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5 Reasons Why 2020 Is the Year for Engineering Innovation

5 Reasons Why 2020 Is the Year for Engineering Innovation

in a car with focus boxes on outside objects

From its impact on society at large to the lives of individuals, an engineering innovation can have a ripple effect that’s felt far and wide. As a new decade starts at the Case School of Engineering, we have identified the most significant innovative engineering trends that will be making waves this year. While they range greatly, many are about to break into the marketplace or are poised to make big changes elsewhere.

Autonomous Cars and Their Systems

Many tech companies expected to have self-driving cars on public roads by this year, but unfortunately, that fully realized vision is still a long way off. Consumers can instead expect to see more of the innovative engineering found in advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). These automation features already found in new, high-end vehicles. In 2019, one report found on average consumers spent more than $10,000 over the base price of their new vehicle on these new features.1 Automatic braking, parking and car-starting will become even more common on the roads, while newer sophisticated feats of engineering innovation are introduced into the market.

Don’t write self-driving cars off just yet, though. Many companies are conducting small trial runs in areas with low speeds and few cars or pedestrians around. The issue of perception, the car’s ability to recognize objects and anticipate their movements, is the biggest hurdle engineers are struggling with, but some experts hope that by the end of 2020 a handful of small fleets of self-driving vehicles could be on the road.2

VR for Rehabilitation

Improvements in virtual reality, or VR, have been written about for years. However, the use of VR in the medical industry is currently making it an important engineering innovation in the biomedical field. Around the world, new startups are aiming to bring VR to cognitive and physical therapy.

Physical therapy is a valuable tool when patients are recovering from a stroke or injury or are dealing with a degenerative disease like Parkinson's, but it sometimes can take several days or even weeks to see a physical therapist and the rehabilitation process often takes months. The exercises themselves can bore or frustrate patients to the point they stop doing them as often as needed.3 That's where the use of virtual reality in physical therapy can play an important role.

The goal of these neurorehabilitation startups is to use VR to help improve motor function and repair broken connections in the brain by creating a more stimulating environment.4 VR can offer goal-oriented challenges and games for patients to measure their progress. By keeping them more engaged and motivated, VR can potentially improve emotional well-being and neuroplasticity, the body’s ability to form new neural connections.

5G Networks

While 5G networks are already being rolled out in many parts of the U.S., 2020 will be the year when consumers will start seeing its full impact. Estimates predict that by 2024 40 percent of the world’s population and 2.2 billion devices will be connected to a 5G network. The amount of data created from this technology will increase fivefold over in that same period, and its expansion will increase the accessibility of broadband and Wi-Fi, in addition to bringing self-driving cars as well as smart cities and factories closer to reality.

Unlike many of the upcoming trends in engineering innovation, international regulations and politics will play a major role in how 5G rolls out in different parts of the country and globally. Security concerns surrounding companies involved, particularly tech giant Huawei, and health concerns about radiation are just some of the issues that need to be addressed.5

Better Energy Storage

As the impact of climate change is being felt around the globe, engineering innovation can be and should be an important part of the conversation in tackling that important issue. Leaders in the energy field are reacting to both calls for cleaner energy and new international regulations. One technology that’s taking center stage is better batteries and energy storage. Better storage has already helped renewable energy grow in 2019, outpacing coal usage for the first time last April.6

Last summer, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that storage capacity is on track to continue growing. From 2014 to 2019, utility-scale storage power increased fourfold, and the EIA expects that by 2023 battery storage capacity will triple.7 To further the cause, the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Energy Storage Grand Challenge in January of this year. The goal is to grow and support initiatives to decrease U.S. reliance on international sources of energy.8

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence and machine learning is and will continue to change how business is conducted. One survey found that many organizations are choosing to implement the technology in smaller test runs and looking to full integration as a long-term goal.9 By bringing it into their existing systems, they can use it as a way to make better use of data to recognize trends and make smarter decisions, including reducing waste and being more cost effective.

For engineering, AI and machine learning will slowly but dramatically change the field. While AI already plays an important role in manufacturing and on production lines, the improvements in robotic dexterity and intelligence for handling complex tasks has expanded its uses.

AI can help engineers work smarter, and it will continue to become an integral part of their jobs. By helping to handle “low-value” tasks and make sense of data, these tools open the space for engineers to innovate in new and unexpected ways. Many experts predict AI will eventually be able to learn to improve on its own, without an engineer’s help. This makes 2020 an important time for engineers to get themselves up to date on the latest technology and adept at taking advantage of its potential.10

A Leader in Engineering Innovation

The most important thing to know about engineering innovation in 2020 and beyond: It’s all connected. Advancements in 5G technology will influence self-driving cars, as will AI. That’s why it’s more important than ever for engineers to have the technical background to understand new advancements and the communication skills to collaborate with other specialized engineers and professionals.

In each of CWRU’s degree programs—Master of Engineering, Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering, Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and Master of Science in Systems & Control Engineering—soft skills are an integral part of the curriculum. Learn more about where a graduate degree in engineering can take your career.

Case Western Reserve University has engaged Everspring, a leading provider of education and technology services, to support select aspects of program delivery.