Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2016 Symposium
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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Funding for the activity that led to this publication was provided by The Grainger Foundation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Defense ASD(R&E) Research Directorate—STEM Development Office, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Microsoft Research, Cummins Inc., and individual donors. This material is also based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1611723. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. In addition, the content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of the Government and no official endorsement should be inferred.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-45036-2
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-45036-5
Digital Object Identifier: 10.17226/23659
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Suggestion citation: National Academy of Engineering. 2017. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2016 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23659.
The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research. Dr. Marcia McNutt is president.
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ROBERT D. BRAUN (Chair), Dean of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Colorado Boulder
JULIE CHAMPION, Associate Professor, School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
AMY CHILDRESS, Professor, Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Southern California
DESHAWN JACKSON, Business Analyst, Production Enhancement, Halliburton
DAVID LUEBKE, Vice President, Graphics Research, NVIDIA
JOHN OWENS, Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of California, Davis
MARCO PAVONE, Assistant Professor, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Stanford University
ABHISHEK ROY, Senior Research Scientist, Energy and Water Solutions, The Dow Chemical Company
PETER TESSIER, Richard Baruch M.D. Career Development Associate Professor, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
JANET HUNZIKER, Senior Program Officer
SHERRI HUNTER, Program Coordinator
This volume presents papers on the topics covered at the National Academy of Engineering’s 2016 US Frontiers of Engineering Symposium. Every year the symposium brings together 100 outstanding young leaders in engineering to share their cutting-edge research and innovations in selected areas. The 2016 symposium was held September 19–21 at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, California. The intent of this book is to convey the excitement of this unique meeting and to highlight innovative developments in engineering research and technical work.
GOALS OF THE FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING PROGRAM
The practice of engineering is continually changing. Engineers must be able not only to thrive in an environment of rapid technological change and globalization but also to work on interdisciplinary teams. Today’s research is being done at the intersections of engineering disciplines, and successful researchers and practitioners must be aware of developments and challenges in areas that may not be familiar to them.
At the annual 2½-day US Frontiers of Engineering Symposium, 100 of this country’s best and brightest engineers—ages 30 to 45, from academia, industry, and government and a variety of engineering disciplines—learn from their peers about pioneering work in different areas of engineering. The number of participants is limited to 100 to maximize opportunities for interactions and exchanges among the attendees, who are chosen through a competitive nomination and selection process. The symposium is designed to foster contacts and learning among promising individuals who would not meet in the usual round of professional
meetings. This networking may lead to collaborative work, facilitate the transfer of new techniques and approaches, and produce insights and applications that bolster US innovative capacity.
The four topics and the speakers for each year’s meeting are selected by an organizing committee of engineers in the same 30- to 45-year-old cohort as the participants. Speakers describe the challenges they face and communicate the excitement of their work to a technically sophisticated but nonspecialist audience. They provide a brief overview of their field of inquiry; define the frontiers of that field; describe experiments, prototypes, and design studies (completed or in progress) as well as new tools and methods, limitations and controversies; and assess the long-term significance of their work.
The 2016 Symposium
The topics covered at the 2016 symposium were (1) pixels at scale: high-performance computer graphics and vision, (2) extreme engineering: extreme autonomy in space, air, land, and under water, (3) water desalination and purification, and (4) technologies for understanding and treating cancer.
The first session on computer graphics and vision addressed the question, “What do we do with all the pixels brought about by advances in computer graphics hardware, high-resolution displays, and high-resolution, low-cost digital cameras?” The speakers focused on four interrelated technology and application areas: computer vision and image understanding, modern computer graphics hardware, computational display, and virtual reality. The first speaker discussed the relatively new field of computational near-eye display, which operates at the boundary of optics, electronics, and computer graphics to design innovative display systems with new capabilities. This was followed by a talk on pioneering virtual reality headsets, where the display is an inch from the eyes and controlled by one’s head and requires performance and resolution significantly beyond what current systems offer. The third speaker covered the pairing of image recognition with learning from that recognition, which has applications in visual search, and first-person vision where the camera wearer is an active participant in visual observation. The session concluded with a presentation on the challenges and opportunities of processing live pixel streams on vast scales with applications ranging from the personal to the societal.
Recent breakthroughs in decision-making, perception architectures, and mechanical design are paving the way for autonomous robotic systems carrying out a wide range of tasks of unprecedented complexity. The session Extreme Engineering: Extreme Autonomy in Space, Air, Land, and Under Water provided an overview of four domains where recent algorithmic and mechanical advances are enabling the design and deployment of robotic systems where autonomy is pushed to the extreme. The session started with a presentation on the challenges of precision landing for reusable rockets, the technology required, and what will be
needed to extend precision landing to planets other than Earth. The next presentation focused on autonomous microflying robots with design innovations inspired by avian flight. This was followed by a talk on the robotic cheetah, the first four-legged robot to run and jump over obstacles autonomously, and the management of balance, energy, and impact without human interaction. The fourth and final presentation covered motion guidance for ocean sampling by underwater vehicles.
Securing a reliable supply of water is a global challenge due to a growing population, changing climate, and increasing urbanization; therefore, alternative sources to augment freshwater supplies are being explored. The third session focused on four critical areas of water desalination and purification: new materials development, analytical characterization techniques, emerging desalination technologies, and innovative system design and operation. The session began with an overview of current reverse osmosis technology, applications, and membrane chemistry innovations, which was followed by a presentation on scalable manufacturing of layer-by-layer membranes and the advanced membrane characterization techniques that drive breakthrough innovations. The third speaker introduced new materials that advance emerging desalination treatment technologies. The final speaker asserted that desalination may present the same challenge for the next 100 years as building the Hoover Dam, which solved water scarcity issues that arose in the 1920s and 1930s. He discussed various high-recovery treatment options that utilize challenging solution chemistries or result in zero liquid discharge.
The organizers of the final session, Technologies for Understanding and Treating Cancer, noted that cancer is a complex group of more than 100 diseases characterized by uncontrolled cell growth, and that approximately 40 percent of people will be diagnosed with a form of cancer in their lifetime. Cancer presents challenges that engineers from different disciplines are working to address, through, for example, the development of more selective tools to detect cancer, new methods to deliver drugs to cancer cells, and better imaging methods to identify smaller tumors and assist surgeons in removing only cancerous cells. The session opened with a talk on how extracellular signals and the microenvironment around cancer cells influence their uncontrolled growth and expansion. This was followed by a presentation on advances in noninvasive methods using microfluidics to detect rare cancer cells. The third speaker described therapeutic molecules that block the ability of cancer cells to leave the initial tumor and start new tumors. The last speaker talked about immunotherapy—strategies for harnessing the immune system to target cancer cells using methods that control and sustain anti-tumor immune responses specific for different types of cancer.
In addition to the plenary sessions, the attendees had many opportunities for informal interaction. On the first afternoon, they gathered in small groups for “get-acquainted” sessions during which they presented short descriptions of their work and answered questions from their colleagues. This helped them get to know more about each other relatively early in the program. On the second
afternoon, attendees met in small groups to discuss issues such as inspiring and training (from K through PhD) future engineering leaders, industry-academic-government collaboration, sustainable energy systems, wearable technology, and change management in industries and disciplines where technology is rapidly improving, among others.
Every year a distinguished engineer addresses the participants at dinner on the first evening of the symposium. The 2016 speaker, NAE member John A. Orcutt, distinguished professor of geophysics at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California, San Diego, gave the first evening’s dinner speech titled, “The Arctic: Scientific and Engineering Challenges for Measuring Rapid Change.” He made a compelling case for climate research by enumerating significant Pan-Arctic changes—reduction in sea-ice thickness, warming of Arctic waters and permafrost, rising temperatures, melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, and increase in human activities as well as economic and geopolitical importance—resulting from climate change. He described the sensing networks such as Arctic Watch that employ communication, underwater navigation, and acoustic remote sensing technologies to observe, monitor, and collect data in situ year-around.
The NAE is deeply grateful to the following for their support of the 2016 US Frontiers of Engineering symposium:
- The Grainger Foundation
- Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
- Air Force Office of Scientific Research
- Department of Defense ASD(R&E)–STEM Development Office
- National Science Foundation (this material is based on work supported by the NSF under grant EFMA-1611723)
- Microsoft Research
- Cummins Inc.
- Individual contributors
We also thank the members of the Symposium Organizing Committee (p. iv), chaired by Dr. Robert Braun, for planning and organizing the event.