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System designers need practical training to deal with 21st century challenges

Update: October, 03/2014 - 10:52
Visitors have a look at a model display at the NI Days, organised by the Singapore office of US-based National Instruments in Singapore. It presents the latest in software-defined systems for design, testing, measurement and control. — VNS photo

SINGAPORE (VNS) — "Learning by doing" in schools and universities should be the preferred mode of education for system designers, who must prepare for daunting 21st-century challenges, the managing director for US-based National Instruments (NI) said at a conference held here on October 2.

Chandran Nair, who heads NI's Southeast Asia office in Singapore, said: "Doing engineering rather than writing on blackboards and whiteboards allows students to tinker, explore, learn and understand key concepts needed to design real systems."

Speaking at the NIDays that kicked off on Thursday in Singapore, Chandran said that NI had worked to deliver industry-grade technologies to students at every age level – from kindergarten students to researchers.

NI is a US provider of solutions that enable engineers and scientists to solve the world's greatest engineering challenges.

"This is truly a better way to learn engineering because no matter what age the student is, they are always exposed to the same approach to design systems – connecting blocks to make things work, tailored to their level," he added.

Chandran cited the observation made by American computer scientist Ray Kurzweil, who is chief of engineering at Google, that progress in the 21st century would proceed at 1,000 times the rate of the previous century.

"What an incredible opportunity for us to be alive at such a time, and even more so, to be engineers that have the capability to not just witness this innovation, but to actually create it. Of course, the other side of this is the challenge we all face in keeping up with this pace," he said.

The US National Academy of Engineering, he said, had identified 14 of the most pressing challenges facing the world for the next century that need novel solutions created by engineers.

The NAE groups these challenges into four themes of health, sustainability, security and the joy of living.

Engineering better medicine, providing energy from fusion, restoring and improving urban infrastructure, and reverse-engineering the brain are just some of the challenges, according to Chandran.

While these challenges span the globe, the common element of all 14 is that they all require a systems-based approach to meet them.

"The world will continue to face engineering grand challenges that we can't even imagine today," he said. "So the last part of the equation is how we prepare the next generation of engineers and scientists to solve the challenges that we don't even know about yet."

Using a platform-based approach, engineers and scientists can push the boundaries of the Internet of Things (the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing devices within the existing internet infrastructure), he added.

These include automated testing of consumer devices; designing, prototyping, deploying and monitoring industrial systems; and development of next-generation wireless communication.

According to the Worldwide Regional Internet of Things 2014 and 2020 Forecast from International Data Corporation (IDC), a technology analyst firm, the global Internet of Things market will hit US$ 7.1 trillion by 2020.

IDC estimates the global Internet of Things market was $1.9 trillion last year, with some 90 per cent of Internet of Things devices in developed regions.

The National Instrument Days in Singapore attracted 350 engineers, educators and scientists and featured sessions on graphical-system design platforms and presented the latest in software-defined systems for design, testing, measurement and control.

The event series will also be organised in the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand from October 17 to November 28. — VNS


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