Mechatronics is a term we don’t hear often compared to other engineering fields like electrical, mechanical, chemical and civil, which are the top four engineering branches across universities in the U.S. As a meeting place for mechanical and electrical engineering, and computer science, mechatronics involves the combination of these fields to create machinery and equipment with built in artificial intelligence. Mechatronics is responsible for creating innovative devices and technologies, such as the coffeemaker, computer hard drives, and washing machines; in the 21st century, however, there are much more advanced technologies in the works.
Mechatronics and Electrical Engineering
Emerging in Japan in 1969, the term mechatronics originally stood simply to mean the combination of mechanical and electronic. However, as each of those industries has grown, the term now encompasses many things under the tech umbrella, and is particularly tied to robotics and electromechanical engineering. The combination of these fields involve motion (mechanics), artificial intelligence (computer science), and the electrical components that bind them and create objects that are capable of accomplishing simple mechanical tasks.
To understand mechatronics fully, it’s important to understand how electrical engineering has shaped the modern world as well. Electrical engineering is a field that existed long before computers and iPhones, dating back to the invention of the electric dynamo in 1831. Michael Faraday successfully created the electric dynamo, which was the industry’s first functioning electrical generator. This invention solved the problems being caused by the inability to produce a stable electric current, and opened the doors to the electric engineering we know today.
Mechatronic Future Trends
After figuring out how to harvest, store and use electricity, engineers were able to bring mechanics to life; and as computer science rose in usefulness, mechatronic engineers started to use their field to create smart and complex machines that are designed to make life more secure and efficient. As these machines become more intricate and capable, the future of mechatronics will continue to grow and look for ways we can use energy and mechanics to help accomplish difficult or time consuming tasks, as well as continue to connect the world and increase our understanding of life.
Currently, individuals in the tech field are awaiting the end of Moore’s Law, named after Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel. In 1970, Moore predicted that every two years the number of transistors on a chip would double, which would make technology smaller. Transistors are semiconductor devices used to amplify or switch electronic signals and electrical power. This theory has been witnessed by the general public, who went from seeing room sized computers, to table sized computers, to computers than can fit on our laps, to computers that fit in our hands. The IoT continues to grow and incorporate standard objects, which makes it impossible not to wonder what to expect next from the internet of things. However, as we approach the smallest possible size, not only for these devices but for any possible object, the end of Moore’s Law is expected in the future of electronics.
Imagining the future of electronics may seem impossible, but that job belongs to futurists, who are, as the name implies, people who attempt to predict the future. The practice is also known as trend analysis, and it’s done by organizational leaders, authors, consultants and other kinds of leaders using interdisciplinary and systems thinking. Futurists are often used for risk management in businesses that are considering bold innovations as well as for identifying emerging market opportunities; however, in the most modern and contextual usage, futurists use these processes to envision the future of technology.
Three Technological Developments
According to Futurist Brian David Johnson, who worked at Intel until leaving to work for Arizona State University in 2016, the three major technological developments we can expect by 2022 are projects referred to as the Secret Life of Data, Ghost of Computing, and Future of Fear. The Secret Life of Data refers to the use of big data and programming algorithms to understand human thought processes, which makes the data more efficient for us to use and, in a way, feels like it has a mind of its own.
Ghost of Computing involves the aforementioned decrease in size of electronics. As the size of the technology needed for a computer gets closer and closer to zero, the question is no longer about how much smaller and more efficient can the technology be made, rather, what should the technology be used in and for now. Society is approaching a peak and pivot point where limits seem to have no end and mechatronic minds are capable of realizing any creation.
The last of the three mentioned by Johnson is less of a new technology and more of a theory. In a very literal sense, the Future of Fear is about disabling the concerns people have about the future of technology. Johnson mentions that people create fears they associate with the future of technology but that are not established in machines or the IoT. After all, technology is and always has been a tool we are in control of that makes human life more efficient.
Our entire modern world revolves around the advancements society has made with electricity. Technological advancements continue to grow and change in ways that will no longer be noticeable by the size of the technology we create, but with the innovative ideas we are able to make into realities. Mechatronics is a field that opens the door to possibilities of new breakthrough ideas that have the potential to change day-to-day life. While technology and the future have been envisioned in a lot of different ways, futurists with tech companies are provided with the tools to see what the world will look like in 10 or 15 years, and of course, there are many technological developments just down the road.