In a recent blog post I mentioned the biennial SAE Convergence conference and exhibition. I spent most of last week in the Motor City dividing my time between the Mentor Graphics® and National Instruments™ booths on the exhibition floor. Among other products, we highlighted our partnership with National Instruments, and our SystemVision® SVX client for their LabVIEW™ test program development environment. We took our guitar tuner demo, which highlights the results of the SystemVision integration with LabVIEW.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, 2010 marks my first year at Convergence. And quite frankly, the exhibition seemed a bit small to me. Talking with other exhibitors, this was indeed the case. The exhibit floor space was about half the size as the last conference two years ago, which was itself significantly down from earlier years. Seems to be a general trend across many industries. As companies tighten their financial belts, travel is often the first budget item to get trimmed, if not eliminated. With the economy still struggling to regain positive momentum, employees board planes, rent cars, stay in hotels, and eat in restaurants (i.e. travel on business) only when absolutely necessary.
Despite the smaller exhibit floor footprint and the lower customer attendance, the conference was interesting from a newbie perspective. Got to see a few new automobiles and an occasional emerging technology. One of my favorite exhibits, however, came from a surprising source: high school students. The SquareOne Education Network sponsors high school Innovative Vehicle Design competitions where students are given the opportunity to design their own vehicle, with the requirement that their project introduce an innovative design concept beyond just moving a driver from Point A to Point B. Several student groups brought their vehicles to the conference. Their design innovations included a driver-adjustable suspension, handicapped driver access and control, solar powered propulsion, hybrid propulsion, weather and environment monitoring, carbon fiber body components, and integrated vehicle computer and navigation. Click here to see some of the vehicles in action during their recent performance tests, where projects were judged in a variety of categories.
The SquareOne Education Network’s mission is best summarized in this statement from their website: “The SquareOne Education Network is dedicated to igniting the creative potential of students in the exploration of engineering, science, and mathematics.” The student exhibit at Convergence was just a small sample of what young minds, given the encouragement and chance to apply technology, can create. Kudos to the students, the SquareOne Education Network, and the instructors, volunteers, and sponsors that make these competitions possible.
I’m interested in learning about similar competitions that bring applied engineering to K-12 education systems around the country. Let me know if you have a favorite program or competition in your area.