Friday, January 18, 2013

What is Electrical Engineering Today and What is it Likely to Become?

So what is Electrical engineering, as distinct from computer engineering, and what is its future? We address this question by examining it from the perspective of university Electrical engineering programs and the needs of industry and society. As a result of our investigation, we also develop a definitional set of broad areas and specialties that define Electrical engineering, both now and in the future. We conclude with a recommendation to give Electrical engineering more curb appeal for prospective students. The perception of service to society is important in attracting students. Electrical engineering has historically been critically important to society. If whatever form Electrical engineering takes in the future continues to be of critical importance, we need to be able to convey this to prospective students and attract them to the field.


A DEFINITION OF ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING

There are certain broad areas that are important to Electrical engineering across  the board. In addition, there are prominent specialties that many may consider a subset of one or more of the broad areas, but they are notable in that they are distinctively Electrical engineering. We propose the four following broad areas that are fundamental to Electrical engineering (in no particular order):

• Electromagnetics and Optics: The entire field of controlling electromagnetic phenomena,

electromagnetic waves of all frequencies, including optical, are clearly the domain of the electrical engineer.

• Signals Engineering: The processing of signals that historically have been generated by electrical or

electronic devices and electromagnetics remains a critical domain of the electrical engineer. Where once

the signals were processed by analog devices and continuous time mathematics, today digital signal

processing dominates. Many signals today are important in bioengineering.

• Systems Engineering: By this we mean solving complex problems that can be modeled by, in general, complex calculus based matrix mathematics. Historically, this included such things as state space equations, convolution, mathematical transforms, minimization/maximization problems, etc. whether analog or digital. In particular linear system theory has been a cornerstone of advanced electrical engineering work, and we should retain the ownership of it. The interdisciplinary nature of the world today makes systems engineering indispensable.

• Electronics, Microelectronics, and Circuits: This allen compassing field has long been the domain of the electrical engineer. The understanding of this area remains important, and competent electrical engineers, even if they are not designing circuits, still need to know how circuits work. The semiconductor area still needs competent electrical engineers, and there are predictions of a bright future for engineers in this area . Power electronics is important to the electric power industry. Photonics is here to stay. There is demand for consumer electronics, avionics, navigation, vehicular electronic systems, and computer components. The four specialties we propose are listed below. Again, some may contend that they are subsets of the above broad areas, but that is fine. These specialties in particular help characterize Electrical engineering.


• Telecommunications and Radar: This is the specialty that has evolved from traditional radio engineering, and includes wireless communications, radar, remote sensing, networks, wired communications, information theory, error correction coding, detection and estimation theory, etc. Today, telecommunications is playing a larger and larger role in medicine and radar is helping us understand climate change. Where once all radio devices were constructed with analog electronic components, today much of the signal processing is done with software. However, it doesn't matter how the systems are constructed; it is still telecommunications and radar and the domain of Electrical engineering.

• Electric Power Systems: The generation and transmission of electric energy including alternative sources of energy and the impact on society and the planet is an important part of Electrical engineering. Although not many Electrical engineering  programs offer power emphases anymore, we propose that at a minimum a set of power electives should be available. This is clearly an area where future Electrical engineering's can help make a difference in the world, and it is also an area where an interdisciplinary approach is crucial, e.g. economics, network theory, political science, law, etc.

• Instrumentation and Control: Both instrumentation and control systems are classic domains of Electrical engineering. Much of classic control theory is an integral part of what we have labeled systems engineering, so the heavy mathematics may more appropriately belong there. With instrumentation, we deal with transducers. The signals today may be represented digitally, but we feel that transducers, the building of these devices, and the processing of the signals remain the domain of EE. This specialty also includes robotics. And one notable Electrical engineering contribution, among a number, to the biological revolution is in the area of medical instrumentation.

Future Trends in Electrical Engineering

The future of electrical engineering looks very bright. This is a profession that's exploded over the last several years. With the popularity of computers and the future of computers, electrical engineering careers will probably be in even more demand. Just about every industry needs computers and that means that electrical engineers will always be needed. So this is a great career to go into and it will continue to be for many, many years to come.

When staying in an electrical engineering career there are many different jobs that can be held. And there are many different job titles that go along with all the different jobs. The job titles include electrical  engineer, development engineer, field engineer, project engineer, design engineer, systems design engineer, and test engineer. Most of these job titles explain basically what each job entails. Though there is obviously much more to each job than you'd know at first glance.

The jobs will require the electrical engineer to do things such as design, develop, and implement products or services. The electrical engineer may also be expected to research and come-up with new ideas.  Some of the tasks can and will be very challenging but with the proper education and the proper training an electrical engineer will be able to perfectly complete every task and solve every problem.

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