The Future of Engineering Profession (By Secretariat)

Engineering evolved as a practice to cope with the need of society in the past. For example, the maturation of the design and building of civilian structures such as roads and bridges led to the development of the civil engineering discipline, and the invention of different machines and engines set the foundation of mechanical engineering. As time goes by, the lines between necessity and wish are blurred. The aspiration for a higher standard of lifestyle has incited more innovative ideas to improve the state of affairs, and has bred more branches of the engineering profession. Some disciplines like environmental engineering, biomedical engineering, logistics and transportation engineering developed to boost the development of society with more specialised studies branched under certain big families of engineering. But it is not enough to just keep the wheels turning. To move even faster, we need to bring together the experts of different fields to spark some unprecedented ideas.

As an early-founded discipline of practice, mechanical engineering is reckoned by many as mature and has a limited potential for innovation. But, the cutting-edge robotics system for the treating Parkinson’s disease tells a different story.

Mechanical engineering is a discipline that focuses on designing, developing and operating different kinds of machines and machineries with the use of various tools and equipment. One of the products produced by mechanical engineers is the specialised machines for healthcare and surgery.

Conventionally, the treatment of Parkinson’s disease involves a process called “Deep brain stimulation”, during which doctors manually implant electrodes into both sides of the brain of the patient one after another for a span of 8 to 12 hours, while in fact the patient has to stay conscious to talk and interact with the doctor to ensure the electrodes are positioned accurately. Imagine having to use your fingers of both hands to precisely tap on your phone on the same point continuously for half a day. Yet this is nothing comparable to the exhaustion of a doctor after handling the extremely intense and meticulous operation for the utmost accuracy.

This outmoded method of curing Parkinson’s disease has already been out of step with the times. The very first and revolutionary robotics system that can be used for treating Parkinson’s disease in the world has been developed by a team of mechanical engineering experts. The Team from The University of Hong Kong designed and manufactured the system, which was then tested by the neurosurgeons from The Chinese University of Hong Kong. The operation time is reduced significantly to 4 to 6 hours, during which the patient can be put under anaesthesia. These collaborative efforts of medical doctors and engineers have yielded medical devices of extreme precision that do more than treating diseases. It spares the patient from experiencing consciously an invasive procedure, and relieves the surgeons of their pressure and work-related physical burden. Although further studies and clinical tests are needed in the following few years, this robotics system will foreseeably be investigated and applied on other areas, such as biopsies for prostate and treatment of breast cancer in years to come.

In this era of disruption, the society is changing at a faster and faster pace. New ideas emerge every second, and each of them can potentially be a stimulus to trigger more new ones, some of which will eventually grow and adapt to benefit the world at large. It shall not be surprising to see more engineering disciplines evolve so there will be more specialised engineers tackling the challenges in different particular aspects, and the collaboration with diverse experts will surely generate solutions for pushing forward the development of society.

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