A walk into the future
Modern technologies have made the world a smaller place. It used to take our grandparents weeks, if not months, to get to Australia – a journey we can now complete in a day. News from afar that might never have reached our ears, now arrives in minutes. Letters that took weeks to be delivered have been replaced by e-mails that travel huge distances in seconds.
We can now not only talk to but even see our friends and relatives in other countries, in real time, though the internet.
These developments are surely not about to stop; so what does the future hold in store? What new technologies are engineers developing?
An insight into the answer to these questions can be found at the projects exhibition of the University’s Faculty of Engineering, which is open on Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. and on Saturday between9 a.m. and noon.
The exhibition is the culimination of a year-long project that students from the faculty embark upon as part of their curriculum to research, develop and engineer technologies that will shape our future.
Just as cars and aeroplanes are part of our modern lives, the future belongs to unmanned ground vehicles and planes. Unmanned drones have been adopted by the military years ago, while the first prototype ground vehicles, such as Google’s Driverless Car, are currently being tested.
A fundamental hurdle of such technologies is the precise localisation of the vehicles. The Engineering faculty is running several projects to address this issue by using sensors to identify the vehicle’s position and intelligent algorithms to fuse these sensors’ readings into a more accurate position.
Every home owner’s dream is to have fully automated cleaning robots. Although companies such as Irobot already provide the Roomba and Scooba vacuuming and floor-washing robots, they are still far from replacing humans.
Researchers at the faculty have developed small autonomous wheeled robots capable of operating in teams to perform specific tasks, such as surveillance.
Other camera-based robots have been developed to identify and follow road markings, paving the way for intelligent autonomous ground vehicles. Another vision-based robotic arm system developed is capable of replicating the movement of a human arm in real time.
Modern medicine has made huge strides forward though the achievements of engineering research and technologies. The faculty has also embarked on such research with projects on various important aspects such as the rapid manufacturing of replacement parts of the human body, including titanium hips and studies on novel materials for use in dentistry.
Robotics is now also finding its way into medical research as shown in a study on robotic manipulators aimed at helping in the rehabilitation of stroke patients.
With natural oil reserves decreasing and prices rising, research on alternative sources and efficient energy use are indispensable.
A number of projects address this issue with research on both wind and solar power generation that take into consideration Malta’s potential, such as long summer months, as well as its limitations, such as the limited land available.
The future is unwritten, so which of these achievements will most affect our future is subject to debate; but engineering research and innovation will surely be at the heart of the technologies that will shape it.
Anyone wishing to contribute towards shaping this future should attend the information seminar on courses being offered in Engineering at the University on Friday at 5 p.m. at the Engineering Lecture Theatre at the Msida campus.
Dr Scerri is a lecturer at the University’s Faculty of Engineering.