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Electronic Design

Inconvenient Or Not, Environmental Awareness Will Drive The Industry

While the scientific community has moved toward a consensus on global warming, some Electronic Design readers remain dubious. I know this because each time I've written something on the subject, I've gotten an e-mail earful from the skeptics. Perhaps this is because as engineers, 90% certainty isn't good enough. You want absolute proofs of cause and effect.

Personally, I believe Al Gore. But talking about the former vice president to his detractors is like waving a red bandana in front of a bull. So I won't spend ink here recounting "inconvenient truths" about the climate crisis. Instead, I want to consider some common ground: i.e., how Gore appealed to electronic engineers during his keynote at this year's Embedded Systems Conference.

Whether you buy global warming as scientific truth or not, the growing fervor around the issue brings tremendous opportunity to the electronics industry and the community of electronic designers. The alleged climate change serves as a powerful motivator for investment in new technological solutions.

In his keynote, Gore said the "climate crisis should be seen and understood as an opportunity to bring focus, energy, and opportunity" to investment in long-term solutions. He called engineers the "visionaries who dream up better ways of doing things." But he also said that society's inertia and industry's typical short-term focus get in the way of implementing many of these better ideas.

As technologists, you've already invented better ways to generate electricity and to power our transportation. Yet these new solutions have been waiting for a paradigm shift to break the status quo and push huge investments in new infrastructure.

Greener Pastures
The call for longer-term thinking is the perfect stage-setter for our annual Megatrends issue, where we look out on the horizon to the new fields that open up design opportunities in the next decade and beyond.

We start with a look at consumer electronics, cell phones and wireless, or what's hot today. Then we fast forward to the future to consider "better living through electronics" in automotive, energy and lighting, health care, and nanotechnology.

Consider John Edwards' overview of military technology, in which he looks at systems that allow soldiers to co-generate electricity from trash in the field (15825). Or Roger Allan's feature on biomedical implants, including devices that replace cells of the retina with photoswitches, enabling the blind to see (15868).

Bill Wong presents new battery technologies to drive the electric cars of today and of tomorrow (15859). Speaking of cars, John Edwards also previews the upcoming DARPA Urban Challenge, where teams will put their autonomous, robotic vehicles to the test in a city landscape (15846).

This issue celebrates the mindset that "the way it has always been done" most certainly won't be the way it will be done tomorrow. It also has a de facto green theme, largely because tomorrow's solutions naturally gravitate toward more efficient power generation and use.

Rallying Cry
The push to a greener world can also be the rallying point for bringing more students into science and engineering. During his keynote, Gore pointed out the demographic crisis that is beginning to impact our industry. "The number of engineers due to retire… portends serious problems in competitiveness, especially when skills you have here are more important than ever before," he said.

Gore recalled the surge in U.S. technology development triggered by Sputnik, which served as a U.S. wake-up call that made science and engineering national priorities. Many signed up for careers in engineering to help win the space race. Helping to solve the climate crisis can motivate today's generations.

"We will find young people flocking into science and engineering… desperate to find themselves involved in something that can make a difference," said Gore.

If he's right, the outlook for our future—and particularly for electronic engineering—is bright indeed.

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