Diverse ämnen från IEEE
Here’s a pretty reliable sign you’re having a great career in journalism: You’re meeting exceptionally interesting people on a regular basis. Indeed, some of them are people you work with every day.
All of us at IEEE Spectrum have experienced that good fortune working with Senior Editor Philip E. Ross, who is retiring after this issue. Since 2006, Phil has been a staff stalwart, writing and editing about vehicles, batteries, aircraft, outer space, electric motors, and hypersonics.
Phil started his journalism career in 1987 in the Detroit bureau of The New York Times. After a couple of years, much of it spent reporting on the technology of cars and factories, he jumped to Scientific American.
“The first science article I edited was on nanoclusters,” he recalls. “My lead was, ‘Take a lump of metal, divide and subdivide it almost to the end—but not quite. You now have a nanocluster.’ From that point, the article went downhill.” He throws his head back and laughs—a loud, infectious laugh that has been an intrinsic part of Spectrum’s office ambiance.
Yes, he can recite a lead from 33 years ago. Even for a journalist, Phil has a head swarming with words. Staring at his monitor, he sometimes mumbles to himself, sounding out phrases for a story or just for the pleasure of hearing how the words fit together. In conversation, he speaks rapidly, gesticulates energetically, and is apt to quote anybody or anything: Samuel Johnson, John Maynard Keynes, Bugs Bunny. Private Eye magazine from the 1970s. The movies Casablanca, Life of Brian, and Animal House.
In the rollicking 1990s, Forbes hired him away from Scientific American, and then a startup magazine called Red Herring hired him away from Forbes. “There was one time in the history of the world when it was really good to be a business-technology journalist,” he says. “It was late 1999 through early 2000. My phone was ringing off the hook with headhunters trying to get me to join one of the startup magazines sprouting like mushrooms in California, under the nourishing flow of technology ads that were at an all-time high, thanks to the dot-com bubble.” (Full disclosure: At Red Herring, Phil then hired me away from Scientific American.)
Next and final stop: IEEE Spectrum. Here, Phil got to exercise the full range of his talents. You could give Phil a manuscript and, no matter what condition it was in or what it was about, he would quickly turn it into something engaging and well structured. Among his recent hits: “How an Electrical Engineer Solved Australia’s Most Famous Cold Case.”
When reporting from his office, he had no use for a notebook or a recorder. He would call up a source and barrage them with razor-sharp questions, typing the answers all the while in a pounding, machine-gun cadence. I have a feeling his sources did not know what hit them.
One of the many things I always appreciated about Phil was that he was an unabashed throwback to an earlier and in many ways superlative era in journalism. “I like to talk to people of that age, and hear their war stories,” he says of those older ink-stained wretches. “But I always felt a little envious of those guys for having such colorful war stories to relate, when I had such comparatively bland experiences.
“Either they lived in a better era, which I think is true, or they were colorizing the past. Which was also probably true.”
IEEE depends on volunteer members for many things, including organizing conferences, coordinating regional and local activities, writing standards, and deciding on IEEE’s future.
But because the organization can be complex, many members don’t know what resources and roles are available to them, and they might need training on how to lead groups. That’s why in 2013, the IEEE Member and Geographic Activities board established its Volunteer Leadership Program. VoLT, an MGA program, provides members with resources and an overview of IEEE, including its culture and mission. The program also offers participants training to help them gain management and leadership skills. Each participant is paired with a mentor to provide guidance, advice, and support.
Program specialist for IEEE’s Volunteer User Experience Stephen Torpie and long-time volunteer and Life Member Marc Apter discuss the benefits of the VoLT program with visitors to the exhibit booth at IEEE Sections Congress.Stephen Torpie
VoLT, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has grown steadily since its launch. In its first year, the program had 49 applicants and 19 graduates. Now nearly 500 members from all 10 IEEE regions and 165 sections have completed the program. This year the program received 306 applications, and it accepted 70 students to participate in the next six-month session.
“When I first got on the Board of Directors, I didn’t realize all the complexities of the organization, so I thought it would be helpful to provide a broad background for others to help them understand IEEE’s larger objectives,” says Senior Member Loretta Arellano, the mastermind behind VoLT. “The program was developed so that volunteers can quickly learn the IEEE structure and obtain leadership skills unique to a volunteer organization.
“IEEE is such a large organization, and typically members get involved with just one aspect and are never exposed to the rest of IEEE. They don’t realize there are a whole lot of resources and people to help them.”
Soft skills training and mentorship
Before applying to VoLT, members are required to take 10 courses that provide them with a comprehensive introduction to IEEE. The free courses are available on the IEEE Center for Leadership Excellence website.
Along with their application, members must include a reference letter from an IEEE volunteer.
“The VoLT program taught me how expansive IEEE’s network and offerings are,” says Moriah Hargrove Anders, an IEEE graduate student member who participated in the program in 2017. “The knowledge [I gained] has guided the leadership I take back to my section.”
Participants attend 10 to 12 webinars on soft-skill topics such as communication, leadership, and stress management. VoLT also trains them in IEEE Collabratec, IEEE vTools, IEEE Entrepreneurship, and other programs, plus the IEEE Code of Ethics.
“IEEE is such a large organization, and typically members get involved with just one aspect and are never exposed to the rest of IEEE. They don’t realize there are a whole lot of resources and people to help them.” —Loretta Arellano
Program mentors are active IEEE volunteers and have held leadership positions in the organization. Six of the 19 mentors from the program’s first year are still participating in VoLT. Of the 498 graduates, 205 have been a mentor at least once.
VoLT participants complete a team project, in which they identify a problem, a need, an opportunity, or an area of improvement within their local organizational unit or the global IEEE. Then they develop a business plan to address the concern. Each team presents a video highlighting its business plan to VoLT’s mentors, who evaluate the plans and select the three strongest. The three plans are sent to each individual’s IEEE region director and section leader to consider for implementation.
“The VoLT program helped me to reaffirm and expand my knowledge about IEEE,” Lizeth Vega Medina says. The IEEE senior member graduated from the program in 2019. “It also taught me how to manage situations as a volunteer.”
Each year, the program makes improvements based on feedback from students and the MGA board.
To acknowledge its anniversary, VoLT offered an exhibit booth in August at the IEEE Sections Congress in Ottawa. The event, held every three years, brings together IEEE leaders and volunteers from around the world. Recent VoLT graduates presented their team’s project. Videos of the sessions are available on IEEE.tv.
Most people probably think of robots as cold and calculating, but for Morgan Pope they can be a tool for generating emotions.
As a research scientist at Disney Research in Glendale, Calif., Pope designs robots for the entertainment giant’s theme parks. But working as an Imagineer, as Disney’s researchers are known, requires both in-depth knowledge of the latest technologies and an instinctive sense of “magic.”
Disney Research, Glendale, Calif.
Bachelor’s degree in engineering, Harvard; master’s and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering, Stanford
“We have a very different mission compared to conventional roboticists,” he says. “We’re trying to use electromagnetism to create emotions.”
Robots have a long history at Disney. Since 1965, an animatronic of U.S. president Abraham Lincoln has been a fixture at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. But until recently, most of the robots on display have been firmly bolted to the floor, Pope says, and that has limited the stories they can tell.
Pope takes advantage of recent breakthroughs in robotics to create robots that can jump, flip, and tumble. He helped build the mechanical superhero Spider-Man, a stunt-double animatronic, or stuntronic, that makes death-defying leaps off buildings and over the heads of audiences at Disneyland’s Avengers Campus. Today Pope is busy designing a rollerblading cartoon character whose clumsiness is designed to tug at your heartstrings.
“We have all these amazing characters that do highly dynamic, engaging, fun things,” he says. “If we can bring these characters to life in ways that currently aren’t possible, that can give people powerful emotional experiences.”
A specialty in robot mobility
Growing up, Pope was a bookworm. He loved science fiction and popular science magazines and gravitated toward topics like astronomy and quantum mechanics. In college, he discovered his passion for building things. He enrolled in engineering at Harvard, and during the summer before his senior year, he secured an internship at the university’s Microrobotics Laboratory.
That experience stuck with him, and after graduating in 2011 Pope decided to pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Stanford. He earned his master’s in 2013 and then continued at Stanford, earning a Ph.D. in the same field in 2016. At the university’s Biomimetics and Dexterous Manipulation Laboratory, he specialized in robot mobility. He led the design of the Stanford Climbing and Aerial Maneuvering Platform (SCAMP), a small robot that could fly, land on walls, and then climb them.
He had nearly finished his Ph.D. when he met with a friend who had worked at Disney Research in Pittsburgh. When Pope heard about the Imagineers and what they do, it immediately struck him as a great way to apply his skills. Entertainment applications for robotics sounded like a lot of fun, he says, and it was also a relatively unexplored field and therefore ripe for new innovations. That same year, Pope secured a job as a postdoctoral research associate at Disney.
“If we can bring these characters to life in ways that currently aren’t possible, that can give people powerful emotional experiences.”
Three years later he became a full-time research scientist there, which took some adjustment. As an academic researcher, he spent a lot of time scrounging around for funding, Pope says, and when grants came through, the projects could take years to complete. “The output was also primarily intellectual—you had to prove the basic idea worked, write a research paper, and move on.”.
Grant writing is less of a concern for a Disney Imagineer, Pope says, but there is more pressure to deliver results quickly. Also, the kinds of problems Imagineers must solve are different from those of most roboticists. The robots are deployed in amusement parks, often in close proximity to guests, so they are held to much higher safety standards than is usual for most robots. There’s also the pressure to ensure that the robots perform reliably and predictably for multiple shows a day. And, while conventional robotics is typically focused on completing a specific task, Pope says his goal is to bring characters to life. That means concentrating on the way the robots look, move, and behave as well as the specific actions they take.
“It’s not what it does, it’s how it does it,” he explains. “It has to do it in a way that makes you feel like this is a real character, a real, live being.”
Bringing Spider-Man to life
Lifelike action was crucial for the first project that Pope worked on at Disney. The goal was to create a robotic stunt double capable of performing complex aerial acrobatics for the Amazing Spider-Man show at Disneyland, which launched in 2021. The show features human performers, but one of the stunts involves Spider-Man backflipping 20 meters into the air, which is too dangerous for even the most skilled acrobat.
To convince the audience they were really watching Spider-Man, the researchers had to create a seamless transition between the acrobat and the robot, Pope says. His role was to work out the complex physics that would generate various somersaulting stunts while the robot was in midair. “It was super rewarding to play around with one of the greatest superhero characters of all time,” he says.
Morgan Pope shows off Disney’s new Indestructible robot, which can rollerblade, somersault, and perform other feats.Walt Disney Imagineering
A robot on rollerblades
Projects aren’t always so clear-cut, he admits, and they involve a lot of experimentation. In the early phases, small teams knock out quick and simple prototypes until they hit on something that works.
“You build something and then step back and think, ‘What about this is making me feel something, what about it is connecting with me?’” Pope says.
The project he’s currently working on involves a lot of this kind of exploration. For example, his team wanted to create robots that run, but the researchers quickly realized that the machines would fall down a lot. So they built a robot that could tolerate a tumble and get up again. In the end, they found that watching the robot pick itself up was what generated the most compelling emotional response.
“You relate to the robot struggling, because we’ve all been flat on our backs and had to get up,” he observes.
The team eventually scrapped the running concept and instead put its robot on a pair of Rollerblades. Many people know the awkwardness of trying to skate for the first time, and that makes the robot’s clumsiness all the more relatable. When the researchers debuted a prototypeat this year’s South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, the audience’s warm reaction made it clear that they’d made an immediate emotional connection, Pope recalls.
A job for a generalist
But building robots for Disney is about more than just intuition and emotional intelligence. It also requires skills in electronics, mechanical design, and programming.
“You need to understand how different systems work, so if you need to dive into any of them, you can go deep and also pull them all together,” Pope says.
That’s why his team is always on the lookout for generalists. One of the two most important tips he gives to students, he says, is to familiarize themselves with as many disciplines as possible.
His other suggestion is to build something. It’s the best way to figure out the kind of engineering that excites you the most, he adds. And learning to create stuff just for the joy of it is the surest path to a great career.
“Try to build things that make you happy,” Pope says. “Chase the things that bring you joy. Chase the things that are delightful.”
After Vic Wintriss sold his sports-imaging company, Wintriss Engineering, to his cofounders in 2006, the electrical engineer was looking for a project to keep himself busy. Wintriss Engineering, based in San Diego, makes smart cameras for sports imaging such as tracking golf balls and inspecting paper, textiles, and plastics. While discussing with his wife what his next career move should be, an idea suddenly came to him in the form of a vision.
“I’ll never forget it,” Wintriss recalls. “It said: ‘You’re going to teach Java to kids in a nonprofit school.’ I didn’t even know Java.”
At the age of 75 he went back to school to learn the programming language. After teaching the subject to teenagers at his church, in 2006 the IEEE life member established The League of Amazing Programmers. The San Diego–based nonprofit after-school program teaches coding in Java and Python to students in Grades 5 to 12. The program offers 10 levels of coding, from beginner to advanced. It is the only one in the United States that awards the Oracle professional programming certificate to high school students.
“It was a privilege to recognize The League of Amazing Programmers for the critical work they are doing in my district to promote equity in our digital age,” Boerner said in a news release about the recognition. “Their dedication to helping our youth, especially girls and underrepresented communities, is transforming lives throughout San Diego.”
Java, Python, and game design
Wintriss, who is now 92, had some prior teaching experience. He was a Navy flight instructor and taught Sunday school classes for several years. To start fulfilling the Java vision he had, he began holding coding classes at the church. The course became so popular that he rented a larger space and bought more computers. Wintriss continued on his own until, he says, it became overwhelming.
That’s when he launched The League of Amazing Programmers. He retained professional programmers who volunteered their time to teach 90-minute weekly in-person and virtual classes seven days a week. The school’s monthly tuition is US $260, and tuition assistance is available.
This year 200 students are participating in the program. About half of them are from underserved communities, Wintriss says.
“The students who have completed the program have been amazing. The computer programs they write are just totally incredible.” —Vic Wintriss
The classes are held in the San Diego area, including at the Valencia Park/Malcom X and Central libraries and the Digital Start North County tech hobby store in Fallbrook. Its main campus is a Carmel Valley office building in northern San Diego.
“The students who have completed the program have been amazing,” Wintriss says. “The computer programs they write are just totally incredible.”
The league’s students put their skills to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. They were taught how to design a low-cost emergency ventilator system using a Raspberry Pi computer and automated versions of manual bag-based resuscitator devices, commonly known as Ambu bags. The compact, balloonlike bags have a soft air reservoir that can be squeezed by medical professionals to inflate a patient’s lungs.
Oracle certification success
More than 50 students have passed the Oracle Professional Programming Certificate exam, which is not easy for a high school student, Wintriss says. Students who take the exam are typically in the 11th grade.
Once students earn the certification, they can garner a high salary, Wintriss says.
“If you’ve got the Oracle certificate, any employer will hire you as a programmer without a college degree, although we encourage our students to go to college,” he says.
Some students have gotten part-time after-school programming jobs that pay about $60 per hour, he says. Former students who have landed a full-time job have told him they are earning more than $100,000 annually.
Wintriss says he hopes to expand the program to other states.
A student testimonial
Sam Sharp, 15 years old, has completed the after-school program’s Java course and plans to take the Oracle certificate exam.Vic Wintriss
One student who is attending the after-school program is 15-year-old Sam Sharp, an 11th grader at San Diego High School. His parents signed him up for the program when he was 8.
“I’ve always been interested in computers,” Sharp says. “I’ve had this idea to make things that people are going to use in their daily lives. I figured that because everybody now does everything on their computers, I wanted to learn how to make things for computers.”
Sharp is at the Level 8 stage and has completed the Java course.
He says the league’s program has taught him other skills such as creating a project from scratch, meeting deadlines, pacing himself, and leading teams. He also helps teach younger students the programming languages.
What appeals to him the most about the league’s curriculum, he says, is its “five seconds of fun” principle.
“The concept,” he says, “is that students should get five seconds of just pure fun from what they’ve made or programmed.”
He says he intends to take the Oracle certificate exam, and he plans to pursue a college degree in computer programming.
Back in 2005, before smartphones were generally available, MIT Professor Hari Balakrishnan was so fed up with commuting delays in Boston that he built a mobile system to monitor road conditions.
Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and the University of California, Berkeley
He and his research team at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory developed CarTel, short for car telematics. Using signal processing and machine learning, their sensing device for vehicles was able to infer the presence of potholes and other impediments from changes in traffic flow, which it measured with GPS and an accelerometer. Their research won several awards, and the system was covered by The Boston Globe.
In 2010 Balakrishnan and two cofounders commercialized CarTel by launching Cambridge Mobile Telematics. Today the Massachusetts company is the largest telematics service provider in the world. Insurance companies, car manufacturers, rideshare services, and public agencies use CMT data to assess driver behavior, encourage safer driving, dispatch roadside assistance, and more.
Balakrishnan, an IEEE Fellow, is this year’s Marconi Prize winner for his “fundamental discoveries in mobile sensing, networking, and distributed systems.” The award, given by the Marconi Society, is considered to be the top honor in communications.
“On paper this award honors me, but it really is a recognition of my 30-plus Ph.D. students, postdocs, collaborators, and the team at CMT who have worked incredibly hard in creative ways to take research ideas and have them really impact the world,” he says. “It honors the field of mobile sensing and networked systems.”
Hari Balakrishnan talks to the Marconi Society about his career highlights and his thoughts on receiving the prize. Marconi Society
Using data to make driving safer
Balakrishnan came up with the idea for CarTel while talking with fellow MIT Professor Samuel Madden, a director of the university’s Data Systems and AI Lab and an expert on data management and sensor computing.
“I told him we should start a research project that takes sensors that we both know a lot about, attach them to cars, measure what’s happening, and then try to understand the data,” Balakrishnan recalls. “This was before iPhones, Androids, and Google Maps.”
They later founded CMT, with Madden serving as its chief scientist.
“CarTel was one of the first projects in mobile sensing,” Balakrishnan says. “We showed that it could work at scale.
“I was trying to figure out how to commercialize it using the notion of mobile sensing for social good.”
Help came in 2009 from William V. Powers, a seasoned sales executive who became Balakrishnan’s business partner. He is also a CMT cofounder and the company’s CEO.
Balakrishnan says that although the startup had the technology, it didn’t have a business model. After reading articles about how insurance companies were using expensive hardware to measure people’s driving to set premium prices and uncover fraudulent claims, they found their model.
“Our mission is to make the world’s roads and drivers safer.”
“It clicked in my head that we had shown, in principle, how to do that with consumer phones and inexpensive Internet of Things [IoT] devices that could be put into a car without professional installers,” he says.
That early system evolved into DriveWell, an AI-driven platform that gathers data from monitors including accelerometers, gyroscopes, and position sensors in smartphones, dashcams, and IoT devices such as the DriveWell Tag.
The platform combines the information with contextual data to create a picture of how drivers are operating their vehicles, measuring factors such as hard braking, excessive speeding, and phone distraction, Balakrishnan says.
“Our mission is to make the world’s roads and drivers safer,” he says.
DriveWell has provided services to more than 30 million vehicles to date. Insurance companies including Admiral, Discovery, HUK-Coburg, MS&AD, and USAA use CMT’s programs to offer discounts to better drivers. CMT recently partnered with Hyundai to offer its customers real-time roadside assistance and repair services. There are also DriveWell, FuelStar, and Openroad mobile apps for motorists who want feedback about their driving.
The first indoor location system
Balakrishnan has created other systems that use sensors for practical purposes. Between 1999 and 2004, he oversaw the development of the Cricket indoor location system. It combined radio frequency and ultrasound technologies. Beacons mounted on walls and ceilings publish information on an RF channel, which sends out a chirping signal. The beacon then sounds out a corresponding ultrasonic pulse. Receivers attached to mobile devices listen for the RF signals and the ultrasonic pulse. Cricket uses the different speeds of sound and of RF to calculate the distance between the receiver and the beacon.
The system provided space identifiers, position coordinates, and orientation. Cricket provided distance ranging and positioning precision of between 3 and 5 centimeters. It was used in areas where GPS didn’t work well, such as hospitals, office buildings, and research centers.
“GPS only works outdoors,” Balakrishnan says. “Even today, you can’t get GPS signals inside. When your apps show you the location inside, it’s using other technologies.”
The research team open-sourced the hardware and software, and more than 1 million units were built and deployed.
“This approach didn’t scale to every device in the world,” Balakrishnan says, “because adding ultrasonic hardware to every device is not practical. However, with modern smartphones capable of sending and receiving ultrasonic signals on their speakers and microphones, the approach developed in Cricket might become useful in the future. Indeed, some recent proposals for contact tracing for COVID-19 have used this approach.”
This year’s IEEE Medal of Honor recipient Vint Cerf congratulates Marconi Prize winner Hari Balakrishnan at the Marconi Awards Gala, held on 27 October in Washington, D.C.Marconi Society
A love of research and academia
Balakrishnan earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1993 from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He picked the field, he says, because he thought it would let him make practical use of mathematics.
“I knew nothing about computer science,” he says. “I had never programmed a computer before. But I knew I was interested in things that were mathematical in nature, and I enjoyed both math and physics greatly. After about a year and a half, I felt like I understood what the field was about. By the time I finished my undergraduate degree, I absolutely loved it.”
While pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, he became passionate about conducting research, he says. He enjoyed it so much, he says, that he wanted to make a career of it.
He’s also known for his early research on how to improve wireless networks—which can be found in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library and which won the 1998 Association for Computing Machinery’s Doctoral Dissertation Award.
In the final year of his Ph.D., in 1998, he decided to pursue an academic career. He interviewed for a faculty position at MIT and knew immediately it was where he wanted to work, he says. The university hired him that year, and he has worked there ever since.
“I felt like this was the place where people were on the same wavelength as me,” he says. “It’s always good to go to a place where people appreciate what you do.”
Despite his entrepreneurial success, Balakrishnan continues to teach.
“I just really enjoy working with students and just love research,” he says. “I enjoy teaching students and, frankly, they teach me as much as I teach them.”
The IEEE community
Balakrishnan says he intially joined IEEE as a student to get the discounted rate for membership and conference registrations. But after he began working, he realized that it’s important to be part of a “professional community that has like-minded people who care about the fields that I care about,” he says. “IEEE has benefited my career because I’ve been at conferences and events where I’ve made professional connections that will last a lifetime.”
IEEE recognized him in 2021 with its Koji Kobayashi Computers and Communications Award for “broad contributions to computer networking and mobile and wireless systems.”
Azad M. Madni spent some 40 years working on artificial intelligence and simulation technologies that allowed U.S. soldiers to safely train for combat operations in virtual worlds. Now Madni—a professor of astronautics, aerospace, and mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California—is working to transform engineering education. But he hasn’t abandoned the world of simulation.
University of Southern California, in Los Angeles
Professor of astronautics, aerospace, and mechanical engineering
IEEE Life Fellow
University of California, Los Angeles
In 2013 the IEEE Life Fellow created the Transdisciplinary Systems Engineering Education (TRASEE) paradigm, in which professors use simulation software to teach topics through storytelling and role-playing techniques, allowing students to apply their engineering lessons to real-world situations.
For that and other “pioneering contributions to model-based systems engineering, education, and industrial impact using interdisciplinary approaches,” Madni received this year’s IEEE Simon Ramo Medal.
Ramo was a leader in microwave research who headed the development of General Electric’s electron microscope. Ramo served as a presidential chair and professor of electrical engineering at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering from 2008 until he died in 2016.
Madni says the award is “the crowning achievement” of his career as a systems engineer. It’s particularly special to him, he says, because he and Ramo were colleagues at USC.
From NASA to teaching at USC
Madni, who grew up in Mumbai, became captivated by the U.S. space program after listening to the 1962 “We choose to go to the moon” speech delivered by John F. Kennedy at Rice University, in Houston. The president’s speech was designed to bolster public support for his proposal to land a man on the moon before 1970.
Madni, who knew he wanted to become an engineer, decided he wanted to be part of the “space adventure,” he says.
He moved to the United States to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles. Finding himself drawn to systems engineering after taking a UCLA class in the field, he decided to merge his new interest with his passion for space.
After graduating in 1968, Madni joined Parsons Corp. in Los Angeles as a full-time systems engineer and analyst working on defense programs. At night, he took graduate courses at UCLA, and in 1971 he earned his master’s degree in engineering.
He went on to pursue a Ph.D. while also working full-time at Rockwell International’s space division in Downey, Calif., as a simulation systems engineer.
He developed a model-based analysis program to virtually test the performance of the shuttle’s navigation system. He also led the creation of a simulation program that analyzed the navigation system’s performance under different high-stress conditions. Madni’s model-based approach reduced the need for extensive hardware-in-the-loop testing and consequently reduced costs, he says.
After receiving his Ph.D. in 1978 in engineering systems with a concentration in computer methodology and AI, he joined Perceptronics in Woodland Hills, Calif., as director of artificial intelligence and software research, eventually rising to executive vice president and chief technology officer.
“IEEE is the premier engineering society.”
In 1980 he began working on a distributed simulation technology for the U.S. Army. He led a team that was designing a program to train soldiers and allow them to complete practice missions in safe, virtual environments. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Army sponsored the work.
At the time, the training simulators used were expensive to build, underutilized, and inflexible.
Madni says he had two goals for the new simulation system: to lower costs, increase utilization, and allow military personnel to modify the scenarios as needed. The technology he and his team developed did just that.
He later returned to the simulation effort, this time focused on enhancing it with immersive story-telling techniques. The project was funded by the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, DARPA, and the U.S. Department of Energy as well as several aerospace and automotive companies.
Madni modeled the simulations after video games and movies, engaging multiple senses to create more immersive experiences for users.
Today the Army uses the two systems, called the “game-based training simulations for part-task training” and the “VR-enabled distributed simulation system for collective training.”
Madni left Perceptronics in 1994 to help found Intelligent Systems Technology, an R&D company in Los Angeles that specializes in modeling and simulation technology. He served as the startup’s CEO and CTO until 2009, when he joined the USC faculty as head of the interdisciplinary systems architecting and engineering master’s degree program. Madni is the founding director of USC’s Distributed Autonomy and Intelligent Systems Laboratory, which conducts research in augmented intelligence, autonomous systems, cyber-physical-human-systems, and transdisciplinary systems engineering.
“My father had a passion for education and instilled that same passion in me from a very young age,” he says. “His dream for me was to someday be a faculty member at a prestigious U.S. university. By joining USC, I have fulfilled his dream and have contributed to transforming engineering education for 21st century engineering challenges.”
Life Fellow Azad Madni [middle] proudly displays his IEEE Simon Ramo Medal at the IEEE Honors Ceremony. He is accompanied by IEEE President-Elect Thomas Coughlin [left] and IEEE President Saifur Rahman.Robb Cohen Photography
Teaching systems engineering through storytelling
It was at USC that Madni developed TRASEE.
Instead of a typical lecture format, students start with a short scenario and a technical problem to solve. Each member of a group is assigned a role. The teams use a digital twin—a virtual model—of a machine relevant to the story to assess how well their efforts are succeeding.
Madni says the approach helps students pick up information faster, gain leadership skills, and learn to work with others outside their discipline and from other cultures.
“By taking abstract engineering concepts and embedding them in stories, I’m able to communicate the ideas to students much more clearly,” he says.
According to a 2018 study, students who learn through role-playing exercises score 45 percent higher on tests than those taught through traditional lectures.
Madni has been recognized by several organizations for creating TRASEE. This year he received the National Academy of Engineering’s Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education. The prize includes a US $500,000 award; Madni donated half of the money to the NAE and half to USC.
Networking with engineers from different disciplines
Madni has been an IEEE member for 46 years. Since 1980 he has held several leadership positions and has presented papers at IEEE conferences worldwide.
In 2013, he cofounded the IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society’s technical committee on model-based systems engineering and serves as its chair. The committee creates educational resources, and members are involved in standardization efforts. Members also hosted panel sessions at the 2023 International Conference on Systems Engineering Research and presented research papers. As chair, Madni has led several collaborative efforts with professional engineering societies including International Council on Systems Engineering and the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers.
“IEEE is the premier engineering society,” he says. “It goes well beyond electronics and electrical engineering. It encompasses many disciplines including biomedical engineering, control systems engineering, cybernetics, systems engineering, and engineering management.
“IEEE being multidisciplinary makes it an ideal forum for networking with engineers from different disciplines.”Madni says he enjoys mentoring aspiring engineering students and young professionals working in both academia and industry. He says this is his way of giving back and he enjoys helping them to “realize and live their dream as I did.”
Interactive 3D and augmented reality online are making it easier for car manufacturers, fashion brands, and other businesses to design and produce their products. The platform developed by startup Emersya of Montpellier, France, pioneered the approach for product development, allowing teams to collaborate in 3D on design from ideation to market.
Companies purchase a subscription to access Emersya’s platform. From there, company designers upload a 3D model of their product and then start building their collections, selecting colors, materials, and graphics before determining which to sell.
Emersya can create a configurable 3D model of an item that can be displayed on the manufacturer’s website so that customers can view the product while deciding whether to purchase it. The virtual product can be rotated 360 degrees, and in some cases can be customized by the customer. When customers are purchasing a car, for example, they can choose the vehicle’s exterior and interior colors as well as add-ons such as a sunroof.
Emersya’s interactive viewers are embedded on the websites of more than 1,000 retailers.
For its innovation, Emersya was named the winner of the 2022 3D Retail Coalition Digital Transformation Grand Challenge. The award, from the IEEE Standards Association, recognizes a solution that transforms the way companies create, make, and sell new products by harnessing the power of scaling and automation of 3D digital product creation.
“We’re happy to get this prize because it highlights what we’ve worked on for years and shows that we are offering what the industry needs right now,” says cofounder Aurélien Vaysset, the startup’s CEO. “No other platform is doing what we do. Our customers can create whatever they dream of on our platform, rather than being confined to select features, and in only a few minutes.”
Speeding up product development
Design teams don’t have to have a technical background to use Emersya’s platform, Vaysset says, because it is built to be simple and intuitive.
Designers start by uploading a 3D model of the product they want to produce. There are free tools available to create a 3D model if the team using Emersya does not have a design background. Emersya’s customer support team can assist as well.
When the 3D asset has been created, it can be used to create an interactive and AR product experience for retail. It can be animated to enable customers to simulate product features, visualize interior components, and enlarge the view to get a better look.
Using Emersya’s augmented-reality platform, a company’s designer, like this sneaker manufacturer, can build a 3D model of its product. The 3D asset can then be displayed on the manufacturer’s website so that customers can view the product to decide whether to purchase it.Emersya
The designers can share the virtual product with other team members for feedback, which they can provide directly on the platform by leaving notes. Collaborators can rate the designs on a scale of 1 to 5 so that teams can vote to determine their favorite.
Once the final design or designs are selected, and the company is ready to sell the product, an HTML link is automatically generated to embed the 3D visualization on the retailer’s website.
Customers can go online to examine the 3D representation and learn more about the item’s features. If, for example, customers are deciding whether to purchase a baseball cap, they can click on the image to read about the hat’s features, and they can rotate it to see different angles.
Emersya also can provide product information in different languages.
Customization: The future of retail
Emersya’s platform can help customers create their own custom products. Appliance manufacturer KitchenAid, headquartered in Benton Harbor, Mich., integrates Emersya’s 3D configurator on its website to let customers choose the color of the doors and handles. Surf clothing brand Billabong, headquartered in Gold Coast, Australia, allows customers to select a range of colors and prints for their wetsuit and to add text if they like.
Emersya also offers an augmented-reality tool for retailers to incorporate on their websites and embed on their mobile apps. The tool enables customers to visualize their selected product for scale in their physical surroundings. Luggage retailer Samsonite USA, headquartered in Mansfield, Mass., incorporates the AR technology on its website so customers can select a suitcase and then take a photo of themselves to gauge the relative size of the luggage. The AR feature gives customers a more comprehensive view of the product—which helps them make a more informed decision, Vaysset says.
Samsonite’s interactive Web AR experience powered by Emersya www.youtube.com
A monthly subscription starts at a little more than US $300 (€290) for a small project and goes up from there depending on the company’s size, the number of collaborators, and the number of products and configurations designed.
Ready to ship while reducing waste
Many of the businesses that use Emersya’s platform manufacture on demand instead of in mass quantities. “It saves companies from making more than they can sell,” Vaysset notes.
That is especially true of fashion-industry companies, which typically offer collections split into four seasons: spring/summer, autumn/winter, resort, and pre-fall.
“Overproduced products have a big impact on the environment, and our goal is to help companies be environmentally friendly,” Vaysset says. “Not to mention, being wasteful is expensive for companies.”
He adds that providing more product information and—in some cases—customization options to customers reduces returns.
Every year, companies in the United States spend almost $50 billion on product returns. The returned goods are responsible for massive landfill waste and produce more than 24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, according to an article in Fast Company.
Vaysset became interested in interactive 3D for the Web in 2008 while pursuing his master’s degree in computer science and computer graphics at École Supérieure d’Ingénieurs de Luminy, in Marseille, France. The 3D technology was emerging, and that’s when he saw an enormous opportunity to apply the technology for visualizing and customizing products online.
“It’s probably the best way I could have spent my summer,” said a student who participated in this year’s IEEE TryEngineering Summer Institute. The 10-day camp for students ages 13 to 17 provides an immersive and fun approach to learning about engineering. The teenagers engage in hands-on activities, speak with working engineers, and make field trips to local engineering organizations.
In its inaugural year in 2018, 80 students participated; this year 330 attended.
This year’s group of students explored trending engineering technologies such as artificial intelligence and microcontrollers. The teens took a deep dive into the ethical issues that face engineers, as well as what to expect when pursuing higher education and a STEM career.
For their final group challenge, the students participated in an activity called Real World, Real Solutions. Working in small teams, they solved a problem and created a prototype using the engineering design process.
“Before I attended the summer camp, I was not sure if I was cut out to be an engineer,” one scholarship recipient said. “But after my wonderful experience at the IEEE TryEngineering Summer Institute, I am sure that this will be the right career path for me.”
Reminiscent of the TV show “Shark Tank,” on which business leaders often advise entrepreneurs, the students presented their projects to IEEE Pre-University Education Coordinating Committee volunteers, who provided feedback and guidance. The committee scored the teams’ projects based on the perceived demand for the final product or service, the students’ passion for their project, the engineering and technical design used, and the style and effectiveness of each presentation.
Three locations, one common goal
This year, the TryEngineering Summer Institute was held at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia; Rice University, in Houston; and the University of San Diego. There were two sessions on each of the three campuses.
University of Pennsylvania
Located in the University City section of Philadelphia, the Penn campus provided students with historical and cultural experiences. Some students visited the Boeing facility in nearby Ridley Park for a behind-the-scenes look at the aerospace manufacturing process. Others toured Philadelphia International Airport and spent time with an engineer responsible for keeping one of the nation’s busiest transportation hubs running smoothly.
The TryEngineering Summer Institute is “a great place to learn about the various engineering careers,” one Penn camper said. “I personally enjoyed the microcontroller lessons the most because I was able to combine my computer programming skills with my friend’s electrical skills to create something I wouldn’t have been able to make on my own. This program is an opportunity for exploring the different branches of engineering.”
As part of the Real World, Real Solutions challenge, students at the TryEngineering Summer Institute at Rice University, in Houston, created prototypes out of everyday materials such as cardboard boxes, paper, and electrical components.IEEE
The students at Rice spent most of their lab time in the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, a space for undergraduate students to design, prototype, and deploy real-world engineering projects. The teens met with faculty members and devised solutions to engineering challenges such as building a hydraulic robot arm and creating a light sculpture. A highlight for the campers in Houston was a daylong visit to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. In addition to enjoying a guided, behind-the-scenes tour, they met with former astronauts, who explained the engineering design of their rockets and gave career advice.
The “TryEngineering [Summer Institute] was a summer game changer for my son,” one parent said. It “ignited his passion and expanded his horizons.”
University of San Diego
Students who attended the camp on the USD campus built gliders and tested their designs from the balcony of the building where they slept. They also worked in teams to address the Toxic Popcorn Design Challenge. The teams came up with a product and a process to save a city by safely removing “toxic” popcorn. They also toured the San Diego headquarters of Qualcomm, a wireless-technology company.
“TryEngineering is a fantastic place to learn about all facets of engineering,” one participant said, adding that it is “an invaluable resource, especially for students who don’t have access to engineering classes or a robotics team at their school.”
Scholarships from IEEE groups
An important component of the TryEngineering Summer Institute is the financial support students receive from IEEE groups. Thirty-one students were awarded assistance thanks to the IEEE Educational Activities Scholarship Fund of the IEEE Foundation.
“Before I attended the summer camp, I was not sure if I was cut out to be an engineer,” said one scholarship recipient who attended the camp in San Diego. “But after my wonderful experience at the IEEE TryEngineering Summer Institute, I am sure that this will be the right career path for me. Now that I have experienced all the disciplines of engineering, I am better educated in the field as a whole, and I have all of the information I need to choose a specific field of engineering to have a career in.
“To the people who funded my scholarship, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. The only reason that I was able to experience a great city in California and become more independent while staying in college dorms is because of you.”A special thanks goes to these IEEE organizational units, which provided funding for the scholarships: the Broadcast Technology, Communications, Computational Intelligence, Electronics Packaging, Industry Applications, Microwave Theory and Technology, Photonics, Power & Energy, Power Electronics, Robotics and Automation, Signal Processing, and Solid-State Circuits societies, as well as the Council on Superconductivity
When Joseph Greene was inducted into IEEE–Eta Kappa Nu almost a decade ago, the undergraduate EE student never imagined the impact IEEE-HKN would have on his life. As a member of the Kappa Sigma chapterat Boston University, he learned leadership and communications skills while accepting different roles. Through his network of honor society members, he also found a mentor who helped him get an internship at a major research institute in Georgia.
“What I find incredibly alluring about IEEE-HKN,” Greene says, “is that not only can I engage with this organization that’s brought so many benefits to me, but I also get to work with others to have an impact outside the walls of IEEE-HKN.”
Now a Ph.D. candidate in computational imaging at BU, Greene continues to be involved with the honor society by mentoring grad students and organizing events to engage alumni.
An active and involved volunteer
Greene’s parents are not engineers. He says he picked up his love of engineering from the science fairs he participated in throughout middle school and high school in Westford, Mass. Also, his father, a senior sales manager for Thermo Fisher Scientific, a provider of medical equipment headquartered in Waltham, Mass., exposed Greene to the field of medical imaging by bringing him along to trade shows.
“It was there that I got to explore and engage with a diversity of different engineers,” Greene says. “It was really those experiences that helped show me the fascinating products you can realize and the amazing applications you can apply those technologies to with a little bit of engineering know-how.”
While a freshman in high school, Greene took a mechanical engineering course, which he says solidified his decision to pursue an engineering career.
“As our final project, we built a modified chair to support one of the students at our school who had special needs,” Greene says. “She had a tendency of injuring herself if she sat on too rigid a structure. What was memorable about this project is that it was my first chance to experience how engineering can be applied to have a tangible impact.” For his high school senior project, he built a movement-tracking eyeball robot using an Arduino microcontroller with ultrasound detectors.
He got involved with IEEE-HKN in 2014 after attending an event held by the Kappa Sigma chapter at BU, where he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
“I really enjoyed spending time with the community,” he says, “so when I had the opportunity to join its ranks and have an impact on the local campus and bond more with my peers, I was ecstatic.”
After that he became active in the chapter’s events such as tutoring students for upcoming tests and finding speakers from the university or local companies to talk about their research projects to students.
He also created several programs for the honors society, including an Arduino and coding workshop for high school students and BU undergrads. Greene was a guest lecturer for an introduction to engineering course at the Wentworth Institute of Technology, also in Boston.
“If you want to make sure that you’re on the forefront of engineering leadership, you should definitely consider joining IEEE-HKN. It makes sure you have the opportunity, resources, and network to thrive and succeed.”
One of his favorite activities, he says, has been building a sense of community among the honor society’s members.
“When our chapter was struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, I held virtual town hall meetings and game nights, where students could congregate, talk about their concerns in an open environment, have some fun, and forget about their worries for a brief moment,” he says. “By offering a consistent community and safe space, our events impacted approximately 30 to 50 students over the year and also helped our chapter focus on community service to overcome the challenges of COVID.”
Greene became more involved in leading the chapter, holding several positions including vice president and president. He also served as a student governor on the IEEE-HKN board.
“The thing that’s impacted me most about IEEE-HKN is that by engaging as a volunteer, you’re taken seriously,” he says. “For example, when I served on the board of governors, I was one of two students on this board of very impressive professionals with long, successful careers, and my voice was taken as seriously as theirs. My vote counted just the same as theirs.
“I felt like when I gave my opinions, the rest of the board was more than willing to listen, engage, and help me build my vision for the organization as a whole. It truly was a defining experience that gave me the opportunity to grow as a student leader.”
Greene participated in several of the society’s student leadership conferences, where he was a presenter and keynote speaker.
It wasn’t until he attended his first IEEE-HKN international student leadership conference, held in Boston in 2019, that he realized just how large the honor society was.
“It was awesome to be in the same room with like-minded student leaders from across the world, collaborating on great ideas about how they can benefit not just the organization but also the community outside the walls of IEEE-HKN,” he says.
Kappa Sigma received the 2021 IEEE-HKN Outstanding Chapter Award for its activities.
Joseph Greene and IEEE-HKN’s program director Nancy Ostin display the honor society’s banner at the 2022 IEEE-HKN Student Leadership Conference.Joseph Greene
Helping other grad students succeed
Even after earning his bachelor’s degree in EE in 2018 and a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering in 2019, Greene has continued to volunteer.
He launched and runs a number of events and programs for his fellow grad students to show them the value of their membership and keep them involved with IEEE.
One is a professional-to-student mentoring program that partners people from industry and academia with students to build working relationships between the two as well as provide career, technical, and personal advice. Since the program launched last year, Greene says, more than 40 people from five continents have participated.
“Across the board, students find the experience invaluable,” he says, “and carry their mentoring relationships well beyond the end of the program.”
Another of his creations is the IEEE-HKN GradLab YouTube podcast series, which he says covers “everything about grad school that they don’t teach you in a classroom.”
“How to Survive and Thrive in Your First Semester of Grad School” is one of Greene’s podcasts.
The series addresses topics such as how to survive the first semester, ways to mitigate conflict, and learning what it takes to transition from graduate school to a career in industry or academia.
“We try to give graduate students the tools they need to succeed,” he says. “Going through graduate school myself, there’s a lot you end up figuring out along the way!”
The importance of mentorship and soft skills
Greene, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in computational imaging, is on track to graduate next year.
He describes computational imaging as a mixture of optical design, algorithms, and deep learning to try to push the physical limits of conventional systems.
He spent his summer this year as a graduate research intern at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, in Atlanta. There he applied his knowledge of computational imaging to remote sensing technologies, and he explored the effects of atmospheric propagation and turbulence on remote sensing tools.
He credits his mentor—M. Ryan Bales, IEEE-HKN president—for helping him get the internship. The IEEE senior member is a chief scientist with GTRI’s Sensors and Electromagnetic Applications Laboratory.
Greene says he believes every student needs a mentor.
“What I found most rewarding about having a mentor is they offer a much broader perspective than just your collegiate needs,” he says. “Ryan and I discuss everything, from what I want out of a career and what will matter to me five or 10 years down the line in terms of formulating my career, to skills to help me get through the Ph.D. program and even personal advice such as managing a work-life balance.”
Greene credits IEEE-HKN with giving him the soft skills that many employers are looking for.
“College teaches you how to invest well in your technical skills, and it does a phenomenal job of preparing you for the workforce. “However,” he says, “there are many other aspects I found from my internships that go into being a complete professional, such as the leadership, project management, and soft skills I was able to grow through IEEE-HKN.
“If you want to make sure that you’re on the forefront of engineering leadership, you should definitely consider joining IEEE-HKN. The organization, staff, and volunteers are dedicated toward making sure you have the opportunity, resources, and network to thrive and succeed.”
Kyle Clark, the 43-year-old founder and CEO of Beta Technologies, is not quite your typical tech entrepreneur. For one thing, he’s a former professional ice hockey player. Then, too, many afternoons you won’t find him behind a desk at the company’s headquarters near the airport in Burlington, Vt. In fact, you won’t find him on the premises at all because he’s up in the air, flying one of the company’s radically innovative electric aircraft.
Bachelor’s degree in materials science engineering, Harvard
Among the hundreds of companies building electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, Beta has established itself as the clear No. 2, behind Joby Aviation. On 2 October, Beta announced the completion of a 17,500 square-meter manufacturing facility, in South Burlington that will eventually be capable of producing 300 aircraft per year. No other eVTOL company has comparable manufacturing capabilities except for EHang, in China, although Archer Aviation, Joby, Lillium, Overair, and Volocopter are now operating or building production facilties.
It’s another memorable milestone for Clark, “the most impressive polymath I’ve ever met,” says Dean Kamen, an IEEE Honorary Member and president of Deka Research & Development Corp. “He has the most broad-based collection of skill sets and experience in physics, aerodynamics, structures, propulsion, and electric motors. He’s remarkable.”
Growing up in Essex, Vt., Clark dreamed of flying, and building, aircraft. But as a nearly 200-centimeter (6-foot-6-inch) teenager, he also played ice hockey in high school with a fierceness and physical style that landed him a spot on the U.S. National Junior Team, a group of young elite players being developed for possible inclusion on the U.S. Olympic team. There he became a legend for his energy and commitment: He racked up 171 penalty minutes in one season, which still stands as the U.S. National Junior Team record. (He was also named team captain.)
From Harvard to the NHL
Kyle Clark is not only CEO of Beta Technologies, he’s also one of its test pilots. Here, Clark prepares to fly one of the company’s two all-electric prototype aircraft.Beta Technologies
Next stop: Harvard, in 1998, to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering. He played on the university’s hockey team, and also dreamed of building a radically different kind of aircraft. During his freshman year, he became consumed by an idea he had for “a hybrid-electric aircraft that utilized a very high-power-density motorcycle engine to drive a pusher propeller in an aircraft with a high wing and a fly-by-wire system.” It was the basis of the two aircraft now being built at Beta Technologies. But getting those aircraft built would be a roundabout journey, starting with a detour into professional ice hockey. During his junior year, he left Harvard after he was drafted by the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals.
“I went and played hockey for a while, but that’s kind of where the Beta story starts,” he explains. “I was always enamored with airplanes. I got my signing bonus from the Capitals, and I literally went straight to the airport and said, “I want to get a pilot’s license.” And he did.
After knocking around the Capitals’ farm system for a couple of years, Clark returned to Harvard to finish his degree in materials science engineering. After his junior year, he met Valery Kagan, an elderly Russian-born engineer who taught Clark “some basic principles of power electronics design.” Around the same time, through a company where he interned, Husky Injection Molding in Milton, Vt., he became aware of “a problem in thixotropic magnesium molding,” a technique used to produce strong and lightweight parts out of magnesium.
A problem leads to a startup
In 2005, Clark, Kagan, and three others launched iTherm Technologies in South Burlington. “It was my job to work like hell to solve the problem,” Clark recalls. That problem was lack of power supplies robust enough to withstand the demands of high-impedance induction heating, on which the magnesium molding technique depended.
“I built hundreds of power supplies and blew up hundreds of IGBTs [insulated gate bipolar transistors], just sitting there with an oscilloscope and LabView for controls,” he adds. This is how Clark got his first intense experiences in real-world electrical engineering, which would serve him well later on at Beta.
For his bachelor’s degree thesis, Clark designed a flight-control system for that hybrid-electric aircraft of his dreams. It was named student paper of the year by Harvard’s engineering department.
“You can’t be a good electrical engineer unless you have generated enough empathy for the people that are going to use the product.”
iTherm, meanwhile, became a profitable company and was sold to Dynapower, an energy-storage and power-conversion firm in South Burlington. With the proceeds from the sale, and following a few additional ventures, Clark got the chance to focus on aviation full time with the launch of Beta.
His big break came five years later during a chance meeting with the investor and entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt, who had made a fortune from starting up Sirius Satellite Radio. In 1996, Rothblatt founded United Therapeutics, a biotech company based in Silver City, Md., that she established with a long-term goal of greatly expanding rapid access to organs for transplantation. A centerpiece of her vision was building an electric rotorcraft that could swiftly ferry the organs to hospitals.
With US $48 million from Rothblatt, in 2017 Clark and a team of eight got to work. About $1.5 million of that went to building the first, prototype, aircraft. “In 10 months, we built a 4,000-pound [1,800-kilogram] electric vertical takeoff and landing prototype,” Clark says.
The technology used in electric aircraft
It was an auspicious start. Today, Beta has some 600 employees and a market valuation of $2.4 billion, according to Prequin. It is building two electric aircraft based on the same basic airframe, each with a 15-meter wingspan. Both are designed to carry a pilot and either four passengers or three standard cargo pallets. The only major difference between the two is related to horizontal rotors: one has them, and the other doesn’t.
The Alia-CX300 is an eCTOL (electric conventional takeoff and landing) aircraft with a single pusher-prop in back for propulsion. The Alia-250 adds four rotors on top for vertical lift, so it is an eVTOL. So far, Beta has built a prototype of each, both of which are flown nearly every day, Clark says.
A full-scale proof-of-concept version of the Alia-250 eVTOL aircraft completed a piloted hover test at the Burlington International Airport, in Vermont.Beta Technologies
The company has sales contracts or agreements for its aircraft with Air New Zealand, Bristow Group, LCI Aviation, United Therapeutics, UPS,the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Army. Beta is also working on a network of charging stations in the United States capable of charging not only its aircraft but also conventional road EVs. It has built about a dozen such stations and has around 55 more in development.
Advice for young engineers
Clark, an IEEE member, advises young engineers interested in working on eVTOLs to do “real” engineering. “We see people who are very good on analytical tools, but they haven’t developed the intuition to understand where they’re going to take haircuts because of design for manufacturing, or material availability, or what can actually be made without a massive tooling cost. All these things require an intuition that’s only developed by building things. By micro experimentation.
“Sitting down and actually doing the hard work of writing code makes you appreciate how hard it is to actually just fix things in software when the software is safety critical,” he adds. “Molding things out of composite makes you realize that ‘I can’t put that radius in there to make that thermal shroud for the power electronics.’ Building things with semiconductors, you realize, ‘Hey, that may have a datasheet, with a heat-transfer coefficient between the junction and the heat sink, but I’m never actually getting that kind of transfer because thermal paste dries out.’ You start to develop your own intuitive book of knowledge of where the real gremlins hide in engineering.”
He stresses that success in engineering means becoming familiar with products from many perspectives, not just in design and engineering but also manufacturing and end use.
“Everybody gets flight lessons for free here, so they get to use the product and learn what it means to use it,” he says. “You can’t be a good electrical engineer unless you have generated enough empathy for the people that are going to use the product that you’re designing and also the people that are going to build the product that you’re designing.”
This article appears in the November 2023 print issue as “Careers: Kyle Clark.”
Home to Atlassian, Canva and Afterpay and ranked #1 tech startup ecosystem in the southern hemisphere, Sydney’s Tech Central is redefining how large tech companies, startups, and academic institutions can work together to drive global change.
As the startup capital of Australia, Sydney is home to a broad spectrum of companies working at the cutting edge of deep tech, AI, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), fintech, quantum computing, blockchain, virtual reality, visual effects (VFX), game design, medtech, biotech, cybersecurity and more. At its centre is Tech Central, a dedicated tech precinct undertaking an ambitious 15-year growth plan with an estimated value of $68 billion.
- #1 ranked tech startup ecosystem in the Southern Hemisphere
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Discover how Tech Central has become a drawcard for the planet’s most progressive innovators.
From smartphone apps and immersive gaming experiences to digital twins and virtual surgical training, augmented and virtual reality technologies have come a long way.
They are becoming increasingly commonplace as their applications grow. The global VR market is projected to nearly double in size, from less than US $12 billion last year to more than $22 billion by 2025, according to Statista. Combined global user penetration for AR and VR markets is expected to hit more than 32 percent by 2027.
As more industries adopt AR and VR, it is imperative for individuals to understand the key applications and capabilities relevant to their respective fields.
AR, VR, and mixed reality use cases
IEEE Educational Activities, in partnership with IEEE Future Directions, the IEEE Future Networks Initiative, and the IEEE Digital Reality Initiative, has developed a five-course eLearning program to help organizations and individuals better understand AR and VR applications.
Practical Applications of Virtual and Augmented Reality in Business and Society takes learners through several use cases that leverage augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality in combination with large amounts of data generated by artificial intelligence.
Expert instructors cover these topics:
- The history and importance of gaming.
- The social and technological characteristics of smart cities, their development and maintenance, and the metaverse.
- The role of 5G in AR/VR technology, and applications that drive the need for next-generation networks.
- Digital twins and AR/VR digital representation.
- Evolving landscapes of the manufacturing, agricultural, and gaming industries.
- Future advancements and expansions.
Courses within the program
The Case of Gaming. Experts have forecasted that global revenue from the VR gaming content industry will grow from $1.8 billion in 2020 to $6.9 billion by 2025. Uses for AR/VR in gaming extend beyond entertainment and play an important role in exergaming, which incorporates physical movement. By combining game design with medical expertise, users can improve their motor skills, slow cognitive decline, and improve balance. This course demonstrates how gaming has impacted the development of technologies fundamental to immersive reality.
The Case of Smart Cities. Municipal leaders, urban planners, and developers can leverage AR tools to improve public health, public safety, urban mobility, and tourism. Smart cities, for example, are able to collect and analyze key data points in real time by using Internet of Things–enabled sensors. The sensors can measure air quality, detect leaking water pipes, and reduce the amount of time and fuel needed to manage waste by monitoring public garbage cans. This course covers the characteristics of smart cities and smart citizens, accessing services via AR/VR.
Smart Agrofood Systems. To feed a growing population, many farmers are turning to smart farming. Also known as “precision agriculture,” smart farming leverages information and communication technologies such as the IoT, robotics, and augmented and virtual reality. Applications include monitoring key factors for crop yields through sensors; using drones to survey the land for seeding and weed control; and operating connected vehicles. This course covers agricultural production, aggregation, processing, consumer feedback, robots, and global positioning systems.
Smart Factories. Companies are exploring a variety of AR/VR applications within manufacturing and design, including those that can improve worker safety, increase productivity, drive efficiency, and provide better onboarding and learning experiences for new workers. This course discusses the merging of manufacturing and the supply chain using AR/VR, as well as the robotic automation applications and human dynamics in industry.
Future Networks of 5G, 6G, and Beyond. Combining future networks with AR/VR technologies is likely to provide for faster, more precise Internet infrastructures to connect global markets and help improve processes, create new customer experiences, and launch helpful sales and marketing tools. This course explores technologies as they relate to AR/VR and mixed reality use cases.
Upon completion of the courses, learners earn professional development hours or continuing education units as credentials and digital badges that can be shared on social media. Visit the IEEE Learning Network to see member and nonmember pricing and to learn more.Organizations interested in the program can contact an IEEE account specialist to hear about institutional access.
This article has been updated from an earlier version.
A team of students from the Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University is helping to improve the air quality for nomadic communities in Mongolia.
A drought in Mongolia has led to food shortages, prompting the nomads to migrate to the Ger district in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, one of the world’s most polluted cities. During the past few years, children living in the polluted district have lung functions that are 40 percent lower than those living in rural areas, according to UNICEF.
The Project Koyash team at ASU designed a solar-powered air-filtration system that autonomously cleans polluted air in less than an hour. The system is being used in the mobile homes of those living in nomadic communities.
The team worked with the nonprofit Taiwan Fund for Children and Families (TFCF). The project was done through the Fulton Engineering Projects in Community Service in IEEE group. EPICS in IEEE provided a US $10,000 grant in July 2022 to deploy the systems.
A solar-powered air filtration system
Project Koyash was named after the mythical Turkic sun god in order to pay homage to Mongolian culture, says team leader Bryan Yavari, a neuroscience student at ASU’s Barrett honors college, in Tempe, as well as to raise awareness about air pollution in Ulaanbaatar.
The students launched the initiative in 2020 after reading an article about the city’s air pollution in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.
To improve air quality, burning unrefined coal for heat was banned.
Project advisor Shamsher “Shami” Warudkar says it was a choice between staying warm and having breathable air.
“In a city already plagued by pollution,” he says, “we at least wanted to provide them with clean air at home.” Warudkar is an associate aeroelasticity engineer at Virgin Galactic, in Los Angeles. An alumnus of the ASU engineering school, he has been involved with the project from the beginning.
In the team’s initial discussions with the Mongolian consulate about air quality and the logistics of the project, it was clear the country was looking for solutions but that “there were not many groups trying to find them,” Yavari says.
The team designed its air-filtration system to be solar-powered because Ulaanbaatar gets an average of 290 days of sunlight each year. The system includes a solar panel, a battery, an Arduino microcontroller, an inverter, and a filter. All the components are housed in a 3D-printed weatherproof box to protect the system from harsh weather.
“The system is designed to run autonomously so that the residents don’t have to turn it off and on or move anything,” Yavari says.
When the team tested the system in February 2022, it purified the air and reduced the air-quality index from 325 to 80 within 90 minutes. The higher the AQI, the greater the level of air pollution.
One of the project’s biggest successes, Yavari says, was “having our system work seamlessly with so many different components while accomplishing the daunting task of purifying the air.”
Warudkar credits the system engineering process with helping the team discover the correct path forward.
“I’m proud that we were able to explore and iterate to eventually come to this solution,” he says.
“The engineering process was well worth it after talking to the families and hearing their appreciation that they are able to breathe clean, filtered air for the first time,” Yavari says. “It is the most rewarding experience we have had.”
Having a team that was multidisciplinary was a factor in the project’s success, Yavari says. The group included students studying aerospace engineering, computer science, industrial design, and mechanical engineering.
“Our team has been adaptable and passionate about learning other fields,” he says. Warudkar adds: “We’ve all learned so much, and we’re all bringing different items and skills to the table.”
With 13 units already in use, the team is continuing the deployment phase. Team members plan to continue testing in order to enhance the system, and the group is working with TFCF to develop a local supply chain for the components. It eventually could provide the filtration systems to the more than 800,000 residents in the Ger district.
“This local supply chain will help us implement a more sustainable, perpetual solution for the residents,” Yavari says.
Working with the nonprofit has been invaluable, the two say. TFCF connected with the local community, set up the 13 units, and obtained data on how the system was working, Warudkar says.
“Without a local partner, we could not do what we’re doing,” he says.
The project started as part of the EPICS students’ coursework, but it has grown into something more. Koyash is now registered as a nonprofit—which has helped to provide the residents with long-term support through additional systems, supply-chain development, and ongoing assistance.
Adaptability is critical
Reflecting on lessons learned during the project, Yavari and Warudkar agree that patience and adaptability have been critical.
“When you have an international project, there are lots of roadblocks that no one anticipates or controls, but we made sure the project is still progressing,” Yavari says.
The project “didn’t just fall in our laps,” he says. “This was something that we had to deliberately go out there and figure out.
“When people are at home watching a documentary about how climate change affects the world, they often say, ‘Oh man, that sucks, but I can’t do anything about it.’ But when you really put yourself out there and do the work, you can accomplish so much. It’s important to keep trying no matter what obstacles are faced.”
For the second year in a row, inflation outpaced growth in U.S. engineering salaries, according to the IEEE-USA 2023 Salary and Benefits Survey. That’s the first multiyear dip in real income since the 2000s.
In current dollars, the median income of U.S. engineers and other tech professionals who were IEEE members grew 6 percent from US $160,097 in 2021 to $169,000 in 2022, excluding overtime pay, profit sharing, and other supplemental earnings, the just-released report indicated. But with inflation taking off during the survey period, average salaries in real (2022) dollars dropped $3,585, after a drop of $3,723 the previous year. To calculate the median, IEEE-USA considered only respondents who were tech professionals working full-time in their primary area of technical competence, a sample of 3,992 people for the latest survey.
Who is the typical IEEE member? He (and I use that pronoun intentionally) is 50-year-old white male with 25 years of work experience who supervises at least one person. IEEE’s demographics actually hit a milestone this year: It’s the first time since IEEE-USA began collecting this data in 1972 that women made up more than 10 percent of the respondents.
Women nibble at gender gap while ethnic gaps increase
The gender gap in pay, which has long been apparent when IEEE-USA conducts salary surveys, shrunk by $7,100 in 2022, though men still significantly out-earn women by an average of $26,800. Meanwhile, the gap in earnings between non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic African American tech professionals grew by $7,000 to $21,500, while Asian and Pacific Islander respondents came out on top for the second time in the survey’s history.
Consumer electronics is back on top
What fields of engineering are most lucrative? After getting knocked out of the No. 1 spot for 2021 by solid-state and other circuits engineering, consumer electronics came roaring back for 2022, with a median salary of $230,217. Salaries for those working with solid-state circuits slipped slightly, while those for professionals involved in other circuits and devices took a big hit.
Pacific region extends lead
In spite of the reports of tech workers fleeing the San Francisco Bay area, the Pacific region extended its lead over New England for highest median tech salaries. In fact, salaries for New England and for the West South Central region, which includes Texas, slipped slightly.
More engineers are satisfied with their jobs—and salaries
After a big dip in reported job satisfaction in 2021, engineers surveyed by IEEE-USA are feeling better about their jobs—and their salaries—again, but this satisfaction index has yet to climb back to the level it reached in 2019 and 2020, in the heart of the pandemic.
IEEE-USA offers its full report for purchase here.
When Tushar Sharma was a young boy growing up in Jamnapaar, India, a densely populated area outside of Delhi, he never imagined that someday he would meet the country’s prime minister.
That memorable event occurred in May, when Sharma and a delegation from his employer, Renesas Electronics, met with Narendra Modi to discuss how the semiconductor company could support the prime minister’s India Semiconductor Mission and Digital India initiative. The initiative aims to improve the country’s reliance on hardware infrastructure and to become a global hub for electronics manufacturing and design.
Sharma, a semiconductor engineer, was instrumental in organizing the meeting for the Tokyo-based company. He heads the recently opened Renesas-Tata Consultancy Services Joint Innovation Center, in Bengaluru. The center focuses on radio-frequency, digital, and mixed-signal design, as well as software for next-generation chips focusing on 5G, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and more.
Renesas’s efforts for the “Made in India” ecosystem reflects the company’s expertise in manufacturing, telecommunications, automotive, and advanced semiconductor design, Sharma says.
Renesas Electronics, San Diego.
Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, in Delhi, India; University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
“The idea is to enable more end-to-end solutions for India as well as other global markets,” he says. “India has to become a self-sustaining R&D hub.”
Building a thriving semiconductor industry
At the meeting with Modi, Sharma presented the prime minister with a cutting-edge 5G millimeter-wave and sub-6-gigahertz chipset designed by Renesas’s R&D teams in Bengaluru and San Diego.
“The prime minister displayed a genuine fascination with the chipset and talked about the technical intricacies of the integrated chip,” the IEEE member says. “He asked about the silicon node and the fabrication facility that created it.
“I firmly believe the development of these critical chips is vital for the greater public good,” Sharma says. “Those working in industry can be change agents and have a meaningful impact on society, such as advancing technology for humanity. After all, that is the motto of IEEE.”
Sharma worked for several years as an RF engineer in the semiconductor industry before joining Renesas in 2021. He is based at the company’s San Diego office but travels frequently to Bengaluru. Sharma’s research includes developing gallium nitride technology, advanced integrated circuits for 5G and beyond, and millimeter-wave transmitters.
In addition to leading the innovation center, he is a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and advisor to the university’s Center for Semiconductor Technologies. The SemiX focuses on workforce development and entrepreneurship by serving as a common interdisciplinary platform between academia, industry, investors, and government. The center supports the Indian Semiconductor Mission, which aims to grow the nation’s chip industry.
When Sharma asked the prime minister to share his vision for India’s future, Modi told him it was important that young professionals and those working in the scientific community be involved in fostering inclusive growth, developing talent, and improving the skills of those living in the country’s rural areas, focusing on technology development with integrity, inclusion, and innovation.
Sharma says he finds Modi’s own career inspirational, because he experienced the challenges of growing up in a financially strained environment.
“His tech-savvy approach—and active presence on social media with more than 200 million followers—allows him to connect and engage with the youth, addressing their concerns and aspirations in a relatable manner,” he says. “What resonates with young professionals is the belief that no dream is too big, and no obstacle is too insurmountable when fueled by a strong sense of purpose and a vision for a brighter future.”
From astrophysicist to semiconductor engineer
Growing up in a financially strained environment, Sharma joined the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers, seeking mentorship and support from nearby science clubs. He learned how to set up antennas and radios to track celestial events.
He wanted to monitor and record the radio waves from the annular solar eclipse in 2013, but he couldn’t afford a radio, so he decided to build his own. He bartered with shop owners to get free parts in exchange for tutoring their children.
While building his radio, he says, he fell in love with engineering.
“I went through so much emotion and hard work that I got attracted to the engineering field,” he says. “I realized that engineering is the backbone of many things that are used in our daily lives.”
To get to the best place for him to view the eclipse—Varkala, Kerala, which is 2,500 kilometers from his hometown—he took buses and trains, and he walked at times. At the viewing site, he met solar physicist Subramaniam Ananthakrishnan. After Sharma showed him the radio he had built, Ananthakrishnan encouraged him to pursue a career as a semiconductor engineer and challenged him to design an amplifier that did not oscillate and an oscillator that didn’t amplify. Sharma did just that.
“Those working in industry can be change agents and have a meaningful impact on society.”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 2009 from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, in Delhi. He wanted to continue his studies in the United States, he says, but the tuition was too expensive.
By chance, he attended a session on microwaves given by IEEE Fellow Fadhel Ghannouchi, who taught electrical and computer engineering at the University of Calgary, in Alberta, Canada. Sharma told Ghannouchi about his research and his work with radio waves. Ghannouchi encouraged him to apply for a Killam Doctoral Scholarship to the Canadian university, and he was accepted. Sharma earned a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering in 2018 from the university, followed by a postdoc stint at Princeton. Calgary recognized him with a Schulich Early Achievement Alumni Award in 2019.
An active student humanitarian
Since his college days, Sharma has been using his technical skills to give back to communities around the world. He started as an IEEE student branch chair. His focus, he says, has been to encourage students to pursue a STEM education and to bridge the digital/education divide.
When he moved to Canada, he joined the IEEE Southern Alberta Section and served as chair of its Young Professionals affinity group. He helped reinvigorate the group, which received the 2015 Young Professionals Hall of Fame Award. The honor recognizes groups that have formed collaborations with local industry, organized quality events, engaged with other IEEE units, and held activities that grew their membership.
Sharma helped found the section’s IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology. The SIGHT group partners with local organizations to bring technology to underserved communities. Looking for people who needed help, he learned about the indigenous community in Canada.
“I was shocked to see that within first-world countries, there is still so much disparity,” he says.
The IEEE SIGHT group built the infrastructure to bring free Wi-Fi to the Maskwacis reserve, in central Alberta. The project received US $20,000 from what is now the IEEE Humanitarian Technologies Board.
“I understood one thing: that it’s not always about the solutions; it’s about working on the right problems,” Sharma says of his SIGHT work.
“Wireless connectivity is a basic need for individuals because that’s what connects them to the outside world and the global ecosystem,” he says. Thanks to the project, he says, residents could start small businesses and sell their products online.
“Technology is not just about high-end IC design,” he says. “It is also about how you can translate that technology into public good.”
In 2021 Sharma was the youngest member to be elected to the IEEE Microwave Theory and Technology Society board, on which he still serves. He says he values getting to meet the other board members, who include some of the best researchers in their field who are shaping the future of technology
What’s more, he says, “I get to evolve my personality, understand how technology trends are changing, and what the strategies are.
“For my professional career, membership has helped me expand my network and sharpen my technical know-how. Be it your personal or professional life, learning and service is an inevitable process. The more you serve, the more you learn and grow.”
Winning an Academy Award is probably not something most engineers ever expect to do. But it was a fitting honor for Jim Vanns, who won a 2023 Technical Achievement Award—commonly referred to as a Technical Oscar—from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his work on the high-performance computing systems behind the blockbuster films Gravity (2013) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). He shared the award with Mark Hills, a former colleague at the London-based visual-effects studio Framestore. The pair wrote the software to manage the cutting-edge computing cluster that Framestore used to create its computer-generated imagery, or CGI. Their software is still being used today.
Industrial Light & Magic, London
Principal production engineer
Joint honors degree in computer science and music, Canterbury Christ Church University, Canterbury, England
“The great thing about the Academy Awards is that they raise awareness of the technology being used, which would be impossible to make films without,” Vanns says. “These awards show that the dependence on technology is understood and appreciated, rather than just assuming making movies is all about the creative teams.”
Vanns, who now works at Disney-owned Industrial Light & Magic, in London, was an avid cinephile growing up. But he didn’t realize until after college that his coding skills would be his entry into the film industry.
“I have always loved movies,” he says, “but I never really thought there would be a chance to apply my computer science knowledge to making them.” And with the growing importance of visual effects (VFX) in moviemaking, he says, there are increasing opportunities for the more technically minded to make their mark on the silver screen.
2023 Sci-Tech Awards: Mark Hills and Jim Vanns | FQ Render Farm Management System www.youtube.com
Inspired by the Lord of the Rings
Vanns grew up in Tonbridge, England, and played guitar for several bands as a teenager. He began tinkering with the software used to produce music. The programs often crashed unexpectedly, so he dug into the underlying code to find out why. That was his first taste of computer science. “I got into reverse engineering and understanding how computers worked under the hood,” he says.
Meanwhile, his father was gently nudging him to study something with a more “realistic” career path than music. Vanns decided to combine his interests, majoring in computer science and music at Canterbury Christ Church University, in Canterbury, England.
After graduating with a joint honors degree in both fields in 2001, Vanns worked for a time writing software, and seemed to be setting off on a fairly conventional IT career. But his love of cinema set him on a different path. While watching the bonus content on the DVD version of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002), he was captivated by a discussion about the CGI in an iconic battle scene. The scene’s large numbers of computer-generated characters were created on a dedicated cluster of high-performance computers—a render farm—that converted the data from a 3D computer model into a photo-realistic video.
Vanns had assumed that the only computer science jobs in the film industry were related to creating the graphics themselves, something he hadn’t studied. But that DVD discussion opened his eyes to the extensive software development and systems management that went into producing CGI. Eager to break into the industry, he began applying for jobs, and in 2006 he was hired as a systems programmer at Framestore.
“It was that ‘foot in the door’ opportunity that I was after,” he says. “I think a lot of people end up falling into my line of work, but for me it was very much a conscious decision to try to get into the industry.”
Award-winning rendering software
After a few years of learning the ropes and working on a variety of projects, Vanns was assigned to revamp the management software for Framestore’s render farm. The company had just been hired for the VFX-heavy Gravity and needed to switch to a far more computationally taxing form of rendering called path tracing. The approach simulates the physics of light more faithfully than other approaches do, leading to scenes with more realistic and dynamic lighting.
The project was going to stretch Framestore’s render farm nearly to its breaking point, Vanns recalls, so it needed software that could squeeze every drop of efficiency out of the hardware. But the company also wanted to future-proof its systems. Vanns and Hills had to create software that would last a decade and could handle 10 times the workload required for Gravity as the company’s render farm grew.
At its heart, the challenge they faced was one of resource management, Vanns says. “We had this render farm made up of 100,000 processor cores, but the company was often working on three different shows at the same time,” he says. “It was all about how we divvied up the cores.”
The goal was to ensure that the processors were used as efficiently as possible, and that different tasks running on the same machines didn’t end up competing for resources, like memory. That required some clever scheduling and networking. The team was also given the job of creating a responsive user interface that could provide real-time updates on the progress of rendering jobs.
The resulting system, dubbed the FQ renderfarm engine, is what earned Vanns and Hills their Academy Award. The software went live in 2010 and is still in use at Framestore today. “They have had to do very few code changes,” Vanns says. “The system still runs just as it was designed.”
“The great thing about the Academy Awards is that they raise awareness of the technology being used, which would be impossible to make films without.”
After completing the FQ project, Vanns wanted a new challenge. He joined the London office of Industrial Light & Magic in 2014 as a senior production engineer. The first project he worked on involved researching whether the company could shift the bulk of its computing workload onto the cloud. That meant imagining how to build the company’s entire global VFX infrastructure from scratch using the latest cloud technology.
“It was real ‘the world is your oyster,’ blue-sky-thinking kind of stuff,” he says.
The project was fascinating, Vanns says, but the company concluded that a wholesale shift to the cloud didn’t make sense. It would be difficult to migrate the legacy software, and the investments the company had already made in hardware meant it was unlikely to save much money. However, insights gained from the project led to improvements to the company’s IT infrastructure. Vanns is currently developing a new data-storage system that resulted from the project.
How to break into the movie-tech business
When it comes to a software-development career in the VFX industry, graphics-related work gets most of the attention. But Vanns says there are plenty of other interesting roles available.
“I don’t think it’s really well understood how much work is involved in terms of building databases, operating systems, networks, and all that slightly less grand software,” he says.
The requirements for the movie industry are similar to those for software engineering jobs in other sectors, Vanns says. An understanding of algorithms and data structures is a must. The industry relies heavily on the Linux operating system, so relevant experience is also required.
Those who want to write software to support the creation of CGI will need to learn how the process works, Vanns says. It involves coordination among the various departments specializing in different aspects of VFX, including textures, animation, and lighting, which all have different requirements and workflows.
Most important, though, is the ability to find creative solutions to problems. Complications are inevitable when managing computer systems made up of thousands of devices and used by thousands of people, who are often scattered around the globe.
“I think an underestimated aspect problem solving is creativity,” Vanns says. “Being able to think not only analytically but also creatively about how you might solve a problem is a must.”
The adoption of emerging technologies has drastically increased since 2020, according to a McKinsey & Co. survey. Understanding the latest technology trends can allow you to strengthen your competitive edge. Developing your technical skills and investing in yourself are great ways to advance from your current position and help you thrive in your industry.
To help technical professionals working in industry develop their skills in the latest technologies, IEEE recently launched the IEEE Academies learning paths. The program is designed to teach in-demand technical concepts in a new way to industry professionals. IEEE Academies provide learners with webinars, tutorials, recorded videos, IEEE Xplore Digital Libraryarticles, and other educational offerings. Each learning path is presented in an easy-to-understand manner and does not require deep prerequisite knowledge of the subject.
The current IEEE Academies’ topics are artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and the smart grid. Here is an overview of what the three courses cover.
- Artificial Intelligence. As organizations continue to automate day-to-day operations, AI has become more significant. The global AI market value is expected to reach US $267 billion by 2027, according to KR Elixir. Like humans, AI systems can improve their performance based on the data they collect. To equip individuals with the necessary knowledge for future AI developments, the IEEE Academy on Artificial Intelligence teaches basic concepts in data, types of learning models, measuring efficiency, and optimizing machine learning. This course explores the applications of AI in different industries, such as manufacturing, education, finance, and health care, by defining problems and identifying possible AI solutions.
- Internet of Things. This technology, which has risen to be one of the most important technologies of the 21st century, provides users with interconnectedness and efficiency. Smart thermostats, smart watches, and smart appliances are a few of the IoT applications that seamlessly exchange data with each other through the Internet. By the end of this year, the IoT market is projected to grow to nearly $1.4 billion, nearly doubling in value from 2020. The IEEE Academy on IoT consists of two learning paths: Communication Standards and Computing Platforms. The courses provide an overview of standardized machine communication, as well as state-of-the-art applications and likely future trends on computing platforms.
- Smart Grid.The self-healing nature of the smart grid is composed of new technologies, automation, controls, and computers that work together to respond quickly to electricity demand. The benefits of adopting a smart grid include improved security, faster restoration of electricity, and lower electricity rates. The IEEE Academy on Smart Grid covers topics such as distribution automation and microgrids in two learning sections. The comprehensive Distribution Automation path teaches the fundamentals of the existing power distribution system, how to automate the system, and ways to add advanced functionalities. The Microgrid program reviews how small grids can be integrated with wind, solar photovoltaic, and storage systems, and it covers operation planning. The program also addresses trends and solutions as well as the challenges, benefits, and applications of the technologies.
Upon completion of the courses, learners earn professional development hours or continuing education units as credentials and digital badges that can be shared on social media. Visit the IEEE Learning Network to see member and nonmember pricing and to learn more.This article appears in the December 2023 print issue.
Trinity’s provost is elected by faculty members and student representatives, not a board of trustees, as happens with American university presidents. The 431-year-old university has more than 21,000 students and almost 4,000 staff members.
Doyle is no stranger to Trinity. The IEEE senior member is an alum of its engineering program and has taught at the university since the mid-1990s. Prior to her appointment as provost, she was Trinity’s dean and vice president of research. Her own field is wireless communications.
Trinity College Dublin
University College Cork, in Ireland, and Trinity College Dublin
Being provost is “like managing a small town,” she says. “I’m responsible for everything in the university: strategic direction, leadership, the governance, and fundraising. And [I’m expected] to be politically active and a philanthropist.”
Doyle has several goals for the remainder of her 10-year term, which began in 2021. Most important, she says, is increasing the number of women enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs. A longtime advocate for the arts, she also intends to introduce more programs that combine creativity with technology.
In addition, she says, she will be working to ensure the university equips the next generation of engineers with the skills they need to work in a world expected to be transformed by generative AI.
Increasing the number of women in STEM
Doyle acknowledges there is no “silver bullet” to increasing the number of women in engineering and computer science. Trinity has several programs with that goal. It offers scholarships to women who are pursuing a STEM degree and holds events to encourage others to consider a STEM career. Trinity also runs a Women Who Wow mentorship program for female students who want to become entrepreneurs.
Another university program Doyle points to is Bridge, a team-based, technology-mediated initiative aimed at students in secondary schools. It encourages them to experiment, think critically, and be creative. The Bridge CodePlus program offers workshops to teach girls how to code. The workshops “expose students to all kinds of technical applications so they can see that engineering is accessible,” Doyle says.
Having female role models is an important way to boost the number of women in STEM, she says. Women are well represented among Trinity’s current leadership, she points out.
Combining creative arts and engineering
Doyle was a professor of engineering and the arts in the computer science and statistics school at Trinity from 2014 to 2021. And even before that, she loved working with artists, who can help engineers become better at their job, she says.
“I find it powerful to work with creative arts practitioners,” she says. “I think artists are really good at ambiguity, and engineers typically aren’t.
“It’s important [for engineers] to be able to handle ambiguity. There’s a kind of fearlessness about the practice of art in addressing new areas and new things. For artists, there is no such thing as a neutral design; everything has a political driver behind it. I think engineering training doesn’t allow you to see that.”
She believes so strongly in combining the two fields, she says, that she established the Orthogonal Methods Group, a research platform that brings together artists, writers, and telecommunication experts to generate new research areas in information and communication technology. The group is part of CONNECT, the Science Foundation Ireland research center for future communication networks, founded by Doyle and hosted at Trinity with researchers across nine other Irish higher-education institutions.
“When you are designing technology for the future,” she says, “understanding all these things will make you a better engineer.”
AI’s impact on academia
One new technology that concerns Doyle is generative AI such as ChatGPT and the impact it will have on academia.
The COVID-19 pandemic suddenly required students to pivot to online learning, she says, but “I think that will pale in significance to how much generative AI is going to change things—from how instructors teach their material and how students do their homework to how engineering and research are conducted.”
Tomorrow’s students will need to be better communicators, she says, adding that they will need to improve their critical thinking in terms of the material generated by AI while having the ability to verify the data.
“I immediately knew industry was the wrong place for me. The open-endedness of academia really appeals to me.”
“The next generation of engineers will have to be able to deal with the generative AI world,” she says. “In one sense, I think you need to be more expressive and disciplined to be able to deal with it well.”
Some jobs that exist today will no longer be relevant in a few years because of generative AI, she predicts, but a lot of what is being taught now is based on the assumption that the jobs will survive.
For the university itself, she says generative AI is going to have “an absolutely enormous impact on every single thing we do.”
Doyle is working on an initiative to help Trinity tackle AI issues from what she calls multidimensional and multidisciplinary aspects.
The appeal of academia
Doyle grew up in Togher, a suburb of Cork, Ireland. In school, she was interested in math, physics, and chemistry but didn’t have exposure to technical topics outside of class.
She had no female engineering role model when she was growing up. She came from a family of modest means. Her father was a printer, and her mother was a homemaker.
Even though neither parent had studied at a university, they supported her pursuing a degree. Also, because they didn’t know what engineers did, they “had no biases about a woman wanting to be an engineer,” she says. “Their attitude was actually exceptionally liberating.”
Doyle was inspired to pursue an engineering career after attending a presentation on electrical engineering while conducting a campus tour of nearby University College Cork. Afterward, she says, she thought: “Wow! That’s for me.” She enrolled at the college and earned a bachelor’s degree in EE in 1989.
After graduating, she worked for Siemens in Munich for a year.
“I immediately knew industry was the wrong place for me,” she says. “It was kind of too constraining. The open-endedness of academia really appeals to me.”
Thus began her academic career at Trinity, where she earned a master’s degree in science in 1993, a Ph.D. in radio waves in 1997, and later a postgraduate diploma in statistics.
During that period, she also started lecturing and eventually established her own research group.
IEEE provides a global perspective
Doyle joined IEEE in 2002 because “you can’t be a researcher in engineering and not be a member,” she says. She notes that the organization has evolved over the years and now publishes articles on broader topics but still maintains its high quality.
Trinity has an active IEEE student branch—which Doyle says is important because “when you do things as a student, and certainly as a young researcher, you really need to see where your place is in the world.
“There’s no point in being good at something in the context of your own country, especially a small country like Ireland. That global perspective is just so important. I think it sets ambitions. Also, at IEEE, you find people to collaborate with, and you meet people who are interested in the same topics as you.”
Ken Laker, the 1999 IEEE president, died on 2 August at the age of 76.
Laker worked with the IEEE Board of Directors in the early 1990s to purchase personal computers for the organization’s leaders to make it easier to conduct IEEE business via the Internet. Later, he led the creation of the IEEE Virtual Museum (now the Engineering and Technology History Wiki), an online repository of educational content.
Also a philanthropist, he helped establish the annual IEEE Presidents’ Scholarship to acknowledge a deserving student whose project demonstrates an understanding of electrical or electronics engineering, computer science, or other IEEE field of interest. The US $10,000 scholarship is administered by IEEE Educational Activities and is payable over four years of undergraduate university study.
In addition to sharing his time and talents with IEEE, he was a professor of electrical engineering for 35 years at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.
He also was cofounder and chief executive of DFT Microsystems, a semiconductor company based in Montreal.
Contributions at Bell Labs and at Penn
He received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1969 from Manhattan College, in Riverdale, N.Y. While there, he completed the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, which prepares students to become leaders in the U.S. military. Upon graduation he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force.
He went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in EE in 1970 and 1973 from New York University, in New York City.
After graduating in 1973, Laker joined the Air Force Research Laboratory, in Bedford, Mass., as a researcher who investigated military applications of surface acoustic wave devices. He left in 1977 to join Bell Labs, in Holmdel, N.J., as a member of the technical staff. He conducted and supervised research and development of analog and digital application-specific integrated circuits.
Laker joined the University of Pennsylvania in 1984 as an EE professor. During the next three decades, he conducted pioneering research in mixed-signal integration systems and taught classes in very-large-scale integration circuits and systems, as well as leadership, engineering design, and intellectual property protection and management.
He co-authored four textbooks on microelectronic systems.
In 2000 he helped found DFT, which manufactured test equipment for high-speed semiconductor interfaces. He served as its CEO for two years. He retired in 2019.
Introducing Web-based services
In 1993, while serving as Division I director, he was involved in the early stages of modernizing IEEE operations and processes with networked computers and Internet access.
He later was named chair of the new IEEE Electronic Services Steering Committee, which oversaw the purchase of computers for all IEEE Board members to digitize thousands of IEEE documents. Committee members also worked on the first system to digitize IEEE’s membership renewal process.
As IEEE president, Laker helped further expand the organization’s Web-based services. He worked with the IEEE Publication Services and Products Board to develop a blueprint for the IEEE Xplore Digital Library. IEEE Xplore, launched in May 2000, remains a leading resource for scientific and technical information, providing online access to the full-text versions of more than 6 million documents.
In the late 1990s, Laker joined the IEEE History Committee and worked with other volunteers to develop the IEEE Virtual Museum, a Web-based archive of articles, videos, and audio recordings highlighting significant technological advancements. Later, that content was migrated to IEEE’s Global History Network, which was replaced in 2015 by the IEEE Engineering and Technology History Wiki.
In 1999 Laker worked with Peter Lewis, IEEE Foundation director emeritus, to establish the annual IEEE Presidents’ Scholarship. Each year, a winner is selected from students who presented their projects at the Society for Science’s Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. The most recent scholarship was given to a teen who created a tool to detect glaucoma.
People have expected great things from Alice Parker, who was raised in a family of distinguished scientists and engineers. And Parker, emerita professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Southern California has delivered. She helped develop high-level (behavioral) synthesis, an automated computer design process that assists with the transformation of a behavioral description of hardware into a model of its logic and memory circuits.
Her father, a chemist, was on the team that first synthesized vitamin B1 at pharmaceutical company Merck in New Jersey. In 1941 her uncle Edward Wenk Jr., was appointed the first science advisor to the U.S. Congress.
Parker is currently helping to develop an artificial brain that can replicate the functions of neural mechanisms believed to be important for learning and memory.
This year IEEE President-Elect Tom Coughlin interviewed Parker for her IEEE History Center oral history. It is now available on the Engineering and Technology History Wiki. This article is based on that interview.
Modeling the brain
Parker’s work is focused on four areas: biomimetic neuromorphic circuits, biomimetic stereo vision, retinal and cortical neuromorphic analog circuits, and nanotechnology.
Biomimetic neuromorphic circuits mimic the brain’s short-term memory and cognition. Biomimetic stereo vision helps systems perceive objects in three dimensions. Retinal and cortical neuromorphic analog circuits simulate neural networks found in the retina and the visual cortex.
Parker is combining those research areas through the design of a biomimetic real-time cortex (BioRC), essentially an artificial brain.
In collaboration with Chongwu Zhou, an electrical engineering professor at USC in Los Angeles, she created the first synapse made with carbon-nanotube transistors. Parker and her students developed the first analog circuit designs of astrocytes (brain cells) that interact with circuits that model neurons to replicate the functions of neural mechanisms believed to be important for learning and memory.
“We are looking at how the brain works biologically, and we are pushing it down a level and seeing what we can emulate,” Parker says. “Can we emulate schizophrenia? Can we emulate various things that are biological?” She said the project has been “a lot of fun.”
BioRC probably will be the last big thing she works on during her career, she says.
STEM: A family affair
Parker’s interest in pursuing a STEM career began before she started elementary school in Birmingham, Ala., after her parents bought her a chemistry set. At the time, her father was a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
She was “barely able to read,” she recalls, so her father described what the project was so she could do it by herself.
Her parents also bought her older brother engineering kits, and Parker watched him complete them. Together the siblings fixed broken electronics around the house, such as a television and an electric train.
As a high school student, she built a laboratory in a bathroom at home. Parker participated in many science fairs and won several awards for her projects. Her science-fair success caught the attention of a teacher who encouraged Parker to pursue a degree in electrical engineering, and he helped her plot her career path.
“I was always interested in the computer and digital things,” Parker told Coughlin in the interview.
She was awarded a partial scholarship to attend North Carolina State University, in Raleigh. Her father taught physics nearby at Durham Technical Community College. While an undergraduate EE student there, she got an internship at Southern Services Co., in Birmingham, Ala. The company provided engineering services for five power companies including Alabama Power, Florida Power, and Georgia Power.
At Southern she learned how to use an IBM 360 computer—which she said was a useful skill later in her career.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1970, Parker decided to pursue a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Stanford. The university’s brochure persuaded her to apply to its graduate program, she says, because it featured Michael A. Arbib, a biomedical engineering professor who studied brain modeling.
Parker thought that line of research was “very cool,” she says, and she applied to Stanford so she could work with Arbib. But by the time she started there, he had left to join the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
While at Stanford, Parker says, she fell in love with California. But after receiving her master’s degree in 1971, she returned to North Carolina. She completed her thesis at N.C. State under the guidance of James W. Gault.
Parker earned her doctorate in 1975 in electrical engineering from N.C. State but said she regretted leaving California.
She joined Carnegie Mellon that same year as an assistant professor. There she met her husband. They spent five years in Pittsburgh, then the couple decided to move to a warmer locale after a terrible winter storm.
“It was minus 27 °C. The glass in the house’s storm door shattered, and the car would not start,” she recalls. She knew then, she says, that she was ready to return to the Golden State.
She joined USC in 1980 and has worked there since. Throughout her 40 years at the university, she has held several leadership positions including division director for computer engineering, dean of graduate studies, and vice provost for research.
She has received numerous awards for her teaching, including the 2008 South Central Scholars Service Award from the South Central Scholars (now Thrive Scholars), a 2006 USC Viterbi School of Engineering teaching award, and a 1990 U.S. National Science Foundation Faculty Award for Women Scientists and Engineers.
“USC has been a great experience,” Parker says. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
When Ifeanyi Orajaka was an undergraduate engineering student in 2008, he had his career all mapped out. After he graduated from the Federal University of Technology in Owerri, Nigeria, his plan was to get a high-paying job at one of the multinational oil and gas companies based in the country. To improve his chances, he worked as an intern for two of them.
But during one of those internships, he visited some of the oil company’s facilities in a rural area and was shocked to see that people living nearby had no access to electricity.
In 2008 only about half of Nigeria’s 152 million citizens had electricity, according to a Macrotrends report.
That incident—as well as Orajaka’s new fascination with renewable energy technologies, specifically solar—changed his career trajectory.
Green Village Electricity Projects
Federal University of Technology in Owerri, Nigeria, and University of Port Harcourt, in Choba, Nigeria
“Given the power-supply inadequacies in Nigeria,” he says, “I was keenly interested in how solar energy could help Nigeria solve some of its energy challenges.”
He began researching how solar energy technology worked. Based on what he learned, he and three classmates built a solar-powered 6-kilowatt minigrid that supplied power to about 60 homes in a village. Minigrids use distributed off-grid energy solutions that operate independently from the national transmission grid. Orajaka says his off-grid system of the first of its kind developed and implemented in Nigeria.
His team entered its “Project Spread the Light: Provide Electricity in a Small Settlement” in the 2009 IEEE Presidents’ Change the World Project Competition, which was for students who had developed solutions to real-world problems. (The competition is no longer held.) At the time, Orajaka was an IEEE student member. The minigrid received the Outstanding Student Humanitarian Prize of US $1,000.
“The support from IEEE gave us validation, and that helped us to believe in ourselves and the ideas we came up with,” Orajaka says. “They have helped ensure that millions of Nigerians now have access to quality, reliable electricity because of that initial support we got from the IEEE family.”
Winning the competition, he says, changed his life.
Expanding microgrids beyond the underserved
During their final semester in 2010, the students decided it was time to implement their idea, and they turned to IEEE once again. They put together documentation on how the minigrid worked, created a budget, and applied for a grant from the IEEE Foundation.
“I still have a very vivid memory of the moment I received the email from the IEEE Foundation notifying us that our request had been approved,” Orajaka says. “That has been one of the most phenomenal moments of my life. The Foundation provided us with $44,521. I still remember the number, down to the last dollar.”
The grant provided the seed money to launch their startup that year: Green Village Electricity Projects of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The IEEE member is GVE’s chief executive.
GVE also has received support over the years from IEEE Smart Village, which helps entrepreneurs set up small utilities. Smart Village provides grants for the initial investment to buy equipment, as well as mentoring and training.
Today GVE is one of Nigeria’s leading renewable energy companies. It provides solutions for residential, commercial, and industrial customers as well as for unserved and underserved communities. Services include consulting on renewable energy projects, implementing smart metering and utility management systems, and installing solar-based systems at hotels, offices, and manufacturing plants.
“To a large extent, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for the support from the IEEE and IEEE Foundation.”
The company’s current minigrids have a total stored capacity of about 5.1 megawatts, serving more than 30,000 households and businesses. By the end of this year, Orajaka expects the total minigrid capacity to increase to about 8.3 MWs and the number of customers to double.
GVE is on a hiring spree. Orajaka says he anticipates the number of employees to increase from 68 to 90 this year.
The company supports homegrown innovation, he says, and it forms global strategic partnerships. It is working with mobility companies to provide charging stations and battery-swapping stations for e-bikes and other e-vehicles throughout the country, he says.
“We think [the collaborations] are timely, given that the Nigerian government has recently removed the agelong subsidy on petroleum products—which has increased their price by almost a factor of four,” he says. “Having these [stations] in place will help fight climate change.”
Orajaka and the other founders have set their sights higher than just providing off-grid rural areas with electricity. He says the company’s long-term strategic vision is to become the largest, most energy-efficient utility in the country.
Members of IEEE Smart Village and those from the local community help install one of Green Village Electricity Projects’s solar-powered minigrids.Ifeanyi Orajaka
A recognized leader in Africa
Both Orajaka and GVE have received accolades.
In 2018 he was in the inaugural cohort of the Obama Foundation’s Leaders Africa program. Established by former U.S. president Barack Obama, the leadership program is for those from Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Europe who are working to improve public, private, and civic development through grassroots action.
The London Stock Exchange identified GVE as one of the fastest-growing private companies in Africa in 2019.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry in September visited the Wuse market in Abuja, Nigeria, where he joined other dignitaries to celebrate that GVE had connected the market to the power grid with a 1 MW microgrid. The project received support from Power Africa and USAID.
Becoming an impact-focused business leader
Orajaka joined IEEE as a student member at Federal University because, he says, the organization’s publications widened his horizons “beyond what we were being taught in school.” He says membership helped him get insight into new technologies and topics that were of interest to those working in the electrical and electronics engineering field
“Through the presentations and technical lectures that were being delivered, I got really interested and decided to join,” he says.
While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering, he worked as a Shell intern in 2009. He helped maintain, repair, and test the company’s generators, motors, pumps, and other field equipment. Later that year, he got an internship at ExxonMobil, where he worked until 2010 in IT support, helping with data network projects and user assistance.
He earned a master’s degree in electrical power systems engineering in 2018 from the University of Port Harcourt, in Choba, Nigeria.
To better learn how to run a company, Orajaka has taken courses on business administration and management from the Harvard Business School Executive Education program. He is also a graduate of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business Seed program for entrepreneurs from Africa and South Asia.
Orajaka credits IEEE for much of his business success.
“To a large extent, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for the support from the IEEE and IEEE Foundation,” he says. “Perhaps I would have been an engineer working in either Chevron, Shell, or ExxonMobil today.
“The mentorship from the leaders and all the other members of the Foundation and the Smart Village family—I like to call them family—has helped shape me to be a business leader. And not just a business leader, an impact-focused business leader.
“IEEE helped us to become better engineers beyond what we were taught in the classroom,” he continues. “The IEEE ecosystem opened us up to support from more experienced and advanced engineers from different parts of the world who could look through our designs and provide expert guidance that have over the years helped shape our engineering design-thinking process. Smart Village, which is a combination of several professionals from different industries, helped us to be better entrepreneurs, to look beyond just the engineering aspect and learn skills required to actually build a sustainable business.”
For Brij Singh, electrifyingJohn Deere’s heavy-duty vehicles reflects his past. Singh grew up on a farm in India, and is committed to bettering agriculture’s future. John Deere, headquartered in Moline, Ill., is a leader in agricultural, construction, forestry, and turf-care machinery. Singh, a power-electronics engineer, has been working to replace the internal combustion engines used in the company’s equipment with hybrid (diesel-electric) and all-electric versions.
“Power electronics and electrification of agricultural equipment can help change our world for the better by reducing the equipment’s greenhouse gas footprint, providing food and fiber to feed, house, and clothe the world, and helping farmers stay profitable,” Singh says.
Singh grew up on a 10-hectare farm his family has owned for more than six centuries in Shahpur Charki, a 560-person village in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India.
John Deere, Fargo, N.D.
External relationships manager for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States
Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Mohan Malaviya Engineering College; master’s degree in engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee; Ph.D. in engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi
“I come from a long line of farmers. I personally know how important [farming] is,” he says.
In 2007, he joined John Deere’s electronics-solutions group, in Fargo, N.D., as a staff engineer. Three years ago, he moved from his technical role to a more tactical role, taking on the newly created position of external relationships manager. He is responsible for securing government funding to carry out the company’s R&D work in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. He also helps establish collaborations with academic research groups to work on emerging technologies that could be used to create new products.
Singh enjoys the broader scope and added responsibility of his current job. “I’m now involved with deciding the kinds of vehicles to work on, technologies and components to design and test, and timelines,” the IEEE Fellow says.
Transitioning to hybrid and all-electric machinery
Earlier in his career, Singh helped Deere begin the transition away from diesel engines. As staff engineer from 2007 through 2011, he led, managed, and contributed to the design, development, and deployment of electrification technologies. Inverter technology that he developed has been used in John Deere’s 644K and 944K wheel loaders since 2012. Inverters allow a machine’s power train to run power between the electrical machines, acting like a generator or motor, and they convert electricity from AC to DC and back again.
Wheel loaders have front and back booms and buckets that move soil, sand, rocks, and other materials. The 944K weighs more than 56 tonnes, and has a bucket capacity of up to 7.65 cubic meters.
Watch this video of a 944K in action.
John Deere 944K Hybrid Wheel Loader 360° Experience www.youtube.com
During Singh’s time as a postdoctoral fellow at the École de Technologie Supérieure, at the University of Quebec, in Montreal, his research involved an indirect-current control technique to reduce harmonics created when different AC waveforms (voltages and frequencies) would create component-damaging heat; the system he developed kept the voltage free of harmonic distortion. Singh’s work is generally being used in non-Deere applications, such as a battery-charging system connected to distributed energy resources like solar, wind, and diesel generators.
The benefits of electric industrial vehicles
Moving from diesel to hybrid and all-electric industrial vehicles offers many benefits, Singh says. For the operator, the machines are significantly less noisy and easier to control. For the owner, the vehicles reduce costs because they have greater fuel efficiency and less tire wear, and they require fewer repairs. They also emit less greenhouse gasses, which is both a company goal and increasingly mandated by governments.
Like the automotive industry’s move to hybrid and all-electric vehicles, the industrial-machine transition requires new designs, software, and materials to be developed and tested. That was Singh’s job when he joined the company’s advanced power-electronics department in 2011 as a senior staff engineer. He worked on high-efficiency electronics systems, including wide-bandgap power-conversion technologies for EV inverters.
Semiconductor devices made with wide-bandgap materials such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) can operate at much higher voltages, temperatures, and frequencies than traditional silicon devices can. These materials allow components like inverters to be smaller and more energy efficient, Singh says.
“Power electrics and electrification of agricultural equipment can help change our world for the better by reducing the equipment’s greenhouse gas footprint, and providing food and fiber to feed, house, and clothe the world.”
To accelerate Deere’s electrification evolution, from 2015 through 2021, Singh and his group collaborated with researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory to develop a 200-kilowatt, 1,050-volt silicon carbide inverter, which is now used in the 644K and the 944K. The collaboration with NREL led the company to receive funding through a U.S. government program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Singh says his current job of securing government funding and establishing relationships with university groups is necessary in research areas where the company lacks the expertise, time, and resources.
“Government funding helps the company pursue research and innovation significantly sooner,” he says. “Without it, we might have to postpone our efforts another 5 to 10 years. With it, innovation is accelerated in developing and adopting new technologies.”
Singh is still involved in developing new technologies as he continues to explore emerging tech and its application to farming and construction equipment as a John Deere Fellow.
Becoming a power electronics expert
Singh was the first in his family to go to college. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1989 from Mohan Malaviya Engineering Collegein Gorakhpur, India. (This institution became the Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology in 2013). He went on to earn a master’s degree in engineering in 1991 from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, in Uttarakhand, and a Ph.D. in engineering in 1996 from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.
This was followed by postdoc positions working on various aspects of power electronics, including power-quality control, and AC-to-DC and DC-to-DC converters for use in telecommunications products. Singh spent about two years as a postdoc at ETS Montreal and then a year as a research fellow at Concordia University, also in Montreal.
In 2000, he became an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Tulane University, in New Orleans. There he was involved in R&D projects on power quality control converters and renewable energy systems. He taught courses in power electronics, microelectromechanical systems, and RF engineering.
Advice for future power engineers
There are many career opportunities for engineers who want to work on power electronics, Singh says. That includes working on solar and wind power, electric vehicles, industrial power, and consumer electronics.
If you’re interested in learning about how to convert gasoline-powered vehicles to electric ones, Singh suggests taking at least one course in power systems to understand how EV power systems work. Also consider taking a power-electronics course and learning about power topologies, which are the various ways that power components may be interconnected, he says. To design semiconductor devices that use new materials like SiC and GaN, learn some materials science.
Does Singh get to test-drive the vehicles he’s helping electrify? The answer is yes.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to test-drive a machine that I’ve helped to develop,” he says. “It’s one thing to talk about how it will benefit customers, but it’s a whole other thing to experience the machine the way our construction workers get to. It’s one of the best aspects of my job.”
The future of cities as we know them is changing, moving rapidly toward a smart-city model. The infrastructure used to advance smart cities is already being built.
Cities are using technology to automate services. For a smart city to function smoothly, advanced technologies gather data from multiple sources such as smartphones and sensors connected to high-speed networks. Computers then use artificial intelligence and deep learning to analyze that data and predict trends for the city.
Popular uses for smart-city technology include traffic enforcement, traffic control, and waste management. License plate–recognition technology, for example, can identify vehicles of interest that are breaking traffic rules. Deep-learning algorithms can help regulate traffic by predicting congestion. Carbon emissions can be lowered by informing drivers about delays and providing alternate routes. Using AI programs, waste-management companies can quickly sort recyclables and monitor the fullness levels of waste containers, avoiding overflows.
Improving health care, transportation, and security
To help smarten up cities requires training—which is why IEEE offers a five-course eLearning program, Smart City Technologies: Transformation of Cities, which teaches the fundamentals of how to transform a municipality to improve health care, transportation, energy, and security. This course program was created by IEEE Educational Activities, with the endorsement of IEEE Communications Society.
Topics covered include:
- History and social impact. Understanding the history behind smart cities lays the foundation for the development of more efficient ones. The course discusses different smart cities around the world and how they developed, along with how the changes have impacted daily life. Those taking the class will better understand the influence smart cities have on society as a whole and the role of smart technologies in achieving future goals.
- Advancing health care systems. Medical professionals must be adequately informed about the technologies needed to digitally manage health data, and how systems work together to enhance patient care. This course examines important technologies including 3D printing, robotic surgery, and telemedicine. It also discusses the importance of secure health data management and methods to ensure that safety.
- Transportation. A smart city relies on intelligent transportation system technology, which students can learn to develop, taking into consideration features such as road safety, parking, and traffic management.
- Energy distribution.There are multiple management systems to accommodate the sustainable energy distribution needs of smart cities. Smart-grid technology is one solution. This course explains sources of sustainable energy and ways to manage energy efficiently in homes and businesses.
- Data privacy and security. Integrating technologies on one platform increases efficiency, but it also makes smart cities more vulnerable to attacks. This course covers the different types of cyberattacks and data breaches, as well as their impact on people’s safety and privacy. It explores ways to prevent attacks to ensure privacy, cybersecurity, and safety in smart cities.
Individuals who take the program can earn up to 0.5 continuing-education units or five professional-development hour credits. Visit the IEEE Learning Network to see member and nonmember pricing.
Institutions interested in the program can contact an IEEE account specialist to learn more.
This article appears in the December 2023 print issue as “Transform Your City Into a Smart City.”
More than 100 IEEE members participated in the annual IEEE-USA Congressional Visits Day (CVD), held this year on 4 and 5 April in Washington, D.C. The 2023 event had more IEEE members involved than in any other year. CVD brings together engineers, researchers, technology executives, and others to raise visibility of and support for engineering and technology among members of the U.S. Congress.
For the first time in the event’s nearly 30-year history, IEEE representatives from the IEEE Hawai’i Section attended. The delegation included five students from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Richardson School of Law. Samantha Barth, Chloe Berridge, Skye A’olani Jansen, Tatyanna Serraro, and Irene Sun are taking classes in artificial intelligence and social justice taught by IEEE Member Emile Loza de Siles, who accompanied the students. Loza de Siles, an assistant professor of law at the university, teaches systems engineering and other technology-informed approaches to AI governance in the public and private sectors. She is a member of the IEEE-USA AI Policy Committee (AIPC).
“With artificial intelligence a hot topic in the news and AI technologies rapidly proliferating,” Loza de Siles says, “there is an urgent need for legal experts and technology professionals to come together and work to inform the development of sound AI law and policy.”
Advocating for AI regulations
On 5 April, Loza de Siles and the students participated in 20 congressional meetings with legislative counsels and other professional staff working for all four members of Hawai’i’s congressional delegation. They also met with senators and representatives from California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Utah.
The IEEE-USA group advocated for the proposed Algorithmic Accountability Act, which covers data privacy and protection legislation, and AI regulation designed to protect consumers and foster the development of trustworthy markets and innovation.
“Interdisciplinary approaches to technology law and policy are critically important to the future of this nation and the world,” Loza de Siles says. “Collaborations with our IEEE colleagues, including through CVD and other initiatives, are precisely the type of informed and powerful engagement needed in today’s intensive law and technology policy domain.
“The impact of my students’ CVD participation,” she adds, “was truly transformative. They now see themselves confidently, capably, and more importantly in future policy roles. At least one has announced her plans to run for elected office. We need technology-informed leaders in public service.”
The Hawai’i delegation’s trip was funded by the Richardson Dean’s Innovation Fund.
“Its support for this prestigious national first experience has opened up a clear path for our students’ impactful contributions as they move forward into public and private practice,” Loza de Siles says.
AI policy committee in action
The AIPC, composed of IEEE members with expertise in the technology, produces the position statements that IEEE-USA staff use to guide legislative advocacy. The committee provides input on federal agency rulemaking and congressional legislative proposals. It is also involved with advocacy efforts, working with the U.S. administration and federal agency officials. IEEE-USA’s goal is to ensure that public policymakers have the information and expertise required to implement informed laws and regulations aimed at controlling the impact of AI on society.
As the 118th U.S. Congress addresses AI governance via legislation, IEEE’s members are at the table, Loza de Siles says. They meet with members of Congress to present expert technical advice. The committee recently met with the staff of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York. In June, the senator launched the SAFE Innovation Framework, the basis for future legislation designed to require AI systems to be transparent, explainable, and auditable. The framework also is expected to address intellectual property as well as copyright and liability concerns.
That is just one example of the many activities that are being undertaken on members’ behalf, Loza de Siles says.
“As the development of AI technologies accelerates,” she says, “so do the levels of fear, wonder, and the need to control the impacts of the fast-moving technologies.”
Our thoughts are with those from the IEEE Hawai’i Section who might have been affected by the devastating Maui wildfires.If you want to donate to help those impacted by the fires, here are some ways to do so:
While technology is indeed transformative, the people who are developing today’s groundbreaking technical advancements are helping to transform all sectors of industry, including manufacturing, e-commerce, and financial services.
To continue to fuel technical innovation, companies need to support their employees. When businesses invest in the career advancement and education of their staff, turnover can be reduced significantly, and employee satisfaction and engagement can improve. Workers who don’t believe they can achieve their career goals with their current employer are 12 times more likely to consider leaving, according to LinkedIn Learning.
Constant upskilling is essential for technical professionals to stay current. Organizations should actively support their technical talent in developing crucial leadership skills like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. This strategic investment not only fosters effective leadership, but also contributes to accelerated business growth. LinkedIn reports that technical professionals possessing a blend of both soft and hard skills have the potential to achieve promotions 13 percent faster.
By investing in leadership development programs for employees, organizations can retain their top talent and maintain a competitive advantage. Continuing education is vital not only for employees but also for the health of the organization.
The IEEE Leading Technical Teams and the IEEE | Rutgers Online Mini-MBA for Engineers programs help professionals who specialize in engineering and technology management to sharpen their understanding of effective communication, cross-functional teams, and soft skills.
Helping team leaders reach their potential
The Leading Technical Teams program is designed for team leaders, managers, and directors of engineering and technology groups who have been in their role for a minimum of six months. The program is designed to equip participants with tools they need to flourish, unlock their professional success, and inspire and motivate their team.
The program has two components: a 360° Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) and a six-hour, in-person training session at the IEEE office in either New York City or San Jose, Calif.
The Leadership Practices Inventory solicits confidential feedback from the leader’s team members, peers, and managers on their strengths and areas that need improvement. During the training session, attendees receive their LPI results and participate in targeted, instructor-led exercises. Participants strategize solutions and apply best practices to their situation, learn the “five practices of exemplary leadership,” and receive peer coaching. They also discuss case studies that highlight challenges faced by technical leaders.
“Participating in the program enhanced my leadership skills, benefiting me and my employer,” a recent graduate of the program says. “The program has improved my ability to influence my coworkers during day-to-day interactions, to transfer my knowledge to others, to interact with leaders in other organizations, and to mentor other employees. I found the leadership practices assessment to be very valuable, and I appreciated the anonymous feedback received from my colleagues.”
Registration is now open for the October and November sessions. Active IEEE members are eligible for a discount. Fill out this form to find out more or learn more about IEEE Leading Technical Teams on the IEEE Xplore Digital Library website.
Providing business courses to technical professionals
Ranked as one of the top three mini MBA programs by Forbes, the IEEE-Rutgers virtual program offers foundational courses traditionally taught to MBA aspirants. The 15-week online program is the only online mini MBA curriculum designed for technical professionals. It offers expert instruction, peer interaction, self-paced video lessons, interactive assessments, live office hours, and a hands-on capstone project experience. Courses cover accounting, business communication, entrepreneurship, ethics, finance, management, managerial economics, marketing, operations, and strategic management.
“The program’s focus on business provided me with an opportunity to broaden my knowledge of business skills outside of my career field,” a recent graduate of the program says. “Overall, the coursework motivated me to learn and know more about the fundamentals of business management skills. I look forward to applying and sharing the knowledge I gathered from the course with my colleagues.”
Registration is open for the September session. You can register here.
Making continuing education a priority
Successful technical leaders can identify and take advantage of market opportunities. They can communicate clearly, connect with people frequently, and mentor and develop their team members.
While members of technical teams are responsible for executing strategies on the ground, the team leaders must foster an environment of innovation, creativity, and growth and shift their focus from what they can produce to what they can inspire others to produce.
Technology is ever changing, and it is important for leaders to sharpen their management skills, providing an effective workplace for their teams.
Both of the IEEE programs offer tools and training that develop skills for all stages of career development.
That can be easier said than done: A staggering 93 percent of technical leaders surveyed recently by Workhuman acknowledged that they could benefit from management coaching.
Could you benefit from resources to help inspire and lead your team to success? Explore the tools and training opportunities that IEEE offers for engineering and technology professionals.
IEEE groups are working hard to support the organization’s mission in creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment.
One such group is the IEEE Computer Society, which last year created a diversity and inclusion fund in collaboration with the IEEE Foundation. The fund supports programs and events that seek to increase DEI awareness in computing, broaden the society’s demographics, and bring together diverse perspectives from the field.
“Representation in computer science and computer engineering is critical,” Nita Patel, the society’s president, said in a news release about the fund’s creation. “That’s why the society continues to further initiatives that aim to increase representation and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.”
The society sought proposals for funding programs that aim to educate, train, and empower women and people from underrepresented groups on topics such as artificial intelligence, computer programming, and robotics. Each program will receive US $5,000 to $15,000.
Of the 87 proposals submitted, eight were approved.
Supporting the next generation of engineers
These are the eight winning proposals:
- Inland Empire data science workshops. These sessions seek to encourage undergraduate students who live in Inland Empire, Calif., to pursue a graduate degree in computer science or a related field. The region is home to a large population of students from underrepresented groups who are first-generation Americans and who come from low-income families.
- iBelong workshops. This four-day education series aims to encourage underrepresented and economically disadvantaged preuniversity students in Omaha to pursue an undergraduate degree in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics subject. The workshops introduce students to fields such as computer science, cybersecurity, information technology, and robotics as well as related degree programs offered at the University of Nebraska in Omaha.
- Raspberry Pi coding workshop. This program is designed to teach Python and Scratch to more than 200 preuniversity students in Uganda. Participants also can learn how to build a computer and program it using a single-board Raspberry Pi.
- Teenage Women Facing Science and Engineering conference. The one-day event aims to provide 200 female preuniversity students in Jalisco, Mexico, with hands-on training centered around such topics as robotics and computer programming. The planned workshops and presentations are designed to encourage the teens to pursue a STEM career.
- CodeWhisperer training and hackathon for English-as-a-second-language developers. This program is designed to teach developers whose second language is English how to use Amazon’s CodeWhisperer, an artificial intelligence–based code-generation tool. Attendees can participate in a hackathon, during which they will try to solve software-related challenges using CodeWhisperer. The initiative aims to improve the developers’ programming abilities and create a community for such professionals.
- IEEE Learn-Compute Camp. This two-day program, held on 23 and 24 June in Ooty, India, aimed to bridge the learning and technological gaps between students who live in remote villages and cities, and to encourage them to pursue a STEM career. Attendees were taught leadership and problem-solving skills, and they learned about recent developments in computer science.
- Malaysian iCARE computer science iCS program. This initiative is designed to increase interest in computer science among students in Malaysia’s remote areas. The series of in-person and virtual training sessions is expected to teach about 100 students, using an interactive program including learning modules, practice problems, and quizzes.
- Girls and Computing workshop. To encourage female high school students from Panama to pursue a career in a computer science–related field, the workshop aims to teach them skills such as Web design and project management through mentoring sessions and hands-on training. At the end of the course, participants are asked to submit an essay, poster, or project on the impact women have had on the computing field.
The IEEE Board of Directors shapes the future direction of IEEE and is committed to ensuring IEEE remains a strong and vibrant organization—serving the needs of its members and the engineering and technology community worldwide—while fulfilling the IEEE mission of advancing technology for the benefit of humanity.
This article features IEEE Board of Directors members Cecilia Metra, Eduardo Palacio, and Enrique Tejera.
IEEE Fellow Cecilia Metra
Director & Delegate, Division V
Cecilia Metra, an IEEE Fellow, is director & delegate, Division VDanilo Marchesi/Still Life
Metra teaches electronic engineering while infusing her students with a passion for research and innovation. As a full professor and deputy president of the School of engineering at the University of Bologna in Italy, Metra specializes in design for test and reliability of integrated circuits and systems. She has published extensively (more than 200 papers), and her research has received public and private funding at national and international levels.
Metra has been an enthusiastic volunteer for IEEE for over 30 years, serving in multiple roles, including 2019 president of the IEEE Computer Society. Believing that young generations have the responsibility, ability, and freedom to shape our future, Metra is focused on making IEEE an inclusive community through which all its members can find the knowledge and networking opportunities to foster their professional and personal growth. In addition to her current position on the IEEE Board of Directors, she is co-chairing the IEEE Metaverse initiative, which aims to create a vibrant community of experts in the field, organizing networking events with industry and academia.
Metra is an IEEE Computer Society Golden Core member, awarded to long-standing members or staff who have provided service to the society. She is also a member of the IEEE Eta Kappa Nu (IEEE-HKN) honor society. She has received two meritorious service awards, eight certificates of appreciation, and the Spirit of the Computer Society Award from the IEEE Computer Society. In addition, she is a member of The Institute’s editorial advisory board.
IEEE Life Senior Member Eduardo Palacio
IEEE Life Senior Member Eduardo Palacio is IEEE-USA president.Martha Palacio
Palacio has spent his entire 40-year career designing, developing, and producing electronic countermeasures systems. Currently a small-business owner focused on technology programs and business development for the military and civilian market, Palacio also teaches project management as well as systems engineering and total quality management at Stony Brook University in New York. Most of Palacio’s career was spent in product development focusing on airborne, shipborne, and vehicle protection against enemy missiles and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). His work has kept U.S. allied forces from harm, protecting aircraft and warships from radar-guided missiles and ground vehicles and soldiers from IED attacks.
A member of the IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society, Palacio has been an active IEEE volunteer for more than 30 years—serving in section, region, and global positions. While Region 1 director, he led a team that quickly adapted to the virtual environment and delivered significant member benefits through training sessions, talks, and conferences. As IEEE-USA president, Palacio will look to establish a sustainable model to allow IEEE-USA to succeed and grow.
Palacio is a recipient of the IEEE Third Millennium Medal, the IEEE Long Island Section Harold Wheeler Award for Leadership Excellence, and the IEEE Region 1 Award for Volunteer Leadership.
IEEE Senior Member Enrique Tejera
Director, Region 9: Latin America
An IEEE Senior Member, Enrique Tejera is director of Region 9.Enrique Tejera
Tejera is an electromechanical engineer with extensive experience designing, operating, and maintaining power systems, including generation, transmission, and distribution. During his career, he has engaged in projects that affected Panama’s development—as part of the international team working on the electrical interconnection between countries in Central America. He was also responsible for planning the transmission and distribution systems and the maintenance of the Panama Canal power system.
A member of the IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES), Tejera has been an active IEEE volunteer for more than 35 years—serving in almost all the leadership positions in the IEEE Panama Section, including as the section chair in 1992. He has also served as the chair of the Region 9 awards and recognitions committee and on the IEEE Student Activities Committee. Tejera says IEEE can bring valuable information, knowledge, and innovation to the global community. In his position with the IEEE Board of Directors, Tejera is dedicated to increasing IEEE membership satisfaction, retention, and growth.
Tejera is a member of IEEE-HKN, serving on its board of governors (2017-19). Currently, he reviews technical documents for conferences, prizes, and international publications. He is also a PES distinguished lecturer and editor in chief of the Spanish version of the PES Power & Energy Magazine. Tejera has been recognized with several IEEE section, region, and society awards, including the IEEE Region 9 Latin America Theodore Hissey Award (now the Outstanding Student and Young Professional Activities Supporter Award); and the IEEE Region 9 Meritorious Service Award.
This article was corrected from an earlier version.
After several years of volunteering for IEEE humanitarian technology projects, Samantha Mugeni Niyoyita decided she needed more than just technical skills to help underserved communities become more self-sufficient. The IEEE member from Kigali, Rwanda, participated in installing portable sinks in nearby rural markets to curb the spread of COVID-19 and provided clean water and sanitation services to people displaced by the Mount Nyiragongo volcano eruption in 2021.
Niyoyita wanted to learn how to tackle other issues such as access to quality health care, understanding different cultures, and becoming familiar with local policies. And she felt she needed to enhance her leadership and communications skills and learn how to manage projects.
Thanks to a scholarship from IEEE Smart Village, she is now getting that education through the master’s degree program in development practice from Regis University, in Denver. The program, offered virtually and in person, combines theory and hands-on training on topics such as community outreach and engagement, health care, the environment, and sustainability. It teaches leadership and other soft skills.
In addition to bringing electricity to remote communities, IEEE Smart Village offers educational and employment opportunities. To be eligible for its scholarship, the student’s thesis project must support the program’s mission.
Niyoyita, who attends classes remotely, is a process engineer at Africa Improved Foods, also in Kigali. AIF manufactures porridge from maize and other cereals and fortifies it with vitamins and minerals. She has worked there for more than four years.
“Smart Village wants to empower its members so that we can implement projects in our local community knowing what the best practices are,” she says.
She acknowledges she would not have been able to afford to attend Regis without help from IEEE.
Electronic medical records to improve care
Niyoyita is now in the second year of the degree program. Her research project is to assess the impact of digitizing the medical records of primary care clinics, known as health posts, in rural Rwanda.
“The health post records are mostly paper-based, and transitioning to electronic records would improve patient outcomes,” Niyoyita says. “This provides easy access to records and improves coordination of care.”
She plans to evaluate just how access to electronic records by health care professionals can improve patient care.
Her scholarship of US $5,045 was funded by donations to IEEE Smart Village. Since the educational program was launched in 2015, more than 30 individuals from 16 countries have participated.
“I was fortunate to receive this scholarship,” she says. “It has helped me a lot when it comes to soft skills. As an engineer, normally we tend to be very technical. Expressing ourselves and sharing our skills and expertise are the kinds of things you can only learn through a social science master’s degree.”
Many opportunities as an industrial engineer
As a youngster, Niyoyita was more interested in subjects that required her to reason and think creatively instead of memorizing information. She excelled at mathematics and physics.
“That was how I got into engineering,” she says, adding that she also was inspired by her brother, an engineer.
The degree from Regis is in addition to those Niyoyita already holds from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, known as HES-SO Valais-Wallis, in Sion, Switzerland. She earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial systems engineering in 2015 and a master’s in engineering with a concentration in mechatronics in 2017.
She chose to study industrial engineering, she says, because she finds it to be a “discipline that offers numerous pathways to various fields and career opportunities. I’m able to understand concept designs—which includes mechanical and electrical—programming, and automation. You have a wealth of career opportunities and a chance to make an impact.”
“IEEE Smart Village wants to empower its members so that we can implement projects in our local community knowing what the best practices are.”
At AIF, she analyzes the company’s processes to identify bottlenecks in the manufacturing line, and she proposes ways to fix them.
“We receive these cereals and clean and grind them,” she says. “We have a cooking section and fortify the cereals through mixing. Then we package and sell them.”
She evaluates the production flow and checks on the performance of the equipment. In addition, she provides technological support when new products are being developed.
AIF is benefiting from the training she’s receiving from the master’s degree program, she says, as she is learning to lead teams, provide innovative solutions, and collaborate with others.
A successful IEEE power conference to Rwanda
Niyoyita joined IEEE while a student at HES-SO Valais-Wallis because she needed access to its journals for her research papers. After she graduated, she continued her membership and started volunteering for IEEE Smart Village in 2019. She served as a secretary for its Africa Working Group team, which worked on humanitarian projects.
She also got involved in organizing conferences in Africa. Her first event was the 2019 PowerAfrica Conference, held in Abuja, Nigeria. It covered emerging power system technologies, applications, government policies, and regulatory frameworks. As a member of the conference’s technical program committee, she helped develop the program and reviewed article submissions. She also was a speaker on the IEEE Women in Engineering panel.
Based on that positive experience, she says, she vowed to bring the conference to Rwanda—which she did last year. As cochair, she oversaw the budget, conference logistics, and other arrangements to “ensure that local and foreign attendees had an excellent experience,” she says. More than 300 people from 43 countries attended.
Providing entrepreneurs with skills to succeed
One project that Niyoyita has put on the back burner because of her work and school commitments is providing her country’s technicians with the skills they need to become entrepreneurs.
Many recent graduates of vocational technical schools in rural Rwanda have told her they want to start their own company, she says, but she has noticed they lack the skills to do so.
“Even though they provide problem-solving products or ideas, they often lack the marketing skills and financial literacy to be able to sustain their project,” she says. “They also need to know how to pitch an idea and make a proposal so they can get funding.”
She would like to create an after-school incubation hub to provide the technicians with training, access to the Internet so they can flesh out their ideas, mentorship opportunities, and advisors who can tell them where to find financing.
“I was able to get some of the skills from the master’s degree program,” she says, “but most of them I got from my work and also from my involvement in IEEE.”
When Peter Gracey first realized he was gay, admitting it could have cost the engineer his job. At the time, he was an officer with the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy, where until 2000, being homosexual was grounds for immediate dismissal.
Since coming out in 2009 at the age of 44, he has dedicated himself to setting up support networks to help LGBTQ+ engineers find their voice. He is a cofounder of InterEngineering, a London-based nonprofit dedicated to greater inclusion in engineering.
The Worshipful Company of Engineers
Bachelor’s degree in engineering, Royal Naval Engineering College, Plymouth, England
“One of the things that struck me after coming out was how much time I spent hiding who I was,” he says. “It took a lot of effort to be conscious of not giving the game away, and all that effort could have been expended on other things.”
Born and brought up in Chester, England, Gracey has had a diverse career. He was the chief weapon engineer on a naval nuclear submarine and helped upgrade London’s first fully autonomous metro system in preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Last year Gracey also became head of the Worshipful Company of Engineers, a membership organization of prominent engineers devoted to promoting the profession. Based in London, it organizes networking events, funds prizes and grants, and arranges visits to interesting engineering projects around the country.
Most of his time is now spent looking after the needs of engineers rather than doing hands-on engineering, Gracey says. But one thing his varied career has taught him is that engineering is as much a mindset as a collection of skills.
“You can apply the basic principles of being an engineer to any form of engineering,” he says.
The duties of a weapon engineer officer
Gracey inherited a love for all things maritime from his grandfather, who was a chief engineer in the U.K.’s Merchant Navy. In 1983 after graduating from high school, he decided to combine his passion for seafaring with his interest in technology and science, and enlisted as a naval engineer. After completing officer training, he attended the Royal Naval Engineering College, HMS Thunderer, in Plymouth, England, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1987.
He worked his way through the ranks within the Navy. In 1999, shortly after being promoted to lieutenant commander, Gracey was appointed the weapon engineer officer of the nuclear-powered submarine HMS Superb.
The job was challenging and varied, Gracey recalls. His team was responsible for the operation and maintenance of many of the submarine’s key systems, including torpedo launchers, navigation systems, sonar, radio communications, and the command system that pulls all of those systems together.
“Find a way to demonstrate that you value diversity in your workforce.”
Each member of his team had in-depth knowledge of individual systems, but he had to keep abreast of all of them. This required a broad set of skills, from understanding how to update the command system software to maintaining the hydraulic torpedo loaders.
“I was responsible for making sure that the whole thing works,” he says. “You’ve got to understand how all the bits of the jigsaw fit together.”
But a naval engineer isn’t just an engineer, Gracey explains. As head of the engineering department he was also a watchkeeper, which meant working six-hour shifts in the control room alongside other senior officers. Those shifts included helping to navigate the submarine, manning the periscope, and monitoring the sonar.
A new career in railway engineering
After being moved to a desk job when his appointment on HMS Superb ended in 2000, Gracey decided he wanted a new challenge. In 2001 he submitted his 12-month notice to leave the Navy, although he continued to serve as a part-time reservist until 2017.
Shortly after leaving the Navy, Gracey spotted a help-wanted ad for experienced electrical engineers at Network Rail, the public company that operates the U.K.’s railways. He was hired in 2003 as a project engineer and was trained on the basic principles of how railways work and also the unique form of relay logic used to design railway signaling systems.
“They basically took my engineering expertise and gave me a new language and a new domain to apply it to,” he says.
After three years of upgrading signaling systems around the rail network, Gracey switched jobs to work for government contractor Serco as a signal engineer on the Docklands Light Railway, a fully autonomous metro service that serves the Docklands area of East London. This area was where many of the new sporting venues for the 2012 Summer Olympics were being built. He spent the next six years overseeing major upgrades to the control systems and the installation of a new control center, working in various roles for both Serco and the line’s operator, Transport for London.
Feeling confident in coming out
During this period, Gracey’s life experienced a major upheaval. At some point during his naval career, he had realized he was gay, but he kept this fact hidden for fear of losing his job. He was also married with three children, and so even after leaving the military, he maintained the secret to avoid hurting his family.
But in 2009 he realized he couldn’t keep things hidden any longer. He came out to friends and colleagues, and he made the heartbreaking decision to leave his wife.
“It all just came to a head,” he says. “I got to the point where I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore, I need to be me.’ ”
Part of the reason he felt confident enough to come out was a supportive work environment. His employer at the time, Transport for London, took great pride in being in the top 10 of the U.K. Workplace Equality Index, which assesses an organization’s progress on LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workforce. What’s more, he says, there were several openly gay men in his office.
“That did help me in feeling confident enough to turn around and say, ‘By the way, I’m gay,’ ” he says. “And things didn’t implode. My wife only hated me for about six months. My children got over it. And my friends and colleagues were also very supportive.”
A champion for diversity
Since coming out, Gracey has made a point of trying to boost support for engineers in the gay community. After rejoining Network Rail in 2012 to work on safety-compliance projects, he helped to set up a support network there for LGBTQ+ engineers. He did the same at Bechtel after joining the engineering firm in 2015 to work on the Crossrail railway construction project in London.
Gracey also teamed up with a handful of colleagues in 2014 to launch the advocacy organization InterEngineering. The goal is to support gay engineers at smaller companies who may be the only LGBTQ+ person on staff and may be struggling to find others to talk to about discrimination or harassment. The organization holds networking events and workshops and creates educational resources for employers looking to set up LGBTQ+ initiatives for their staff.
Advice for employers
Gracey has some tips for companies that want to become more welcoming and supportive of their LGBTQ+ employees. While instituting diversity policies is an important step, he says, it’s crucial to show those policies are actually being implemented. Having visible LGBTQ+ role models, particularly in senior positions, can go a long way to gaining trust.
“Find a way to demonstrate that you value diversity in your workforce, and that you will support those who work for you,” he says.
Diversity and inclusion is something all companies should take seriously, Gracey points out, but it isn’t just about doing the right thing. In 2015 a report about tackling homophobia in engineering from InterEngineering and the U.K.’s House of Commons showed that discrimination against LGBTQ+ engineers could cost businesses billions of pounds a year in lost productivity.
“How many millions of pounds of lost effort goes into people not being themselves and hiding who they really are?” Gracey says. “From an employer’s perspective, I want my employees to feel that they can be themselves. Because if they feel that they’ve got to hide something, the effort of hiding is not only stressing them, it’s also making them less productive.”
Many students struggle to learn mathematics. In the United States, eighth graders scored an average of 271 out of 500 in math on last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, as highlighted in a New York Times article. It’s the lowest level in decades. Black, Native American, and low-income students had particularly low math scores on the federal standardized test.
One way teachers are trying to help students grasp difficult concepts is through virtual-reality technology. VR headsets allow students to immerse themselves in realistic digital environments to learn math and science by solving real-world problems, such as calculating how high a house’s foundation should be raised to offset the risk of flooding.
Thanks to Prisms of Reality, VR technology is being used in 140 school districts in 30 states. IEEE Member Anarupa Ganguly founded Prisms VR, as the startup is known, in 2020. The San Francisco–based company helps educators teach math to preuniversity students.
“Prisms VR’s learning platform,” Ganguly says, “is taking problems from textbooks and bringing them to life.”
She has first-hand experience in education: She taught math and physics in Boston-area high schools. She also served in executive positions in Boston public schools, New York City public schools, and Success Academy charter schools, also in New York City.
The startup’s VR learning platform offers math and science lessons that simulate real-world locations and situations. Students are asked to complete tasks based on what they are learning.
The platform’s math component, called Prisms Math, was released this year.
Making sense of math
Ganguly and a team of engineers developed the platform’s software, which includes modules on physics, biology, and chemistry as well as math. Each module covers one topic within the relevant subject. There are six algebra modules, for example, including ones about linear functions, quadratics, and exponentials.
Displayed on the student’s VR headset is a list of modules. Based on what module is chosen, the pupil is transported to a corresponding virtual location to complete tasks as a way of learning the material. In the chemistry module on acids and bases, for example, students are shown a computer-generated version of a wastewater-treatment plant in Baltimore, and they try to make chemically contaminated water safe to drink. The students learn about the key properties of acids and bases and the neutralization formula, which they use to determine the amount of basic solution required to neutralize the acidic water.
Using Prisms’s web-based dashboard, teachers can track the students’ progress and provide feedback on their work, which appears on the learner’s virtual watch.
“The watch allows for a constant dialog between the teacher and kids,” Ganguly says.
Each virtual session ends 10 minutes before class is dismissed to allow the instructor to discuss what the students have learned. It takes about three days to complete a module.
Ganguly says the learning platform is a supplemental program, as “VR is not for everyday use; it’s for learning concepts that students find more difficult to understand.”
She used her teaching experience to develop the system, and she partnered with nonprofit WestEd to research whether VR could be effective in teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. WestEd, based in San Francisco, aims to create a more equitable society by improving education through professional learning, technical assistance, and policy guidance.
Together with Prisms VR, WestEd studied how feasible it would be for students to complete a lesson using VR in a 45-minute class. It found that 35 minutes was the optimal length for a lesson.
Anarupa Ganguly founded Prisms VR in 2020 to help improve math literacy using technology.Prisms VR
“Teachers also reported that the children learned a topic faster with the headset,” Ganguly says. “A lesson that usually took three to four weeks to teach took only one week. These findings proved to me that Prisms VR could be successful.”
Ganguly develops the software and educational content. It currently takes her three weeks to write a module.
“We scope out the concepts that students have a hard time learning and create a prototype to get it out to schools quickly,” Ganguly says. “We receive feedback from students and teachers about the modules and update them as needed. The system is essentially being designed alongside the schools that are using it.”
While visiting the schools to gain a better understanding of how the platform is being used, she talks with teachers about their experiences.
“Traveling and having a personal connection to Prisms VR customers,” she says, “has been really valuable in designing and updating the modules.”
The teachers “say they can tell the platform was designed by an educator,” she adds. “I’ve never had a teacher opt out of using the platform.”
The platform’s equipment, which includes 35 headsets and chargers, costs US $20,000 per classroom. The software, including the modules and web-based dashboard, costs $12 to $14 per student.
For students who want to practice their math skills at home, a monthly subscription of $24 to Prisms Math is available from the Meta Quest store.
STEM at the root
Ganguly says she was inspired to help reform STEM education when she was a graduate student at MIT. She noticed that there weren’t many graduate students who were women or people of color.
Believing that was connected to inadequate preuniversity STEM education, Ganguly says, she figured the best way for her to address the problem was to become a teacher. After earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering from MIT in 2009, she went on to earn a master’s degree in education in 2011 from Boston University.
She taught algebra and physics at high schools in Boston until 2014, when she became the director of mathematics for the Boston school district, made up of 125 schools and 55,000 students.
In 2015 she moved to New York City, where she worked for its Education Department to train teachers in 188 underserved schools how to use a new system for math the department had introduced. A year later she began serving as the department’s senior director of instruction and professional learning, supporting about 1.2 million students in the system’s 1,800 schools.
She left in 2017 and joined Success Academy as dean of mathematics. The network of 47 public schools is independent of the state’s system.
She began researching what skills and knowledge preuniversity students were missing that was preventing them from completing a university STEM program.
Her literature review showed two main indicators of success for university students pursuing a STEM degree: the ability to visualize and manipulate objects in their mind (spatial reasoning) and the ability to create abstract representations of real-world experiences.
Ganguly wanted to use her engineering know-how to develop a technology that could teach youngsters those skills. So in 2020 she left Success Academy to start Prisms VR.
The startup received grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Gates Foundation. This year venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz of Silicon Valley invested $12.5 million.
Continuing to increase accessibility
Prisms is working with the Gates Foundation and WestEd to improve STEM education in the United States.
One of the studies being conducted with the Gates Foundation is examining whether the startup’s learning platform increases student retention at universities. The 10-year study is being conducted in Arizona.
Prisms VR and WestEd this year completed a randomized controlled trial across 36 schools in Ohio that tested whether the startup’s platform helped students learn the curriculum better and faster than with traditional methods. According to Prisms VR, students using the platform have a deeper understanding of the material, are more confident in their skills, and enjoy learning math more. Standardized test scores increased by 11 percent in one year, the company says.
Prisms VR also is developing modules for college-level STEM courses including calculus, multivariable algebra, linear algebra, and differential equations. The modules are expected to be released at the end of next year.
“I think,” Ganguly says, “that having students use VR to learn STEM subjects is going to transform education.”