Various definitions are currently used for the term ‘engineer’. Although a concise definition like ‘Someone who graduates from an engineering university or college’ might suffice, I feel more comfortable with a more comprehensive definition, like ‘A highly qualified person who uses and develops scientific knowledge to resolve engineering, natural science, technology and organisation-related problems.’ In engineering firms, various (engineering) specialists work together to jointly devise solutions for existing and new problems. How can engineering firms learn from Hollywood?
The film ‘Back to the Future II’ is a true Hollywood classic, and sees Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) and time traveller Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) travel from 26 October 1985 to 21 October 2015. They end up in a futuristic world packed with huge TV screens and cars that fly through the air. Most of the future predictions in this film have actually materialised; from smartphones to 3D goggles, and from paying with your fingerprints to video calls. The film even predicted the use of Augmented Reality (AR). Films do not automatically become box office hits if they contain enough action, explosions or erotic scenes. No, films are only successful if the script captures people's imaginations.
Hollywood is so successful because writers consider developing trends and theorise how society will adapt to them. This involves combining technological developments in an intelligent manner; like when a car is merged with an aeroplane to create a flying car that is capable of resolving the issue of congested roads. I do not see myself as Emmett Brown, but am convinced that engineers like me examine needs that could be encountered in the future. The trick is to write a good script, and resolve a particular problem using existing technological developments.
Sample project VR Experience Scheeresluis
Figure 1: Combined data from drone survey with 3D laser scanner, which serves as the basis for the VR Experience at the Scheeresluis.
A good example of this is the script we wrote for the Scheeresluis, under assignment from the Province of Overijssel. When asked to set up a Virtual Reality Experience, we proposed a number of ways in which this data could be used (digitally) in the future. By using a combination of accurate and up-to-date survey information (data from a photographic survey using a drone and a 3D laser scanner), an effective data management system and a transparent process, it was possible to realise output that can be useful in several areas. Besides existing needs for the VR Experience, we can also use the data for future needs, such as:
Our existing activities are based on trends that were identified in the past, and can range from designing a pumping station to developing soil remediation techniques. During each development, there is a moment when the need becomes apparent and where the engineer writes an effective script aimed at offering a solution. This will also be the case in the future. For instance, for developments that relate to the sustainability goals. The ‘Global Commission on Adaptation’ (GCA) has concluded that a worldwide investment of 1.8 trillion Euro is needed to protect vulnerable areas against extreme weather conditions. So engineers will have more than enough opportunities to find intelligent solutions!
If engineers want to write good scripts, they must have an insight into currently available (technological) possibilities or possibilities that are being developed. Technological developments that help to improve our projects must be incorporated into our process. When doing so, we must not be afraid to move away from old (traditional) methods and must have the courage to explore beyond the trodden path.
I am thus proud to organise our second INNOVA workshop in Milan on 28 November. Besides examining successes of the past, we will take a look at opportunities and risks in the future. Together with customers, we will examine global trends and resulting challenges, as well as issues that are giving people cause for concern. We will also give people a sneak preview of our (technological) solutions, which could prove their worth in this disruptive market. This means increasingly working with partners that specialise in specific areas, and bringing the right parties and technology together at the right time: like a technological broker of the future!