they need design engineering tools and processes to stay ahead. Those looking toward artificial intelligence for such a boost may not find what they expect. AI is so intertwined with sci-fi that its very real benefits in many applications are often met with disappointment that the Singularity hasn’t occurred (see page 40). 

Don’t Lose Sight of the Goal

“Mostly the name is overstated and an oversimplification,” wrote one DE survey respondent when asked for his impressions of AI. “However the techniques are just starting to be applied. There is huge promise for big data, analytics, AI and cloud services to converge. Predictive failure reports can save huge sums of money while making life more convenient for the end user. We should recall that the goal is to make things better for the humans, in spite of all their flaws.” 

Making things better requires taking long-term benefits and drawbacks into consideration, such as assisting human workers rather than replacing them (see page 36) or technology’s effect on the environment (see page 43). Innovation is moving so quickly that it’s easy to lose sight of the purpose of technological advancement. The end goal isn’t to disrupt markets. The point is to make the world better.

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About the Author

Jamie Gooch's avatar
Jamie Gooch

Jamie Gooch is the editorial director of Digital Engineering. Contact him at [email protected].

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