The advertising industry is becoming a pervasive influence on us – telling us how we should eat, dress, travel, vacation, borrow, bank, insure, think and vote. We are constantly bombarded with messages designed to induce us to buy goods or services that we don’t really need and that undermine progress towards a sustainable society [see my post ‘Old is beautiful‘ on May 1st, 2015].
Many services are offered to us for free in order to expose us to advertisements and to collect data about our habits and interests that are put to uses about which we know little. These issues became prominent last week with the allegations about the inappropriate use of data from Facebook by Cambridge Analytica [see for example the The Guardian on March 25th, 2016]. A number of organisations have reacted by closing down their Facebook pages [see for example Reuters on March 23rd, 2018] and a #deletefacebook movement has started [see for example The Guardian on March 25th, 2016, again]. I have joined them and deleted my Facebook page as well as disconnecting this blog from Facebook. Also, in a couple of weeks I plan to stop using Twitter to disseminate this blog; so, if you receive this blog via Twitter then please start to follow it directly.
Finally, the advertisements at the bottom of my blog posts will disappear because I am paying to use WordPress instead of allowing advertising to cover the costs. A side-effect of this change is a new url: realizeengineering.blog/ So please update your bookmarks,if it doesn’t happen automatically!
I have had intermittent interactions with motorsport during my engineering career, principally with Formula 1, Formula SAE and Formula Student teams. The design, construction and competition involved in Formula Student generates tremendous enthusiasm amongst a section of the student community and enormously increases their employability. As a Department Chair at Michigan State University, I was a proud and enthusiastic sponsor of the MSU Formula SAE team. However, I find it increasingly difficult to support an activity that is associated with profligate expenditure of energy and resources – this is not the impression of engineering that should be portrayed to our current and future students. Engineering is about so much more than making a vehicle go around a track as fast as possible. See my posts on ‘Re-engineering Engineering‘ on August 30th, 2017, ‘Engineering is all about ingenuity‘ on September 14th, 2016 or ‘Life takes engineering‘ on April 22nd, 2015.
There are many other challenges that could taken up by student teams, in competition if that encourages participation, which would benefit human-kind and the planet. A current hot topic in the UK media is the pollution of oceans by waste plastic [see for example BBC report]; so, engineering undergraduates could be challenged to design, construct and operate an autonomous marine vehicle that collects and processes plastic waste. It could be powered from the embedded energy in the waste plastic collected in the ocean. It would need to navigate to avoid collisions with other vessels, coastal features and wildlife, and to locate and identify the waste. These represent technological changes in chemical, control, electronic, materials and mechanical engineering – and probably some other fields as well. I have shared this concept with colleagues in Liverpool and there is some enthusiasm for it; maybe some competition from other universities is all that’s needed to get Formula Ocean started. The machine with the largest positive net impact on the environment wins!