All posts by Kathy Pretz

Spoken Language Technology Takes on Dementia

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

THE INSTITUTEDementia affects millions of people worldwide. There is no treatment, but an early diagnosis can help patients slow the progress of their symptoms. The condition can affect people’s mental function, behavior, and memory.

Because dementia can cause different patterns of damage to the brain, no single test can determine whether someone has it. Instead, doctors use several screening tools including in-person interviews, questionnaires about daily routines, and drawing assessments. The tests, performed by clinicians and other professionals, are done regularly to check for changes—which can become expensive.

IEEE Fellow Helen Meng, a professor of systems engineering and engineering management at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), is working on a machine-learning platform to helpmake screening more accessible and less expensive. The platform likely will use data analytics, human-computer interaction, and spoken-language technology.

Hong Kong has a large aged population, Meng says, and dementia is on the rise. Although all the region’s citizens are covered by the public health care system, it can take a long time to get an appointment with a specialist, she says, so valuable time can be lost. She is working with other researchers at the university, including many IEEE members, to make assessments accessible through AI, and eventually give people the ability to do self-assessments.

“As a researcher, a lot of our efforts have been focused on advances in existing applications such as high-accuracy speech recognition,” Meng says, “but I want to look into using the technology for new applications such as detecting early signs of dementia. The way to catch dementia early is to do frequent assessments on an individual’s capabilities. If dementia can be detected earlier, intervention can be started sooner.”


One well-known exam that neurologists perform is the Montreal Cognitive Assessment. Designed to evaluate short-term memory, language ability, and attention span, it includes activities such as naming animals and drawing components of a clock. As with other such assessments, the Montreal test is still done on paper, and the results are not digitized.

The neurologist interviews patients and asks them to assess their memory and cognitive functions. The patients’ responses might be subjective, varying from day to day even if their abilities don’t.

Meng says machine learning and big data can help make those diagnoses more objective. Artificial intelligence algorithms and other technology could automatically analyze collected data.

In particular, spoken-language technology could be used to assess a person’s cognitive health and emotional state based on their speech.

 “We want to be able to identify spoken-language biomarkers that are indicative of neurocognitive disorders,” Meng says. “The reaction time after a question is asked could be recorded. For example, if there’s a lot of hesitation or pausing, even at millisecond intervals, these could be measured in an objective way using engineering approaches.”

Offering tests on a computer or recording people’s speech while they answer questions via a telephone could help reduce the number of needed visits to the doctor, Meng says. A clinical cognitive expert or neurologist would review the automated assessments.

“We don’t intend for our automated software to make decisions about whether someone has dementia,” she says. “Our objective is not to replace the clinicians. We look at AI as a decision-support tool.”

The project has recently been awarded the theme-based research scheme of Hong Kong’s Research Grants Council.  This is among the highest level of research funding in the region, according to Meng.


Meng, who grew up in Hong Kong, was accepted to medical school as well as MIT’s engineering program. She says she thought it would be a good experience to study abroad, so she attended MIT, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering. She also got a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science there.

She joined the CUHK in 1998 and established its Human-Computer Communications Laboratory the following year. She founded the university’s Stanley Ho Big Data Decision Analytics Research Center in 2013 and serves as one of its directors.

She has collaborated on several biomedical engineering research projects with the doctors at Prince of Wales, the CUHK teaching hospital.


Meng joined IEEE in 1998, when she was an assistant professor. She served as reviewer and then associate editor for the IEEE Signal Processing Society’s Transactions on Audio, Speech, and Language Processing and eventually was elected editor-in-chief of the publication, serving in that capacity from 2009 to 2011. She was a member of the society’s board of governors and its nominations and appointments committee.

“IEEE is a global platform, so there are many ways to participate,” she says. “I’ve made quite a few friends and met colleagues around the world who are experts in their area. It has been a great experience.

“Membership also broadens one’s horizons. Through IEEE’s conferences and publications, you get to look beyond your own area of expertise.”

Meng works to increase the number of women in engineering. She and other women have spoken during the annual IEEE Signal Processing Society conference’s luncheon.

“We make sure that female keynote speakers are invited to conferences, not just men,” she says. “We need more gender diversity.”

Wanted: Engineers with Clean-Energy Training and Experience

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

THE INSTITUTENew York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in July signed an agreement to create the United States’ largest offshore wind project, which is expected to create more than 1,600 jobs. Two wind farms, to be built off the coast of Long Island, are scheduled to start operating in the next five years. Together they’ll have the capacity to produce 1,700 megawatts of electricity, officials say, enough to power more than 1 million households.

Cuomo also signed the landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent by 2050 and to get 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Included in the legislation is funding to train people for clean-energy jobs and money for building an offshore wind training institute. That’s in addition to outlays provided by New York’s Clean Climate Careers Initiative, a workforce-development program launched in 2017.

IEEE Member Ilya Y. Grinberg, professor of engineering technology at Buffalo State College, is helping to create some of those programs. He teaches courses in power systems, electric machines, power electronics, and renewable energy and storage.

Here he outlines some of the approaches Buffalo State and the wider State University of New York system are taking to give full-time students as well as working adults the skills they need to compete in a competitive job market.


Ten of the 64 schools in the SUNY system, including Buffalo State, already have received nearly US $6 million to create apprenticeships, internships, educational programs, and certification programs in clean energy. Buffalo State got a $753,000 grant last September to develop several clean-energy certification programs. The college plans to offer the courses late next year.

During the past year, Grinberg and other SUNY faculty members and officials worked with utilities (such as National Grid and the New York Power Authority), large employers (including Siemens), industries, consulting firms, and service companies to understand their needs.

“The certificate program has to be industry-driven,” Grinberg says. “The programs have to reflect the needs of industry so our students can be readily employable and not only possess the skills employers need today but also those needed in five years. What we realized in our meetings is that different types of industries have different needs. One size doesn’t fit all.”


The certificate programs developed by Buffalo State and other SUNY institutions will be geared to those already employed in the field who want to update their skills on clean-energy technologies, he says. Courses are being developed on topics such as smart buildings and energy efficiency.

Buffalo State and its academic and industry partners plan to offer industry-recognized certifications such as the certificate of electrical safety for electricians, installers, and other skilled trades, Grinberg says.

Other training is planned for installers of photovoltaic solar panels and windmills, as well as for those working in manufacturing, construction, and energy distribution, he says. Another certification is for people who already have a two- or four-year degree but need to update their skills on emerging technologies or want to switch careers.

 “All these offerings mean employees will have the skills sought after by employers and can start working right away,” Grinberg says, “instead of going through training.”

A newly formed consortium of SUNY institutions plans to develop introductory courses for the general public to interest them in clean-energy careers, he says. One in five jobs in western New York are in industries with ties to green energy, according to a study by the Clean Energy Workforce Assessment for Western New York. The study reported an 8 percent job growth in the region between 2012 and 2017. The assessment shows that workers in the field earn $1,000 more annually than the average salary for the region.

University students will be able to take courses toward the certifications, in addition to their major, so they’ll be more employable, Grinberg says. The credits can be applied toward a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology, electrical engineering technology, or industrial technology. Students can gain hands-on experience in the clean-energy field through internships.

Those pursuing the certifications or taking a degree program will be able to use the state-of-the-art Smart-Grid Laboratory, a joint effort by Buffalo State and the University of Buffalo that offers experience in energy generation, transmission, and distribution, as well as the smart grid and microgrids.

“I believe SUNY can ensure sustainability in these training programs even when funding from the state runs out,” Grinberg says. “With new clean-energy technologies constantly emerging, there will always be a need for new training programs and research.”

Four Actions Engineers Can Take to Ensure Their Startup Succeeds

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

Venture advisor Chenyang Xu recommends staying up to date on technology and taking entrepreneurship classes

THE INSTITUTEEngineers often misunderstand what it takes to launch a successful startup, according to IEEE Fellow Chenyang Xu, who has been advising entrepreneurs and investors for 20 years.

Xu was general manager of the Siemens Technology-to-Business Center, in Berkeley, Calif., where he led a team of venture technologists who invested in and partnered with more than 50 promising disruptive-technology startups. He helped found the Silicon Valley Future Academy, a consulting company in Palo Alto, Calif., that teaches startups about design, venture capital, and cutting-edge technologies including artificial intelligence and big data. He’s now a partner at the Corporate Innovators Huddle, in Menlo Park, Calif., which provides a forum to help large companies be more innovative by investing in and partnering with startups. And he’s the managing partner at Perception Vision Medical Technologies, a fast-growing startup involved with AI, based in Guangzhou, China.

 Xu says many technologists struggle when they start their own company. “Running their own business is foreign to many engineers, because they don’t understand the process,” he says. “They fail because there are too many gaps in their knowledge.” Xu calls that gap the “entrepreneurship Grand Canyon,” with engineers on one side and entrepreneurs on the other.

“It’s a gap that feels so big that engineers feel they cannot cross it,” he says.

Xu identified four actions that engineers can take to narrow the divide.


Being an expert in a single area can cause you to lose perspective, Xu says.

“This is not to say that specialization is wrong,” he adds, “but I think that as you keep specializing, it’s also important to be aware of the speed of change of the broader engineering discipline.

“A cutting-edge technology today can become a dinosaur tomorrow. Don’t become obsolete.”


There are a host of things that engineers turned founders need to know besides technology, Xu says, such as business-model development, venture-capital processes, communication, leadership, and how to prepare pitches to investors.

“Engineers will have a far greater impact to society if they are able to understand entrepreneurship,” he says. “I’ve coached hundreds of brilliant engineers over the years, and I found they are held back because of their mindset.”

There are many entrepreneurship programs out there, he notes. One valuable resource is the IEEE Entrepreneurship program, which offers online resources and both online and in-person events for people to meet and support one another. Its IEEE N3XT event series provides startups with opportunities to connect with venture capitalists and others who might help them get their company off the ground.

Some corporations, including Cisco and Siemens, offer entrepreneurship training to their employees in the form of boot camps.

Colleges such as Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, are doing a good job of incorporating entrepreneurship courses into their engineering programs, Xu says.


Entrepreneurs have to deal with a lot of uncertainties and unknowns. That is not easy for engineers, who often know what they have to do and prefer to stick to fundamental principles, Xu says. Startup founders have to be good communicators who can articulate ideas effectively to investors, he says.

“The stereotype for engineers is that they don’t like to work with people and only talk through computers,” Xu says. “This is indeed common. But from my experience, all engineers can learn to be good communicators if they set their mind to taking continuous-learning courses and practicing their communication skills.

“Another critical skill that entrepreneurs need is leadership, which isn’t taught in engineering school.”

IEEE offers several online career development courses, including An Introduction to Leadership: A Primer for the Practitioner, Leadership Development for Technical Professionals, Communication and Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals, and Stuff You Don’t Learn in Engineering School: Communicating Effectively.


Gender equality is an important issue for Xu.

“Women show more empathy and tend to develop relationships—which are two key attributes of effective entrepreneurs,” he says.

Xu is a member of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Department industrial advisory board at UC Berkeley and a member of the Biomedical Engineering Department advisory board at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore.

These university engineering department boards are working on ways to recruit more women and attract more girls from grade school and high school to engineering, he says.

“Companies need to hire more women and promote diversity,” he says. “We are seeing some women leaders rise up through the ranks, but in general there is still a minority.

“A team with more diversity often achieves higher performance and better results.”

Electric Vehicle Manufacturers Need Engineers With AI and Robotics Skills

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

University of Illinois power electronics instructor Philip Krein explains the training new hires need

THE INSTITUTEJust about every car manufacturer—including BMW, Ford, General Motors, Jaguar, and Toyota—has announced plans to build more electric vehicles and phase out cars with internal combustion engines. As of early 2018, automakers in Germany had invested US $52 billion in EVs, Chinese car companies $21 billion, and those in the United States at least $19 billion, according to Reuters. BloombergNEF’s 2019 Electric Vehicle Outlook predicts that EVs will make up 57 percent of passenger car sales globally by 2040.

Building tomorrow’s complex EVs, many with self-driving features, will require engineers who have sophisticated skills. A report from Boston Consulting Group and the Michigan Mobility Institute estimates the EV and autonomous-car industries could create up to 115,000 U.S. jobs in the coming decade, including 30,000 for graduates with computer-related degrees and 15,000 for those with traditional engineering training.

Finding such people won’t be easy, according to the report. Automakers and their suppliers are already experiencing a significant talent shortage because they are competing with technology companies.

The Institute asked IEEE Fellow Philip T. Krein, research professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, what schools are doing to prepare automotive engineering students. Krein is a power electronics expert who teaches classes about EVs and hybrid vehicles. He’s past chair of the IEEE Transportation Electrification Community.


The University of Illinois and other Midwest-region colleges, because of their proximity to Detroit, interact frequently with major car companies and their key suppliers, Krein says. As a result, the schools know about changes in the industry and the companies’ need to hire employees with the right skills.

Krein says one important skill students should be taught is systems-level thinking, so they can understand how artificial intelligence, robotics, software, and other technologies interact with one another. That type of thinking is rare in the auto industry, he says.

 “Despite its size and complexity, the auto industry really hasn’t been linked to systems engineering,” Krein says. “In other industries, like aerospace, a project is typically driven from Day One by a comprehensive view of the entire system. For example: How is it going to come together? What primary energy sources are being used? Who is responsible for managing the budget? But the auto industry tends to be much more focused on components and specific devices or subsystems. Typically, they rely on suppliers and vendors to do the systems thinking for them.”

To encourage interdisciplinary thinking, the university offers electrical engineering students courses in EVs and hybrids, as well as drive trains. Mechanical engineering students get exposed to advanced electronics for system and operation control. Krein encourages students to take classes on cybersecurity and embedded software as well.

“We need engineers with a much broader perspective. They need to understand how software, hardware, mechanical systems, and controls come together,” he says. “They also need to be able to work across many domains and communicate well with different areas.”


Because all an EV’s systems need to work together safely, Krein says, the school focuses on giving students a fundamental understanding of what a safety system is and how to design for specific operating requirements—taking into account the need for drivers to make split-second decisions.

“We teach students how a complicated electromechanical system interacts with computing and data streams,” Krein says. “They also receive training about reliability and safety, such as how to make sure the systems are really robust and to consider what a system will do under specific situations.”

The school encourages students to take courses in real-time systems, he says, especially because many cars are likely to offer self-driving features.

Real-time systems are important in all industry applications and processes, he says. They react instantly to data from sensors, computer systems, microcontrollers, and other things intended to operate a moment-to-moment process in real time. Today’s vehicles are not really fast dynamic systems, at least compared with devices such as computer disk drives and smartphones, he says. In a motor vehicle, he says, it takes tens to hundreds of milliseconds for the system to respond to any commands or changes. Physical limits on forces and motion limit the vehicle’s response time.

“The systems have a lot of inertia, and they just don’t respond very quickly,” Krein says. “An autonomous car can be made to respond much more quickly than a human driver, and in any situation there is more time than in many real-time systems to analyze data and make decisions. As data come in, the system has to make a quick decision.

“Real-time systems are not a new topic, but this is becoming increasingly important for students to have a background in.”

Humanoid Robots Teach Coping Skills to Children With Autism

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

Roboticist Ayanna Howard explains what inspired her to work on assistive technologies for kids

THE INSTITUTEChildren with autism spectrum disorder can have a difficult time expressing their emotions and can be highly sensitive to sound, sight, and touch. That sometimes restricts their participation in everyday activities, leaving them socially isolated. Occupational therapists can help them cope better, but the time they’re able to spend is limited and the sessions tend to be expensive.

Roboticist Ayanna Howard, an IEEE senior member, has been using interactive androids to guide children with autism on ways to socially and emotionally engage with others—as a supplement to therapy. Howard is chair of the School of Interactive Computing and director of the Human-Automation Systems Lab at Georgia Tech. She helped found Zyrobotics, a Georgia Tech VentureLab startup that is working on AI and robotics technologies to engage children with special needs. Last year Forbes named Howard, Zyrobotics’ chief technology officer, one of the Top 50 U.S. Women in Tech.

In a recent study, Howard and other researchers explored how robots might help children navigate sensory experiences. The experiment involved 18 participants between the ages of 4 and 12; five had autism, and the rest were meeting typical developmental milestones. Two humanoid robots were programmed to express boredom, excitement, nervousness, and 17 other emotional states. As children explored stations set up for hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching, the robots modeled what the socially acceptable responses should be.

“If a child’s expression is one of happiness or joy, the robot will have a corresponding response of encouragement,” Howard says. “If there are aspects of frustration or sadness, the robot will provide input to try again.” The study suggested that many children with autism exhibit stronger levels of engagement when the robots interact with them at such sensory stations.

It is one of many robotics projects Howard has tackled. She has designed robots for researching glaciers, and she is working on assistive robots for the home, as well as an exoskeleton that can help children who have motor disabilities.

 Howard spoke about her work during the Ethics in AI: Impacts of (Anti?) Social Robotics panel session held in May at the IEEE Vision, Innovation, and Challenges Summit in San Diego. You can watch the session on

In this interview with The Institute, Howard talks about how she got involved with assistive technologies, the need for a more diverse workforce, and ways IEEE has benefited her career.


Howard was inspired to work on technology that can improve accessibility in 2008 while teaching high school students at a summer camp devoted to science, technology, engineering, and math.

“A young lady with a visual impairment attended camp. The robot programming tools being used at the camp weren’t accessible to her,” Howard says. “As an engineer, I want to fix problems when I see them, so we ended up designing tools to enable access to programming tools that could be used in STEM education.

“That was my starting motivation, and this theme of accessibility has expanded to become a main focus of my research. One of the things about this world of accessibility is that when you start interacting with kids and parents, you discover another world out there of assistive technologies and how robotics can be used for good in education as well as therapy.”


The Institute asked Howard why it’s important to have a more diverse STEM workforce and what could be done to increase the number of women and others from underrepresented groups.

“The makeup of the current engineering workforce isn’t necessarily representative of the world, which is composed of different races, cultures, ages, disabilities, and socio-economic backgrounds,” Howard says. “We’re creating products used by people around the globe, so we have to ensure they’re being designed for a diverse population. As IEEE members, we also need to engage with people who aren’t engineers, and we don’t do that enough.”

Educational institutions are doing a better job of increasing diversity in areas such as gender, she says, adding that more work is needed because the enrollment numbers still aren’t representative of the population and the gains don’t necessarily carry through after graduation.

 “There has been an increase in the number of underrepresented minorities and females going into engineering and computer science,” she says, “but data has shown that their numbers are not sustained in the workforce.”


Because there are more underrepresented groups on today’s college campuses that can form a community, the lack of engineering role models—although a concern on campuses—is more extreme for preuniversity students, Howard says.

 “Depending on where you go to school, you may not know what an engineer does or even consider engineering as an option,” she says, “so there’s still a big disconnect there.”

Howard has been involved for many years in math- and science-mentoring programs for at-risk high school girls. She tells them to find what they’re passionate about and combine it with math and science to create something. She also advises them not to let anyone tell them that they can’t.

Howard’s father is an engineer. She says he never encouraged or discouraged her to become one, but when she broke something, he would show her how to fix it and talk her through the process. Along the way, he taught her a logical way of thinking she says all engineers have.

“When I would try to explain something, he would quiz me and tell me to ‘think more logically,’” she says.

Howard earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Brown University, in Providence, R.I., then she received both a master’s and doctorate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California. Before joining the faculty of Georgia Tech in 2005, she worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology for more than a decade as a senior robotics researcher and deputy manager in the Office of the Chief Scientist.


Howard’s father was also an IEEE member, but that’s not why she joined the organization. She says she signed up when she was a student because, “that was something that you just did. Plus, my student membership fee was subsidized.”

She kept the membership as a grad student because of the discounted rates members receive on conferences.

Those conferences have had an impact on her career. “They allow you to understand what the state of the art is,” she says. “Back then you received a printed conference proceeding and reading through it was brutal, but by attending it in person, you got a 15-minute snippet about the research.”

Howard is an active volunteer with the IEEE Robotics and Automation and the IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics societies, holding many positions and serving on several committees.

“I value IEEE for its community,” she says. “One of the nice things about IEEE is that it’s international.”

Combating the Opioid Crisis, One Flush at a Time

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

Startup Biobot Analytics monitors wastewater to identify at-risk neighborhoods

THE INSTITUTEMost people don’t spend time thinking about what’s in the waste they flush down the toilet. But health officials do. The urine in sewer water is a surprisingly rich source of information about the health of communities. Epidemiologists can analyze wastewater to check for viruses, chemicals, and both illegal and prescription drugs.

Armed with that information, public health officials can stock up on vaccines, equip ambulances with life-saving medications, and run awareness campaigns.

But testing wastewater samples can be an expensive, time-consuming job. Biobot Analytics, a startup in Somerville, Mass., that was spun out of MIT in 2017, is working to improve the process with its collection, measurement, and analysis service.

Biobot uses portable devices to collect wastewater samples, which it analyzes in the laboratory. The company uses the resulting data to create spatial maps and charts that can illustrate which neighborhoods have high concentrations of a particular substance.

Biobot’s approach can be used to look at lots of different compounds. But so far the company is focusing on one target: opioid metabolites from prescription pain relievers and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.

Metabolites are byproducts of the body metabolizing a drug. They are reliable indicators of whether a person has ingested or injected an opioid.

“Right now our focus is just analyzing for opioids, because opioid addiction is a major public health crisis,” says IEEE Member Irene Hu, a hardware electronics engineer at Biobot.

Around 68 percent of the more than 70,200 U.S. drug-overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biobot has partnered with Cary, N.C., to help town officials assess the scope of its opioid epidemic, allocate resources, and then gauge the effectiveness of their efforts over time.

Hu talked about the project at the IoT–Smart Networks and Social Innovations panel, held in May during the IEEE Vision, Innovation, and Challenges Summit in San Diego. You can watch the session on


Biobot last year began a pilot with Cary, North Carolina’s seventh-largest municipality, with about 162,000 citizens. Last year 11 people in Cary died and about 60 others overdosed on opioids—a 70 percent increase from the previous year.

Biobot works with the town to identify which catchment basins and associated manholes they want to survey. At the chosen manholes, a sampling bot is suspended by a rope so it sits just above the water. The bot houses filters, a pump, sensors, and other hardware. Sewage is pumped through a series of filters—which bind the compounds of interest—and then out again during a 24-hour period.

A city worker collects the filters, which are sent back to the company. Back in the Biobot lab, analysts use mass spectrometry and other techniques to scan the filters for 16 different opioid metabolites.

In Cary, samples were extracted from 200,000 gallons of wastewater that flowed through 10 sample areas—gathering information from neighborhoods of about roughly 5,000 homes each. The results helped researchers determine a baseline level of opioid consumption.

The reports that Biobot provides to Cary officials include, for example, comparisons of reported overdoses—which the city already collects from first responders—and the levels of opioids that were found in the sewers. Presented as spatial maps of the city with blocks corresponding to the sampled catchment areas, the comparisons allow the city to visualize and identify “hidden” areas of consumption that are not captured by the officially reported overdoses, Hu says. For example, preliminary results showed that opioids were found all throughout Cary, not just in areas with reported overdoses.

In addition, Biobot found that prescription opioids were driving much of the consumption. The town used the information to tailor outreach programs around prescription opioids, resulting in a threefold increase in people using drop-off points to dispose of their leftover prescribed opioid medication.

Biobot also measures levels of naloxone (Narcan), a medication that can rapidly reverse opioid overdose. Preliminary results showed that Narcan usage correlates with reported overdoses in Cary, but the levels found in the sewers were much higher than expected, implying many unreported overdoses. The city is now digging into potential barriers that might exist to reporting overdoses, Hu reports. And the town is conducting awareness campaigns about opioid use.

Hu says first responders have expressed interest in data about trends on emerging drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, so Biobot is now measuring for those as well.


After graduating from Princeton with a degree in electrical engineering, Hu spent a few years working for a financial consulting company. She decided to pursue a graduate degree in environmental engineering. “I wanted to do something that helped the world,” she says, “and pursue a cause I believed in.”

She earned a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from MIT. Her research thesis involved building sensors to measure naturally occurring chemicals in water.

Hu joined IEEE as a grad student because of the discounted rates members receive on conferences. She remains a member, she says, because she finds that “IEEE isn’t just for electrical engineers; it’s very interdisciplinary. There’s a conference for everyone, and it’s nice to have this professional community.

“Being on the IoT–Smart Networks and Social Innovations panel was one of my first forays into branching out in IEEE and talking about my work to a broader audience,” she says.

A friend who works at Biobot persuaded her to join the startup. The company, which was founded by two MIT graduate students, has almost a dozen employees. “It was a really good fit for me,” Hu says.

Biobot, which plans to expand its client base to more cities, counties, and states, has raised nearly US $2.5 million in seed funding from 22 investors.

You’ve Heard of Bitcoin, But What Do You Really Know About Blockchain?

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

IEEE local groups help demystify the technology

THE INSTITUTE Blockchain technology, best known as the foundation of cryptocurrency transactions, has the potential to replace existing databases, providing more transparency and security. Just about every industry, including energy, finance, and health care, is looking into how it can adopt blockchain’s decentralized ledger.

To help advance the technology, IEEE launched its Blockchain Initiative last year. Something unique to the initiative are its local groups, which teach developers how the technology could help companies in their region—as the basis of a cryptocurrency, in support of smart contracts, or some other way. Twenty-five such groups have formed, in cities including Boston, Kiev, and Toronto. The groups hold forums with blockchain experts from industry and academia and provide networking opportunities for attendees who are working on blockchain projects.

“If you’re interested in getting involved with the technology or working in the industry, attending the local meetings will give you a much better understanding of how to do that,” says IEEE Member Ken Miyachi, who chairs the San Diego group along with members Joshua James and Emilio A. Cazares.

Miyachi recently launched LedgerSafe, a blockchain-based compliance-software platform. It tracks high-risk financial transactions and automates the completion of businesses’ regulatory documents.

He helped form a local group, he says, because “there’s a lot of fragmented information about blockchain on the Internet. The idea is to have industry leaders provide credible information about the technology’s current state and get their perspective. A centralized source of valid information, like IEEE, is currently lacking.”

The San Diego group, established five months ago, now has 60 members. It has held three events. One provided an overview of the IEEE Blockchain Initiative. The second one covered Ethereum, an open-source, blockchain-based distributed computing platform, which was presented by engineers of the Matryx platform.

At that session, Miyachi says, people discussed the development pipeline and how it’s different from standard software development channels. The session also covered business and development hurdles that need to be overcome.

The most recent event, held on 19 June at the University of San Diego, covered the impact of blockchain technology on legal frameworks and policy. The forum, which included a networking session, attracted about 100 people with both legal and technology backgrounds, Miyachi says—considerably more than the group’s first two events. The event culminated in a keynote presentation by James Gatto, the blockchain and digital currency team lead at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton.

“It’s in the best interest of blockchain companies to present at these local sessions, because they’re a great way to get out information about their company and product as well as demystify the technology itself,” Miyachi says. “Most of the people coming to speak are blockchain advocates. They really believe in the technology, so they’re trying to speed up its adoption so that more people will invest in it and use the technology and the platforms being built for it.”

If you’d like to start an IEEE Blockchain Initiative group in your IEEE section, email Ramesh Ramadoss, cochair of the initiative.


IEEE offers other ways to stay up to date on the technology. There’s the IEEE blockchain technical community, which anyone can join to work on the technology’s development and deployment. Participants receive notices about conferences, special events, education, publications, and standards. They also get the quarterly IEEE Blockchain Newsletter.

There’s also a blockchain community on IEEE Collabratec that includes posts from members about their projects.

IEEE offers several e-learning courses that cover blockchain fundamentals as well as the ethics, governance, and human rights issues surrounding the technology.

Several conferences are scheduled this year. The International Conference on Blockchain, to be held 14 to 17 July in Atlanta, is expected to cover game theory and performance analysis. The IEEE Global Communications Conference plans to hold a blockchain in telecommunications workshop. The session is scheduled for 13 December in Waikoloa, Hawaii.

IEEE Expands Open Access Journal Offerings

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

Announces 14 new journals covering various technologies including biomedical engineering, computing, telecommunications, and more

THE INSTITUTEIEEE is providing more high-quality publishing options for authors and researchers. It is launching 14 gold fully open access journals. The 14 new gold open access publications will cover topics such as automotive technology, biomedical engineering, power and energy, computing, signal processing, industry applications, and telecommunications. The journals will begin accepting submissions later this year and publish their first articles early next year.

Gold open access refers to articles being made open access through the payment of a fee—called an article-processing charge (APC)—by the author. The new journals will be fully open access and will publish articles within the specialized field of interest of the sponsoring Society.

The new publications will join IEEE’s well-known and respected portfolio of other open access journals. They include IEEE Access, IEEE Journal of the Electron Devices Society, IEEE Journal on Exploratory Solid-State Computational Devices and Circuits, IEEE Power and Energy Technology Systems Journal, IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine, and IEEE Photonics Journal.

Each new journal will follow IEEE’s established high standard of peer review, drawing on expert technical communities to continue to publish the most highly cited content. Each journal will have an accomplished expert as editor-in-chief.

“IEEE’s publishing program continues to grow and evolve,” says Stephen Welby, IEEE executive director and chief operating officer. “IEEE continues to support open science and provide more options and choices to support the work and needs of all authors and researchers—those who prefer to publish in traditional subscription journals or those who prefer or need to publish in open access journals.”


IEEE Access, IEEE’s broad-scope open access journal, will soon launch discipline-specific subsections that will align with these societies: IEEE Broadcast Technology, IEEE Electronics Packaging, IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology, IEEE Photonics, IEEE Power & Energy, and IEEE Reliability.


IEEE will be transitioning the IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing to a fully open access title next year.

All the new open access options will be fully compliant with funder mandates including Plan S, as all articles will be published under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY), enabling authors to retain copyright.

The new open access journals and subsections will be hosted on the IEEE Xplore Digital Library platform, which contains thousands of open access articles. More than 5 million unique users per month visit the digital library.

The titles of the new journals are:

  • IEEE Open Journal of Antennas and Propagation
  • IEEE Open Journal of Circuits and Systems
  • IEEE Open Journal of the Communications Society
  • IEEE Open Journal of the Computer Society
  • IEEE Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology
  • IEEE Open Journal of Industry Applications
  • IEEE Open Journal of the Industrial Electronics Society
  • IEEE Open Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems
  • IEEE Open Journal of the Microwave Theory and Techniques Society
  • IEEE Open Journal of Nanotechnology
  • IEEE Open Journal of Power Electronics
  • IEEE Open Journal of Signal Processing
  • IEEE Open Journal of Solid-State Circuits
  • IEEE Open Journal of Vehicular Technology

More information on each of the titles is available at

Internet of Things Technology Will Connect Highways, Street Lights, and Vehicles

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

Cars have gotten smart. Can roads catch up?

THE INSTITUTEAs more and more intelligent cars and autonomous vehicles hit the road, some engineers are thinking about what can be done to smarten up the streets on which they travel.

Doing so could allow smart cars and trucks to exchange information with other vehicles, traffic-management centers, and private companies about traffic congestion, accidents, and weather conditions. The key to making it happen is an Internet of Things system that includes sensors embedded in the roadway and on traffic lights.

Existing intelligent transportation systems provide some of those features. Information gathered by traffic-monitoring cameras, for example, is being used to adjust traffic signals in real time to ease congestion. Sensor-equipped parking lots can notify drivers of empty spots via their smartphone. And there are some IoT pilot projects, like Austria’s Autobahn, which uses Cisco’s Connected Roadways system to link 70,000 sensors and 6,500 traffic cameras to monitor traffic and road conditions.

But no comprehensive IoT-based transportation system has been fully deployed, according to IEEE Fellow Phillip A. Laplante, author of “‘Smarter’ Roads and Highways.” The IEEE Internet of Things Magazine article covers the benefits of IoT-enabled roads, security and privacy concerns, and technical standards that could ensure interoperability. Laplante is a professor of software and systems engineering at Penn State Great Valley, in Malvern, Pa.

“An IoT-enabled traffic-monitoring system uses a combination of vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, and infrastructure-to-infrastructure communication systems and analytics to manage traffic situations,” Laplante says. “They’ll be able to interoperate with other systems such as drones and traffic-awareness services, like Waze.”

Laplante wrote the article to help manufacturers of smart and IoT-enabled vehicles, roadway construction companies, city planners, engineers, and others accelerate the deployment of IoT-enabled roads.

The article was published in the magazine’s most recent issue. The publication, which launched in September and is sponsored by the IEEE Communications Society, is a forum for practitioners to share experiences, develop best practices, and establish guiding principles for technical, operational, and business success. You can download a complimentary digital edition.


Municipalities can start making their roadways smarter right now by deploying off-the-shelf sensors, Laplante says. Wireless or wired IoT sensors of all types can collect data about a road’s condition, the weather, and wildlife-movement patterns.

Sensors can be installed on existing traffic lights to improve the flow of traffic. Some traffic signals could communicate with each other to create a continuous sequence of green lights to keep traffic moving.


Security and privacy of information are a concern for all IoT applications, but extra care must be taken with highways, Laplante says. The physical assets of the system must be protected against damage, vandalism, and theft, he says, and the wirelessly transmitted information must be secure against eavesdropping and hacking.

Additionally, law-enforcement agencies and insurance companies could use the collected information for purposes other than its original purpose, such as monitoring someone’s driving habits or tracking a car’s location.


Laplante identified several IEEE standards that support smart highways. They include IEEE 802.11p, which standardizes vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication. The IEEE 1609 family of standards for wireless access in vehicular environments defines an architecture and a standardized set of services and interfaces for secure V2V and V2I wireless communication.

Although the challenges of building IoT-enhanced highways might seem daunting, Laplante says, “they should motivate engineers and scientists to develop new solutions, because the benefits of smarter roads and highways are so great.”

GE Aviation Electrifies Airplane Engines to Meet Carbon Emission Goals

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

Smaller lighter engines, 3D printed parts, and more electrical engineers are needed for the next era of flight

THE INSTITUTEThe aerospace industry is under intense pressure to reduce its impact on the environment. Between 2021 and 2035, the industry will have to offset a total of 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, an emissions mitigation approach for the industry.

GE Aviation is one company that is working to meet the mandates by increasing the electrification of the aircraft it builds. The company produces 65 percent of all commercial airplane engines. It also has a large market share of components and integrated systems for commercial, business, and general aviation aircraft. Every two seconds, an aircraft powered by GE technology takes off somewhere in the world, the company says.

Its electrical power technology chief, IEEE Fellow Hao Huang, along with his colleagues, is developing hybrid electric propulsion systems and exploring additive manufacturing of airplane parts.

Huang is an active volunteer with the IEEE Industry Applications Society and the IEEE Transportation Electrification Community.

He is the recipient of this year’s IEEE Transportation Technologies Award for his “quest to develop ‘more electric aircraft,’ with electric systems in place of today’s pneumatic and hydraulic ones for quieter, more fuel-efficient, and environmentally friendly flight.”

In this interview with The Institute, Huang discusses some of GE’s current projects that have been made public and talks about challenges facing the aerospace industry, including a shortage of skilled engineers.


Conventional jetliners have engines or propellers that rotate to move the aircraft forward or take off. In addition to the engines, there are three other systems. The hydraulic system uses pressurized fluid to move and actuate landing gear, brakes, and flight control surfaces, which are aerodynamic devices allowing a pilot to adjust and control the aircraft’s flight attitude. The pneumatic system bleeds air off the engines to power environmental control and protection from ice. The electrical system provides power to the engines as well as to equipment in the cabin.

The auxiliary power unit (APU), generally located at the rear of the aircraft, produces energy to power systems when the plane is on the ground as well as supplying energy needed to start the engines.

To make today’s planes ‘more electric’ requires changing the systems, Huang says. For example, the engine needs to be more electrical, the aircraft’s body more “actively” aerodynamic, and materials lighter to improve efficiency.

Huang points to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which uses electricity instead of pneumatics to power its environmental control system, to start its engine, and protect the wings from ice. The plane uses six generators to create more electricity. Two are located on each engine, and two are on the APU. The 787 also features a frame constructed primarily of composite materials.


Huang and his team are working on multiple electrification projects that have the potential to save fuel. One of its programs aims to eliminate the pneumatic bleed system and other parts to make planes lighter. Components such as bleedless turbo fans, high-speed generators that operate at around 270 DC volts, and high-speed solid-state DC circuit breakers are expected to reduce a plane’s weight by about 450 kilograms, Huang says.

GE has demonstrated engines that can more efficiently convert fuel to electricity. The company modified an F110 engine to generate 1 megawatt of electric power, for example. A megawatt of power is equivalent to 1,341 horsepower. The high-power-density device was tested at the company’s US $51 million Electrical Power Integrated System Center—or EPISCenter—in Dayton, Ohio, followed by additional evaluation at its test site in Peebles, Ohio, where it was used to drive a 3.4-meter-diameter Dowty propeller from a Saab 340 turboprop aircraft.

Adding electrical components can make planes heavier. Lightening the load requires new technology, materials, and design approaches, Huang says. High-voltage materials, for example, are needed to make electrical cables thinner. Another solution is to reduce the weight of parts. GE is looking into manufacturing them using additive technology such as 3D printing.

The company is working on hybrid electric aircraft concepts. Huang referenced an report published last year in Aviation Week and Space Technology on GE developing gas turbines for emerging hybrid-electric propulsion architectures, which play a big part in so-called flying cars. The electric, self-piloted, vertical-takeoff and -landing passenger aircraft are expected to replace short-range urban transportation such as cars and trains. Flying cars are projected to cost less than helicopters and be quieter to boot.

Huang expects flying cars to be used in congested cities such as San Francisco, where it can take two hours to drive 40 kilometers. “People are busy and don’t want to waste their time sitting in traffic,” he says. “Flying cars can vertically take off and land, so you could arrive in 20 minutes. I predict we’ll see these small aircraft in the next decade, but of course these planes will first need to undergo rigorous safety tests.”

You can view the presentation Huang gave last year about the future of electrification of aircraft for the IEEE Industry Applications Society’s webinar series.


The aerospace industry needs more engineers to achieve its goals.

“We are in the beginning of a new aviation era,” Huang says. “The growing industry needs skilled electrical engineers to design, build, and test components. We also need mechanical engineers and thermal engineers. There’s a lot of work to do. Companies need to get aircraft ready for the next decade.”

Huang encourages engineers who want to learn more about the industry to join IEEE, attend its conferences, subscribe to its publications, join its societies, and take advantage of the networking opportunities the organization presents.

“I joined IEEE in 1986, and the organization has helped me tremendously,” he says. “I cannot imagine where I would be today without IEEE. It’s really a wonderful organization to associate with. Its societies have helped me to broaden my knowledge.

“I’m a big fan.”

The Pioneers Behind MEMS Technology, Bose Speakers, and 4G Networks Honored

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

Synopsys and Zipline innovators also receive top IEEE awards

THE INSTITUTERemember when electronic components tended to be big, slow, and unreliable? The technologies pioneered by several award recipients recognized at this year’s IEEE Honors Ceremony have brought us smaller consumer electronics, more accurate medical devices, and dependable wireless communication systems. They were celebrated on 17 May at the Marriott Marquis Marina hotel in San Diego.

IEEE Life Fellow Kurt Petersen received the organization’s highest award, the IEEE Medal of Honor, for his foundational work on microelectromechanical systems. MEMS technology involves merging miniature mechanical and electromechanical elements such as sensors and actuators onto a silicon substrate along with integrated circuits. The functionality of smartphones and human-machine-interface applications depend on MEMS.

“The MEMS industry has grown incredibly over the years thanks to the hard work of many researchers all over the world,” Petersen noted in his acceptance speech. “When I started working in MEMS in 1975, the market was $30 million. This year it’s going to be $20 billion.

“There are a lot of projects going on in research labs all over the world that haven’t been commercialized yet but will soon be,” he added. “I think the field still has a lot of momentum.”

IEEE Fellow Antun Domic also miniaturized an important technology: electronic design automation tools, which power many of today’s applications. EDA allows the creation of complex systems with computer software that aids in the design, verification, and testing processes and helps detect flaws in chips and circuit boards. As chief technical officer at Synopsys, in Mountain View, Calif., the IEEE Robert N. Noyce Medal recipient has developed tools that enabled the design of chips containing billions of gates.

IEEE Senior Member David Flynn and Member David Jaggar developed reduced instruction set computing (RISC) architecture that can be found in more than 100 billion microprocessor cores. The recipients of the IEEE/RSE James Clerk Maxwell Medal created the foundations that launched the system-on-chip market with microprocessors that power smartphones, portable computing devices, and Internet of Things applications. Based on the RISC process, their designs use less energy.

Bose Corp. has changed the way people listen to music at home and on the go. The company received the IEEE Corporate Innovation Award, which was founded in 1964 by IEEE Life Fellow Amar G. Bose when he was a professor at MIT. Based in Framingham, Mass., Bose pioneered technology that provided more realistic recorded music with a full range of sound—from speakers that were a fraction of the size of conventional ones. He died in 2013.

Accepting the award was the company’s vice president of research, Thomas Froeschle, an IEEE member. He said Bose was frustrated that he wasn’t applying his innovations at MIT to real products that actually reached people. “Reluctantly he reached the decision to form the company and in doing that, he tried to ensure it would continue to innovate over its whole existence,” Froeschle said. “We have strived to do that for 54 years.”

The work by IEEE Fellow David Ngar Ching Tse increased wireless data transmission’s channel capacity and decreased interference. The recipient of the IEEE Richard W. Hamming Medal developed an opportunistic scheduler, demonstrating that fading can be harnessed to increase network capacity, contrary to the conventional thinking at the time. His theory helped enable today’s wireless data boom. His work was part of Qualcomm’s Evolution–Data Optimized telecommunications standard for high-data-rate wireless systems and was incorporated into all 3G and 4G cellular systems. Tse further developed the technology by using multiple antennas to induce fading.

In his acceptance speech, he thanked Claude Shannon, who in 1948 laid out a grand vision for digital communication. “After 80 years the vision is fully realized,” Tse said, adding that Shannon’s work “set a tradition of research from first principles. In this era of fast-moving research, it’s now left to the next generation to uphold and expand upon that tradition.”


Every day thousands of people living in remote areas of the world die because they can’t get access to medicine or a blood bank. To address the problem, the world’s first drone-delivery service, Zipline International, is distributing medical products—thus far in Ghana and Rwanda. For its efforts, the company received IEEE Spectrum’s Technology in Service of Society Award.

Founded in 2014 in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Zipline designs, builds, and operates small drone aircraft. The fixed-wing drones can fly 100 kilometers per hour and carry 1.8 kilograms of blood and medical supplies.

Zipline, which has two distribution centers in Rwanda, has made more than 10,000 deliveries since it opened its first center in 2016. Each facility services villages within an 80-kilometer range. It takes the aircraft about 30 minutes to deliver its payloads, and the drones can fly in all types of weather, day and night.

“Five years ago, when we started Zipline, we were told countless times that we were crazy,” said Keenan Wydrobek, the company’s cofounder and head of product engineering, who accepted the award. “We were told the governments we wanted to partner with weren’t going to be able to afford it. Our partners in the Rwandan and now Ghanaian government have moved barrier after barrier to make this a success. We now fly the equivalent of once around the equator a week delivering medical supplies, and we are just getting started.”

You can watch the entire ceremony on

Arm Founder Saxby Turned a TV Repair Hobby Into an Engineering Career

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

And other observations from a cavalcade of IEEE awards

THE INSTITUTEI attended three back-to-back events held on 16 and 17 May in San Diego that spotlighted some people who laid the groundwork for many of today’s devices and showcased several emerging technologies. Here are highlights of those sessions.

At its San Diego headquarters, Qualcomm hosted the “IEEE Evening of Innovation” panel discussion on 16 May with four of this year’s award recipients. One of the questions they were asked was why they chose engineering as a career. IEEE Founders Medal recipient Sir Robin Keith Saxby said he got into the field to continue pursuing his hobby of repairing televisions, which he had been doing since the age of 14. He felt he was destined for the electronics industry. And he made his mark as the first CEO and chairman of ARM Holdings, one of the most successful semiconductor and software design companies. It was his decision to license ARM (Advanced RISC Machines) intellectual property instead of making the chips themselves.  

He was knighted in 2002. Since he retired, Saxby is an advisor and investor in several startups. His advice to those considering launching a startup is to not be afraid to try new things and make mistakes along the way.

The IEEE Vision, Innovation, and Challenges Summit got underway on 17 May with panel discussions on smart cities, social robotics, and cybersecurity. Kicking off the event was keynote speaker and computer scientist Telle Whitney, who is active in promoting women technologists. Whitney cofounded the National Center for Women and Information Technology and is chief executive officer emeritus of the Anita Borg Institute. At the Honors Ceremony that evening, Whitney was made an IEEE Honorary Member for her support and promotion of women in technology.

Whitney said she was drawn to technology at 13 after she watched the moon landing in 1969. Like many students today, she didn’t know any engineers to serve as role models. That’s why she said she became active in increasing the number of women engineers and those from underrepresented groups. She outlined four actions that organizations can take to increase diversity: Hold leadership accountable, evaluate diversity and inclusion programs, diagnose hiring and promotion practices, and mobilize people to work together.

“One of great changes in recent times is that many companies now report their diversity numbers,” she said. “What you can measure you will change.”

Member Irene Hu, one of the speakers on the IoT–Smart Networks and Social Innovations panel, is working on make cities healthier by examining urine in wastewater from sewer systems, known as wastewater epidemiology. Hu is a hardware electronics engineer at startup, Biobot Analytics. Urine contains a lot of information about citizens’ health that can be analyzed to help cities take preventative measures against bacteria, drug abuse, and viruses, she said. Biobot is working with Cary, N.C., to measure the concentration of opioids in its sewers, and map the data to identify where use of these drugs is highest. In the United States, overdosing on opioids is the leading cause of death of people under the age of 50, according to Hu. Armed with the information, municipalities can better target educational and prevention programs, and equip first responders with knowledge about where overdoses are most likely to occur.

“We can gather information about the health of a city before a situation becomes a catastrophe,” Hu said.

During the Ethics in AI: Impact of (Anti?) Social Robotics session, panelists Ayanna Howard, Kevin McGowan, and Kate Vredenburgh were asked about which field robots have the most impact. All three agreed that healthcare is where the need is greatest, especially caring for the elderly. When questioned about whether robots were going to bring people closer or further apart, McGowan said, “Overall, I think it’s a net-net, they will bring us closer together.” He’s an associate partner for McKinsey and Co. “Over the course of human history, machines have improved our way of our life, but have come with some downsides. The world is moving forward not backwards.”

That evening’s Honor Ceremony recognized those who paved the way for today’s wireless networks, microprocessors, lasers, and other technologies. Many recipients said the event felt like an “Academy Awards for engineers.”

There was a standing ovation for Katherine G. Johnson, who received the IEEE President’s Award for her work on the Apollo 11 spaceflight. Unable to travel to the ceremony, her daughters accepted the award on her behalf. Johnson’s mathematical calculations of orbital mechanics at NASA were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. human spaceflights. She was one of the women featured in the Oscar-nominated 2016 film Hidden Figures.

The new IEEE Theodore W. Hissey Outstanding Young Professional Award, established to recognize up-and-coming technology leaders and highlight their work, was presented for the first time. Hissey presented the award to Member Mario Milicevic. In his acceptance speech, Milicevic credited past and current award recipients whose lifelong work he said was the foundation of his research into error correction and quantum cryptography.

 “The future of technology is very interdisciplinary,” Milicevic said. “I challenge young engineers to push the boundaries in fields such as healthcare, robotics, sustainable energy, and quantum computing. The list of meaningful problems is endless, but ideas, focus, determination, and hard work truly can change the world.”

Simple, Effective Public Speaking Tips for Engineers

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original

IEEE-USA e-book offers advice on mastering the art

THE INSTITUTEThere are few skills that can help you climb the career ladder faster than the ability to speak well in public. Senior management is always on the lookout for employees who can clearly and effectively communicate information, ideas, and new concepts throughout the organization. That’s according to Harry T. Roman, author of a new IEEE-USA e-book, Public Speaking for Engineers. The e-book costs US $4.99, but IEEE members can buy it for $2.99.

Roman, who is retired, spent more than 30 years as a project manager for the R&D group of Public Service Electric and Gas Co. in Newark, N.J.

Senior management has little time to interact directly with lower-level employees, he says, so when you are asked to make a presentation to your managers, you need to do a good job.

Roman says he has seen plenty of engineers’ careers get derailed because they didn’t speak well in public.

Being a good public speaker also can raise your visibility. Roman says that because of his communication skills, he was asked to lead corporate project teams, present his work in front of PSE&G’s board of directors, lead VIPs on tours of the company’s facilities, and represent the organization at important forums and meetings.

His book covers how to master the basics of public speaking.


Make sure you do your homework on the topic and understand what you’re going to talk about. If it’s a subject you’re already well versed in, show the audience that you’re an expert. If the topic is not exactly your area of expertise, become better informed by doing research and talking with authorities in the field.

Knowing your audience is important: Are they senior managers, representatives from another organization, or engineering students? Your audience affects your approach and how sophisticated your talk should be.

“Remember, you are there to clearly and concisely communicate important information—not to show off and use big words,” Roman says. “To the extent you can, draw parallels to their interests, professions, or experiences.”


Start preparing your presentation by determining the conclusions you want the audience to leave with, and then work backward. Summarize the main points concisely to help attendees remember them. Roman offers three simple rules: Tell the audience what you are going to speak about, tell them the things you came to say, and sum up by telling them what you just told them.

Each slide in your presentation should contain a complete thought or concept that meshes with the previous one. Have one or two slides for each minute of your allotted time. Be sure to number the slides to preserve the order, and have an extra copy on hand, just in case you encounter technical problems.

To feel comfortable with your talk, rehearse it several times, Roman says. Speak clearly with a strong voice. Enunciate all your words.

Don’t race through the presentation, and be sure to look at your audience, not only at your slides or notes. Do not read your slides to the audience. The visuals should act as a cue about what you want to say.

At the end of the talk, summarize the main points concisely to help the audience remember them.

Encourage questions after your talk. Try to answer them; if you don’t know the answer, simply say so, but then get the person’s contact information so you can send the answer later.

“No audience wants to see a speaker do poorly, because they will have wasted their time,” Roman says. “Good public speakers are remembered, respected, and often emulated.”


A good way to improve your presentation skills is to give talks to groups such as your religious organization and civic groups. Roman also suggests joining your company’s speakers bureau or Toastmasters International, which operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of promoting communication and public speaking skills.

Consider presenting a technical paper at a conference, visiting schools to talk about the engineering profession, or giving a presentation at an IEEE-sponsored event or section meeting.

“Whichever method you use to learn how to speak confidently in public is up to you, but do take the time to learn this valuable skill,” Roman says. “It’s a stepping stone to your career and the perfect way to develop your leadership skills.