News and Analysis of the Global Innovation Scene


Europe in Race to Harness 5G

The race is on to realize the vision of a next-generation mobile network capable of communicating with autonomous cars, androids, and drones in near real time. The technology, dubbed 5G for “fifth generation”, is the latest evolution—or better, revolution—in cellular communications. Previous generations had to connect people and applications. The 5G network will not only have to connect millions of people and provide them with the speed to stream HD-quality video or use virtual reality applications; it will also have to link trillions of machines, sensors, and other devices in industry sectors as divergent as manufacturing, transportation, health, and energy. Industry 4.0 (or “smart factories”) and the Internet of Things will demand more from the next-generation network than ever before.


Pavement Power

The ground beneath your feet soon could provide the energy to power machines, buildings, and even electric cars. While the principles are well understood and the goal has motivated innovators around the globe for the past decade, most projects have been little more than novelties designed as proofs-of-concept. In the last couple of years, however, a combination of engineering improvements and increased government interest in the idea has spurred serious consideration and study—and real advances.


Innovation Flashback

JANUARY 6, 1838—Samuel Morse demonstrates his new telegraph system for the first time, at the Speedwell Iron Works in Morristown, New Jersey. The invention eventually revolutionized long-distance communication, making it possible for people to send messages over long distances nearly instantaneously. First, however, Morse would have to spend years convincing the US government to fund telegraph lines. The first official telegram—Morse’s famous message “What hath God wrought!”, transmitted from Washington, DC, to Baltimore, Maryland—would not be sent until May 1844. Once that first line was installed, though, the telegraph took off, with private companies licensing Morse’s patent and setting up lines; Western Union completed the first transcontinental line in 1861, and the first transatlantic line followed just five years later. The telegraph remained the only rapid, reliable means of long-distance communication for decades, reaching the height of its popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. It was eventually replaced by long-distance telephone service, but Western Union did not deliver its final telegram until 2006; the company persists now as a money transfer service.


Where Engineers and Life Scientists Meet

Engineers and specialists in life science and biomedicine have different professional worldviews. But increasingly they find themselves collaborating in the effort to find solutions to the most fundamental and complex problems in understanding and treating disease. To support collaborations among life scientists, engineers, and data specialists, a few universities are creating multidisciplinary research centers aimed at exploring interdisciplinary approaches to medical issues.


Structural Engineering Advances When Buildings Fall

Hurricanes, earthquakes, rising sea levels, terrorist attacks, and war can be traumatic events for built environments, often leaving rubble in their wake. The increase in such events in recent years is driving development of new tools and novel ideas for designing buildings to resist these destructive forces. The modeling tools engineers use to analyze what happens when structures collapse have seen rapid development in recent years and, researchers say, these innovations are creating innovative approaches to building for resiliency while facilitating new applications: recovery and rescue when structures fall. Recent research suggests that virtual design tools that model how buildings will fall before they are built, in addition to making buildings less likely to collapse, might also help save lives in case they actually do collapse.