Much like the Romans (as discussed in depth in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’), the contribution engineers have made throughout history is often overlooked. In an effort to fix this oversight, in 2003, the National Academy of Engineering in the US published ‘A Century of Innovation: Twenty Engineering Achievements that Transformed our Lives’. What becomes immediately apparent is how prominently electrical engineering has influenced our lives and our society. Starting with electrification itself and the development of electronics to enable a raft of technologies, devices and applications; including fiber optics and lasers, household appliances, imaging, telephones, computers, radio, TV, and of course the Internet. From the electronic component point of view, the invention of the diode around the turn of the 20th century, led to the mid-century invention of the transistor, to today where we can cram billions of transistors into a single processor or system-on-chip device - thus enabling us to carry more processing power in our pocket, or on our wrist, than was in Apollo 11 when it landed on the moon.
Hindsight, naturally, is always available in the very highest definition resolution, and possibly in 3D…but no one’s really sure about that yet… Consequently, we look back and understand perfectly why some things became reality, when others did not. Looking forward to what could come next is a much harder trick. We might imagine many things that might be invented over the next 100 years or so, but many will never really become a success from a commercial point of view. Perhaps the classic example of a piece of technology that was imagined would be in every home in the future – in fact shortly after the invention of the telephone in the late 19th century – was the videophone. Of course we now have this capability at our fingertips via our PCs, tablets or smartphones with the availability of various IP-based video and telephone services, although due to bandwidth limits the service is usually not at the same level as we might expect for audio-only interactions. And certainly the videophone is widely available today as a standalone product for various specific applications, but it has never come close to being an item that we simply must have in our homes. So, with that in mind, electronic clothes that advertise local retail opportunities, autonomously driven cars, and home-help robots with real-people personalities, are all things we might be able to look forward to… only time will tell.
In the grand scheme of things, the next big thing perhaps from a technological point of view is the Internet of Things (IoT). As everyone knows, loosely speaking at least, the Internet evolved from being a way to link mainframe computers into a system that could join the myriad of our personal electronic devices to a global network. So, the next evolutionary step is the IoT in which everything from industrial machinery to everyday household objects such as light bulbs and household goods, all become part of this global interconnectedness. All this of course gives rise to the phenomenon of big data and a whole host of new opportunities, as well as challenges and threats: pretty much everyone agrees that security must be right at the center of this new paradigm.
The distribution industry has been supporting the rise of the engineer and electronics longer than most. Digi-Key for example started out selling small quantities to hobbyists in the 1970’s serving Makers before they were Makers with the company’s founder being one of the original makers. And that support is as strong today as ever, with 1 million products in stock, free design tools, and free design resources, we hold strong to our design roots and removing barriers to get you to market quicker.
Long may the engineering community continue to push the envelope, developing products for tomorrow as well as today. We can’t wait to see what you think of next.