Engineering Student Inventions Article | University of Delaware Online
ELECTRICAL & COMPUTER ENGINEERING

New Inventions from Engineering Students




Engineering inventions throughout history have significantly impacted every aspect of human life. The latest inventions by engineering students and professional researchers are conceptually advanced and unique. Some new inventions seem to be straight out of fiction while others are more humble yet extremely useful.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ENGINEERING INNOVATION

Looking back over the past century, technology has come a long way thanks to engineering innovations. Today, a senior citizen might remember a time when owning a car was a rare luxury; when families tuned into the radio to catch a "program," and a time before the Internet. Babies born in the past ten years will know nothing of life without cellular phones, the Internet, or eBooks. In another generation or so, something like going to the doctor might be a thing of the past thanks to engineering inventions in the field of telemedicine. Engineers' inventions have brought society from where it was a hundred years ago to where it is today.

ENGINEERING INVENTIONS OF THE 20TH CENTURY

Many impactful inventions have made daily living, healthcare, military activities, communication, and travel more effective. These contributions required influence from other branches of engineering innovation to be functional. For example, without electricity, the computer and Internet would not exist today.

  • Electrification, nuclear technologies, and petroleum technologies
  • Automobiles, airplanes, highways, and space craft
  • Electronics, telephones, radios, televisions, computers, and the Internet
  • Imaging, laser and fiber optics, and health technologies

In each of these categories are many inventions ranging from recreational to essential in function and use.

EXCITING NEW INVENTIONS IN MODERN ENGINEERING

The latest and greatest inventions are often the result of careful planning, collaboration, or trial and error. It is perhaps for this reason engineering students are capable of coming up with some of the most innovative engineering inventions. Engineering students are often young, uninhibited, creative, and willing to make mistakes. Engineering competitions provide venues for engineering students to shine, which can lead to lucrative patents, business start-ups, new technology and future careers.

FLYING CARS AND ELECTRIC GUITARS

Take the flying car concept for example. People have been clamoring for flying cars since the 1950s, and it looks like the scientific community is almost ready to deliver. An engineering student, Carl Deitrich, built a concept in 2006; the now-street legal car (called the Terrafugia) took its first test flights in 2009. In 2013, the plug-in hybrid electric four-seater Terrafugia is even closer to being a functional reality with the ability to take off and land vertically.

A little more reasonably priced yet no less interesting is the electric guitar. Though history aims to credit the wrong entities for the invention, the electric guitar was the collaborative brainchild of musician George Beauchamp and electrical engineer Adolf Rickenbacker. Influenced by Hawaiian music, Rickenbacker began tinkering with the manufacture of a steel guitar. After some trial and error and the timely use of metal in steel-lap guitars, electrical amplification became possible. Next, an electromagnetic device was created to convert the guitar's vibrations into an amplified electrical signal that is played through speakers.

LITTLE THINGS THAT MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE

Not all inventions have to be conceptually complex or difficult to have a huge impact on the world. Some of the smallest and simplest ideas have the greatest potential to improve the quality of human life.

  • A simple student invention that has saved lives is the computer-aided pill identifier that won at the Cornell Cup USA national design competition in 2012. The cylinder-shaped device uses a camera and LED lights to image the pill, which is then matched in a database of 18,000 pills in 13.5 seconds. The device could be used in a crisis situation where a medical professional needs to identify an unknown drug.
  • Simple but brilliant, the Roomba from iRobot is a small, unassuming disc-shaped vacuum that dislodges itself from a docking station and uses sensors and robotics to clean hard and carpeted surfaces. The genius in the Roomba is that it can detect unclean areas ensuring that one's home is kept clean at all times. The Roomba's creation came from inventor Helen Grenier, who kept getting asked to invent a robot to clean houses.
  • Migraine sufferers might find some much-needed relief thanks to electronic aspirin. Because the most severe headaches are thought to be caused by the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG), which is a face nerve bundle, electronic aspirin blocks pain-causing neurotransmitters.
  • The Microsoft project, Telepathwords, is part communication, part commercial. This latest twist in computer engineering will guess a password that is being typed, which ideally will help users stop using "easy" passwords thus protecting information. Essentially, Telepathwords is supposed to act like a really good hacker.

IT'S LIKE IT'S OUT OF A MOVIE OR SOMETHING

The new-found ability to print in 3D has everyone a dither. Some students report using 3D printers for:

  • Research tools
  • Key chains
  • Ancient Egyptian artifacts
  • Trombone mouth pieces
  • Race car parts
  • Human tumors

The potential for 3D printing really spans the scope of uses for engineering innovations as there are academic, personal, commercial, military, and medical applications for the technology. Corporate and military entities already recognize how 3D printing can cut materials costs.

An electromagnetic invisibility cloak has been created; it is most likely going to be for military use. The cloak, developed by Professor George Eleftheriades and Ph.D. student Michael Selvanayagam, is made using a thick metamaterial shell surrounded by tiny antennas that cloak against radio waves. Though the cloak is still a long way from shielding actual users, future technologies could lead to a cloak beneficial for cellular reception. This exciting invention falls under the umbrella of the very popular antenna technology.

BIG HELP FROM BIG INVENTIONS

In the realm of antenna technology, one of the later innovations is the AT&T five-beam multi-beam antenna. A wide antenna has a row of five narrow beams that are used to provide better mobile coverage and to provide five times the network traffic capacity. The technology is being used at entertainment and sporting venues. Reportedly, a new data usage record was hit during a comic convention in San Diego; more than 4,960 gigabytes were sent across the network in a span of five days.

A few other larger-than-life inventions that save time, money, and resources are:

  • The Dockwise Vanguard is a 902 foot-long semisubmersible vessel capable of carrying 121,254 tons of cargo plus 7,716 tons of food, fuel, and supplies.
  • Pixel is a 12,300 square-foot carbon-neutral office building in Melbourne, Australia. The space captures, cleans, and recycles its water onsite and uses solar panels and wind turbines to generate electricity; it is arguably the most sustainable workplace ever.
  • IsoMetrix is a marine seismic system that enables drillers and others to image the seafloor's subsurface by showing wave fields in 3-D.

The volume and impact of engineering inventions is overwhelming and exciting. The field of engineering opens the door to making the world the kind of place once thought only possible in the movies. Engineers make fantasy reality while improving the quality of health care, defense, communication, transportation, and daily living.

The University of Delaware's online M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering and online M.S. in Cybersecurity are delivered through the school's internationally recognized College of Engineering. The programs prepare students to be leaders and innovators in the field, and engage students in an inclusive, interdisciplinary, collaborative capacity, preparing them to take on real-world challenges.


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