Engineering Education Needs to Cover Large, Complex Systems

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  • Author: Gary Breed
The session also revealed some of the changes in the way engineering is applied, and how educators should address them. At the top of that list was the design of large, complex systems. Large systems for power distribution and telephone service have been around for a long time, but even those systems have increased in complexity. The telephone networks are no longer simply copper wires and switches, but have evolved into the Internet, a very complex “network of many networks” that now includes fiber, coax, RF and microwave transmission technologies, along with largescale software systems to manage the data traffic. The power grid has expanded to include complex load management systems, even down to individual appliances in customers’ homes. It has also become a two-way system, accepting power contributions from widely-distributed solar and wind energy sources, large and small. The description of “large and complex” also fits systems on a much smaller physical scale—such as SoC or SIP technology, even single-die ICs with millions of transistors. Nano-scale systems that add mechanical devices to IC electronics are developing rapidly, with the goal of shrinking highly-complex functions to save costs and reduce size. When many such devices are interconnected into even larger systems, the total complexity taxes the imagination!