Michael was clearly frightened. He said he’d seen a flash of light and the next thing he knew a dark curtain had come across his vision. Two hours later, he’d been sent from the emergency room to me – a trainee eye surgeon – and I was straining to get a good view of his retina to diagnose the problem. Seeing the disappointment and desperation on his face, I wished I had a way of sharing down the phone with my consultant what I had seen.
Three years later, I was working in Uganda. A young teacher called Abraham came to the eye clinic, having lost sight in his only seeing eye. Like Michael, he’d had the same symptoms of a flash then a dark curtain. This time, however, I was able to examine him and correctly diagnose a retinal detachment.
Over the years, drones have gained popularity in the engineering and construction industry. Small and simple to fly, drones can quickly snap photos from every angle, giving a bird’s eye view of inaccessible areas. But thousands of photos are meaningless without the right tools to manage them. Drone mapping technology, or ‘photogrammetry’, helps make this task easier by converting drone photos into a 3D model. However, having only the 3D model is still not practical in most engineering work, especially in infrastructure inspection and maintenance. Trik is a specialised system, creating a 3D database. This allows engineering companies to make the most of their drone data.
When Nobukazu Teranishi began tinkering with semiconductors in the University of Tokyo’s undergraduate physics lab, he never dreamed it would land him the world’s most prestigious engineering prize. As he prepares to receive his award at Buckingham Palace next month, the news of the announcement is still sinking in.
“It makes me very happy and proud to have spent 40 years developing digital imaging sensors. There are so many technologies that are indispensable to our everyday lives and I feel very lucky that our work on imaging sensors has been chosen,” he said.
Teranishi is one of four engineers responsible for creating the digital imaging sensors found in digital cameras and smartphones around the world- and above it. His innovation, the pinned photodiode, is the missing puzzle piece linking the first CCD sensors to the tiny CMOS sensors of today.
Stepping outside our office in central London, it’s impossible to miss the impact of this year’s QEPrize-winning innovation. Tourists wear expensive SLR cameras slung casually about their necks; school children gather on Westminster Bridge, all vying for a selfie in front of Big Ben; and every so often the insect-like chatter of shutters explodes from a flurry of press photographers camped outside No.10 Downing Street.
Quizzed about digital imaging, most of us will instantly think of our mobile phones. High-resolution cameras are now common-place in the pocket-sized devices we carry every day. They give us quality face time with friends a world away and can upload a hipster shot of your ‘latte art’ before it’s even begun to cool.
It goes without saying that there are not enough doctors in the world to see everyone, every day, for all our health needs. Doctors will only see us if we go to their offices, and will only run complicated tests if they have a reason to do so. The situation is even worse for those living in rural areas and the developing world, as they may not even have a doctor nearby.
We are, and always will be, the first line of defense for our own health. We can figure out when something is wrong, like when a parent checks their child’s temperature using the back of their hand to see if they have a fever.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Transcending languages, they cross oceans, reach out from space and show us inside the human body. In December, the winners of the 2017 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering will receive their award at Buckingham Palace. They are to be honoured for creating digital imaging sensors. Together, they have revolutionised the way we see and capture the world around us.
Digital imaging allows people worldwide access to a vast array of pictures and videos. They have enable high-speed, low-cost colour imaging at a resolution and sensitivity that can exceed that of the human eye. From snaps of individual cells to stars billions of light years away, image sensors have transformed our lives.
Now is an incredibly exciting time to capitalize on what has been a hive of behind the scenes activity in haptics. Haptics is best understood as the feedback generated by a computer as a result of a user’s interaction. Imagine using your fingers to select your favourite piece of music or latest podcast on your smartphone without having to look. A haptics expert can create touch experiences by applying sensation, force or vibrations to a device, which responds when users physically interact with it. When applied to virtual reality (VR), this ‘human oriented’ engineering gives a much more believable, realistic and immersive experience. This has enormous potential to change the way we work, learn and play.
Engineering is responsible for the pulleys, wheels and bows and arrows that carried us towards civilisation. It powered the SS Great Britain across the Atlantic and raised the Eiffel Tower. Without engineering, we wouldn’t have powerful computers tucked away in pockets or a direct line to outer space. Since its inception thousands of years ago, engineering has undoubtedly shaped our world. The question we’re addressing this month, however, is what happens next?