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Systems and Control Engineering’s Impact on Emerging Tech

Systems and Control Engineering’s Impact on Emerging Tech

An engineer works on a tablet computer

Systems and control engineering is the process of designing an automatic regulator for a device that adjusts the device’s current state to its desired state. As an example, consider cruise control on a car: When you choose your desired speed and hit the start button, the controller engages the throttle and then monitors the speed. If speed increases or decreases past the chosen speed, the controller responds to keep the vehicle traveling at the chosen speed.1

Because systems and control engineering is controlled by algorithms in computers, engineers create an interface between the operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT).2

Some emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) may be capable of bypassing the human decision-making that is built into controls, so it is essential that engineers understand the system, the control needed, and the practical and ethical consequences of their work. Read on to explore systems and control engineering’s essential role in emerging technologies.

Overview of Emerging Technologies

Emerging technologies are either completely new or further development of existing technologies. Broadly speaking, they’re defined as technologies that will be available within 10 years and will have a significant social or economic impact. They are sometimes referred to as disruptive technologies because of the dramatic effect they may have on our world.3

Examples of emerging technologies include:

Internet of Things (IoT)

The IoT is a system of computers and mechanical or digital machines, objects or beings that are interconnected using an internet interface. The system itself can collect data, analyze it and act on it without requiring human interaction or intervention. A now-common example is a heart monitor implant, which transmits data to a doctor over the internet.4

Artificial intelligence (AI)

At a basic level, AI uses computer programs to search datasets in order to answer questions and solve problems. With increasingly complex programs and increasingly deep datasets, AI is moving toward the creation of systems that think and act rationally. Potential uses of AI include speech recognition, virtual customer service agents, computers with “vision” that glean information from images, and more.5

Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS)

These systems use software embedded in physical objects to record and evaluate data interactively in the physical and digital worlds. They’re connected to each other and to global networks via digital communication, often the internet. Each of these systems may include a human-machine interface. An example is a pump that is embedded with computers, sensors and actuators; through the integration of technologies, the system evaluates and changes its state autonomously.6

Smart Cities

Elements of IoT and CPS are used to improve infrastructure, creating smart roads and cities. Sensors collect data that is sent to computers over communications networks; the computers send it back to the sensors, which can control traffic light cycles or the movement of autonomous driving vehicles. Applications include regulating utilities such as water systems, garbage and recycling services, waste treatment and more. The resulting energy efficiency and improved quality of life make smart cities desirable places in which to live and work.7

Renewable Energy

Moving toward alternatives to carbon-based energy can help improve the quality of the air we breathe and the ecosystem in which we live. Renewable energy technology systems require engineering in order to provide reliable energy supplies from intermittent sources—ones that depend on weather and atmospheric conditions to generate energy.8

Types of renewable energy that require automation and controls include:

  • Biofuel
  • Hydrogen and fuel cells
  • Solar and wave energy
  • Wind
  • Advanced vehicles using renewable energy sources9

The Role of Systems and Control Engineering in Emerging Technologies

There is an urgent need for emerging technologies to help protect the world’s finite resources, make people safer and increase productivity. Decades ago, control systems were hardwired, and therefore difficult to change or adapt to new uses. Now, cheaper processing power and sensors, combined with enhanced communications infrastructures and the integration of technologies, are opening new opportunities in systems and control engineering.10

Examples of Systems and Control Engineering in Emerging Technologies

Advanced Automation Technologies: Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are intelligent mobile robots that have multi-sensor navigation and positioning capabilities. The challenge of creating automated controllers for these vehicles comes from the number of variables each vehicles must handle, including:

  • Environment perception
  • Pattern recognition
  • Navigation (path tracking)
  • Positioning
  • Speed variables11

The sensors for radar, camera, sound and light detection/ranging cannot work independently to collect input, make decisions and actuate with a high degree of accuracy and safety. Sensor fusion allows the inputs to be aggregated and evaluated by the algorithm programmed into the vehicle.12

Integration of Technologies: Smart Grids and Renewable Energy

Smart grids connect power grids to renewable energy sources for efficient distribution and storage management. Sensors are incorporated into energy systems, as in the cases of wind farms or solar panels. The IoT is used to gather data and send it to utilities, helping them to swiftly identify and solve problems before they affect power delivery to customers. Power distribution is optimized when the smart grid connects power sources to power needs at optimal times: Think of charging an electric car overnight, when power usage by homes and businesses is low.13

Advanced Automation Technologies: Robotics and Automation

An exciting area of robotics involves designing robots that can interact with humans to accomplish tasks efficiently and safely. Robots can assume monotonous tasks like warehouse picking and packing, or highly skilled tasks such as assisting with surgery, while the human side of the interaction supplies creative thinking and decision-making.14

Move Your Career Forward with an Online Master’s Degree

Whatever career path you decide to pursue, earning your master’s degree can give you the sought-after credentials and knowledge that set you apart. At the Case Western Reserve University School of Engineering, the online Master of Science in Systems and Control Engineering program will provide technical skills, give you a deep understanding of the latest research and technology, and help you develop the communication and leadership skills you need to work alongside other engineers and experts from across disciplines.

Earning a master’s degree in engineering doesn’t have to mean pausing your career. With our online degree program, you can study at your own pace and on your own schedule, using your own device, from anywhere.

Discover your next step toward a more fulfilling career in an emerging technology field. Contact an Admissions Outreach Advisor to schedule a call.

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