watering small vegetable garden plot
watering small vegetable garden plot

Engineers work to make solutions to solve human needs. Many engineered solutions benefit humanity in ways we take for granted. Life would be different without clean running water, flush toilets, comfortable houses, cars and the roads to drive on. The water pump, flush toilet, air conditioning, electric vehicles, road construction are just a few examples of engineering solving human needs.

Engineering & Society – Engineers contribute to the development of many innovations that improve life. We investigate how engineers work to meet human needs and great engineering accomplishments of the past. We also consider needs that engineering must meet in the future.

Engineers work on problems from around the world.

  • meeting daily needs related to water, food, energy, and sanitation.
  • solutions – biomass-burning stoves, LED lights
  • Solar ovens – There are lots of ways to make a solar oven. Some solar ovens work like a greenhouse. Others have so many reflectors that much more sunlight is directed at the food.
  • Potential Energy (formerly The Darfur Stoves Project) – Sudan – People in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons spend 1/3 of their income on fuelwood, often skipping meals for lack of fuel. An energy-saving metal cookstove adapted for local cooking traditions, and assembled from flat-kits that are easily stockpiled and deployed. In Darfur, 27,000 stoves disseminated, benefiting 162,000 people. One of the The Tech Awards 2013 Laureates
  • Kilimo Salama (“Safe Agriculture”) – Kenyan farmers insure their farm inputs against drought and excess rain automatically calculated by local weather stations, with a mobile phone registry and payment system and distribution through rural retailers— micro-insurance firsts. One of the The Tech Awards 2013 Laureates

One of the important lessons for engineers is that community priorities may not be the same as they think. In this example, the engineers were installing an electrical system to power medical clinic equipment and lighting. What they didn’t expect was that patients would discover a way to charge their cell phones, too.

Examples of engineering organizations promoting and celebrating engineering for good

  • The Tech Awards – Technology benefiting humanity in each of six of The Tech Awards categories: Intel Environment Award; Microsoft Education Award; The Swanson Foundation Young Innovator Award; Nokia Health Award; Flextronics Economic Development Award, and The Sustainable Energy Award. Since the inception of The Tech Awards program in 2001, 257 laureates have been recognized. Their pioneering work has included designing earthquake-resistant construction technology to creating a heat-sensitive label for vaccine vials to make sure children receive potent immunizations to building a simple, low-cost, mobile phone-based device that allows remote monitoring and operation of irrigation pumps.
  • Engineers Without Borders (EWB) – more than 12,000 professionals and students from engineering, public health, anthropology and business. Through its 350 projects and programs, in over 45 developing countries, EWB-USA provides innovative professional educational opportunities that will improve the lives of millions of people around the world.
  • Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century – celebrates a remarkable century of technological achievement, provides detailed historical information, timelines, and personal essays by key innovators for each of 20 major engineering accomplishments of the 20th century.
  • Engineers, Inspiring a New Generation of What If video highlights biomedical and energy solutions.
  • Practical Action uses low cost, appropriate, small-scale development solutions to help people to help themselves. Poverty reduction can be achieved with community-owned technology that is small-scale, labor-saving and cost-effective and often most benefits poor women. Support for such technology projects transform women’s lives.
  • Solve for X Moonshots – combination of things – a Huge Problem to solve, a Radical Solution for solving it, and Breakthrough Technology to make it happen – is the essence of a technology moonshot.

There is plenty of work still to be done. Many of the solutions to the UN Millennium Development Goals require some new technologies or applications of science to eliminate problems or to improve the lives of millions of people around the world.

  • Video: Making a Social Impact through Engineering – Dr. Amos Winter shares his roadmap for advancing technologies for social change from conception to distribution by engaging end users, manufacturers, and distributors, as well as leveraging the talents of both undergraduate and graduate students. – wheelchair for developing world

Grand Challenges for Engineering – great videos – Health, Sustainability

Social justice

  • Water purification

Embry-Riddle Engineering students working on Project Haiti got a hands-on experience using their engineering skills to directly help people. Many Haitians living in the tent cities after the 2010 earthquake deal with chronic intestinal sickness from contaminated water. The students’ solar water purifier is designed to provide clean drinking water for 500 adults per day. Following the steps in the [/Engineering%20Design%20Process Engineering Design Process] they created a cost-effective portable system that meets the needs of these hard-hit rural communities.

  • Ask (What? Ask questions, understand the need, identify the problem, define)
    Making a cheap, effective portable water purification system would help reduce the intestinal disease among people living in the tent cities.
    Q: How were conventional water purification systems constructed?
  • Imagine (So what? Imagine, brainstorm, explore, discover)
    In addition to all the normal requirements for water purification, there is no electricity to run the pumps and the well source is more than 100 feet deep.
    Q: How can a solar powered unit be used to purify water?
  • Plan (Now what? Plan, design)
    The pump controller operates on sunlight only and is ruggedized for outdoor. The storage tanks are available to hold water for use when the pumps are not operating.
    Q: What other systems used similar parts?
  • Create (Do it. Create, try it out)
    The system must be robust and easy to maintain. Using readily available parts kept the costs down.
    Q: How could parts be re-purposed for use in the water purification system?
  • Improve (If this then what? Improve, make it better)
    The original version of the water purification system worked well, but it was to big and heavy to transport by backpack to the rural tent cities where it would be used. The improved system pumps 20,000 gallons of clean water every day at a rate of 15 gallons a minute as opposed to last year’s system of 4 gallons a minute.
    Q: How could the weight be reduced? How could the design be modified to fit into a backpack? How could the capacity be increased?

Engineering vocabulary, concepts

  • solar panels, batteries, pumps, filters, ruggedized, controller,

Show and Tell
Now it is your turn. Here are some challenges for you to work on…

  • design a water purification system that can be carried in a backpack to remote communities.
  • find other humanitarian projects where engineering plays a starring role.
  • investigate the requirements for ruggedizing electronic components of a control system.

Learn more…