The past 50 years have seen an incomparable speed of technological advancement. There are so many things around us that we now take for granted that have had a huge impact on the way we live. For example, could you imagine a day without checking social media, or walking around without your phone? There have been many innovations that have changed our lives in numerous ways. Here we pick some of the most significant ways engineering has made a difference in the world.
Google Maps was launched in 2004 and since then, it has revolutionised the world of digital mapping. Created by computer engineers Lars and Jens Rasmussen, the ingenious online navigation was invented at a time when the technology required to realise the concept was still in development. Now, Google Maps is ubiquitous and has more than one billion users. With the rise of smartphones, we can navigate, locate and plan our journeys in seconds. It has become a vital part of our lives and important for looking at different locations. It has made it easy to see anywhere in the world, primarily as a result of the Street View feature. While there are questions about our privacy, the huge benefits outweigh any controversy. This is a perfect example of how there is synergy between engineering disciplines for example satellite launches and computer programming.
Anti-lock braking systems are among the unsung heroes in the world of engineering. They are at the heart of all manner of motor vehicles, helping to maintain traction control with efficiency and safety. ABS was initially developed for use in aircraft, they only became widely available in cars in the 1970s and 80s. Mercedes-Benz released the first production car with ABS implemented for all four wheels in 1978. ABS reduce stopping distances, prevent the wheels from locking up, and ensures greater vehicle stability than any driver could manage independently.
Fifty years have passed since the publication of the report that first coined the word ‘Tribology’. It is the engineering and science of interacting surfaces in relative to motion. It’s also associated with friction, wear and lubrication. Huge advances have been made in tribology that have benefited our lives. Progress in the field has demanded the skill of not just engineers, but chemists and materials scientists also. It only takes a quick glance at healthcare and medicine to see how tribological advances have changed our lives. Understanding how wear and lubrication work within the body has been key to the development of hip replacements and other life-enhancing devices. Each year in the UK, about 100,000 patients receive a total hip replacement. As tribology research continues, we can expect to see the emergence of other prosthetic joints that will help improve the quality of life for many.
For better or for worse, genetic engineering has had an impact on our lifestyles. Also known as genetic modification, it occurs when scientists take pieces of DNA from one plant or animal and introduce that gene to another. Genetic engineering has changed the way crops are grown. Today, crops are engineered to be resistant to pesticides and approximately 70% of foods in our supermarkets contain genetically modified ingredients. GE crops are used widely throughout the world and while many can produce more Vitamin A, and it may help to prevent diseases, the side effects of long-term consumption are unknown.
Engineering has transformed our lifestyles, giving us things we now can’t live without. It has allowed for better health care and the impact of modern medications on global health has been ground-breaking. Ultimately, engineers materialise the solutions that aid the advancement of humans this is facilitated through the use of innovative ideas. For instance, genetically engineered forests are in development and engineers and scientists have worked away since the 1980s, but progress has been slow due to red tape. This refers to regulation and conformity requirements, and genetically modified forests are seen as high-risk. But even more exciting innovations lie ahead, so we’ll have to wait and see what the future of engineering will bring us.
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