Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2017 Symposium
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Funding for the activity that led to this publication was provided by The Grainger Foundation, United Technologies Corporation, National Science Foundation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Defense ASD(R&E) Research Directorate—Laboratories Office, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Microsoft Research, Cummins Inc., and individual donors. This material is based upon work supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research under award number FA9550-17-1-0406. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Air Force. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1724425. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-46601-1
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-46601-6
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/24906
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Suggestion citation: National Academy of Engineering. 2018. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2017 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/24906.
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
RAJAN BHATTACHARYYA, Senior Research Engineer, Information and Systems Sciences Laboratory, HRL Laboratories
KATHERINE DYKES, Senior Engineer, National Wind Technology Center, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
MARIA-PAZ GUTIERREZ, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, University of California, Berkeley
XUE HAN, Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Boston University
JEREMY MUNDAY, Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Maryland
MARYAM SHANECHI, Assistant Professor and Viterbi Early Career Chair, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Southern California
MARIJA TRCKA, Technology Sourcing Specialist, Innovation Business Development, United Technologies
JANET HUNZIKER, Senior Program Officer
SHERRI HUNTER, Program Coordinator
This volume presents papers on the topics covered at the National Academy of Engineering’s 2017 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 2017 symposium was hosted by United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) in East Hartford, Connecticut, September 25–27. 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 2017 SYMPOSIUM
The topics covered at the 2017 symposium were (1) machines that teach themselves, (2) energy strategies to power our future, (3) unraveling the complexity of the brain, and (4) megatall buildings and other future places of work.
The first session described machines that process information into useful output by learning their own models. The first speaker discussed the application of interactive machine learning to self-optimizing tutoring systems in classrooms, work that advances reinforcement learning—an important foundation for building machines that teach themselves. The next speaker focused on machine systems that utilize highly heterogeneous data (e.g., sensor streams, genomic data, text) to make inferences that improve health care through predictive models and individualized treatment. The session concluded with a talk on machine learning qualities such as question-answering AI that are necessary for a future where machines interact naturally with humans.
The next session addressed the question, “How will we power our future?” The answer will be multifaceted and involve power generation and storage, new grid technologies, and transportation electrification. The first speaker set the stage by discussing “deep decarbonization” and what it will take to move from a carbon-based energy system to one based on renewable energy. Because this will require substantial changes to how electric power systems are planned and operated, the talk described emerging technologies that will improve real-time grid state awareness, achieve more robust control over power flows, and enable comprehensive approaches to power system optimization. This was followed by a presentation on the merger of advanced physical models for wind energy with big data and analytics to enable a reduction in the cost of energy supplied by the next generation of wind plants. The third presenter talked about how imaging and machine learning will help design tomorrow’s energy conversion devices. The final speaker described the state of the art for stationary and dynamic wireless charging of electric vehicles and the challenges in performance, cost, and safety that need to be overcome for wide-scale adoption of wireless power transfer systems.
Because the brain is a complex system consisting of microscopic and macroscopic networks, understanding it requires simultaneous measurements at multiple spatiotemporal scales. In the session Unraveling the Complexity of the Brain, speakers outlined the advances that engineers have made in the quest to understand the brain, treat its disorders, and enhance its functions. The presentations described technologies to interface with the brain for recording and modulation, the neural basis of skill learning using brain-machine interfaces, new models for neuroscience, and efficient feature extraction and classification methods in neural interfaces.
This decade launched the rise of a new breed of skyscrapers, megatall buildings, defined as being more than 600 meters tall. The session began with an overview of fundamental design transformations in the construction of megatall buildings and how their distinctive spatial characteristics influence the quality of life inside and outside the building. The next speaker addressed the role of digital interaction, physical-human interface, and intuitive behavior in the transformation of vertical transportation. This was followed by a talk on the functional natural materials such as bamboo that challenge the status quo of structural systems in high-rise buildings. The final speaker described the applications of insights from biology and mathematics to the design of material structures in the form of adaptive building skins, material assemblies, and architectural interventions.
In addition to the plenary sessions, the attendees had many opportunities for informal interaction. On the first afternoon, they gathered in small groups for “Meet and Connect” 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, UTRC arranged tours of its state-of-the-art “innovation hub” that highlighted several research areas: digital service for Otis Elevator, measurement sciences and microscopy, human-machine interaction, machine learning, and additive and advanced manufacturing.
Every year a distinguished engineer addresses the participants at dinner on the first evening of the symposium. The 2017 speaker, Dr. David E. Parekh, corporate vice president and director of UTRC, gave the dinner speech titled, “Navigating Innovation’s Uncertain Course.” He compared the ability to know where innovation is heading to an autocross competition—one does not know the race course, it is constantly changing, and others are in fast pursuit. He noted that the transitions from film to digital imaging and from taxis to shared transportation exemplify the challenges of managing disruptive technological change. Dr. Parekh closed his presentation by observing that innovation is best served when it is developed by people with different perspectives.
The NAE is deeply grateful to the following for their support of the 2017 US Frontiers of Engineering symposium:
- United Technologies Corporation
- The Grainger Foundation
- Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
- Air Force Office of Scientific Research (This material is based upon work supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research under award number FA9550-17-1-0406. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Air Force.)
- Department of Defense ASD(R&E) Research Directorate–Laboratories Office
- National Science Foundation (This material is based on work supported by the NSF under grant EFMA-1724425. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.)
- 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.