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The Electrical Engineer and 21st Century Innovation

By NJIT Staff

A few months ago, professors and students in the electrical engineering program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) revisited a discussion about how mobile and wireless communications have emerged as a quintessential innovation in the modern world. From the way stories are told, to the speeds at which we communicate, wireless communication has ensured a more-connected community where information is shared in the blink of an eye.

When the media discusses the importance of wireless and mobile communication in society today, the emphasis is often placed on the smart phone. But it’s not always clear who is � or should be � receiving credit for its development. The professors at NJIT noted that programmers, designers and developers seem to get most of the credit, because the smart phone is a tangible object that can be touched and held, and the user connects with the product through the interface. After all, user interface and software are “closer” to the user than the electrical components (i.e., the guts), so it makes sense that the contributions of UI designers and software programmers would be more easily recognizable. But it’s the intricate structure that electrical engineers helped build making the smart phone possible that is too often overlooked.

The unsung heroes of the wireless and mobile revolution?

Pursuant to this discussion about wireless and mobile communication, NJIT professors posed a question to their EE students: How will history remember who made the smart phone possible, and will the electrical engineer be left out of the historical narrative?

We decided to phrase our answer in the form of an infographic: The Impact of Electrical Engineering on 21st Century Innovation (shown below). NJIT wants to showcase the role electrical engineers played in making mobile and wireless communication possible by creating the underlying technologies for smart phones and 4G networks. At the same time, we wanted the infographic to examine the history of mobile communications to illustrate how electrical engineers have been helping bring about innovation in mobile and wireless communications since the 1830s, when the first message was transmitted electronically via telegraph.

We also began outlining other significant innovations and milestones in electronic communications history, including the red-letter year of 1876, when the first voice and distant speech transmissions were sent successfully. We also examined power and energy systems, which led to the first battery created by Alessandra Volta, and the moment in the 1980s when fiber optics became the preferred medium for communication and networking transmission. Unfortunately, some important examples were omitted due to space constraints. For instance, Professor Alexander Haimovich believed that the Information Theory developed by Claude Shannon should be considered the foundation for modern communication.

Once we established the role of electrical engineers in the history of wireless communications, we looked at some of the most important innovations in mobile and wireless communications to show electrical engineers’ direct involvement with contemporary projects. We focused on the transition from 3G technology to 4G technology as another recent milestone. According to Professor Haimovich, the move from 3G to 4G technology was seminal because it represents a switch from an architecture in which the system tries to mimic a telephone network to an architecture where the system mimics the computer. Mobile telephones, prior to 4G, were mimicking a landline network in the sense that permanent connections were being established between a mobile phone and a base station. 4G is about using data packets.

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Finally, we wanted to show the electrical engineers’ involvement with other integral innovations like the self-driving car and mechatronics. Check out the infographic below to learn more about the electrical engineer’s impact on 21st century innovation.

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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