Computer Engineering Computer technology has advanced dramatically over the past ten years. Technology has advanced from computers the size of a room that can only perform one particular task, to personal computers (PCs) that will fit on a desk and perform multiple tasks. Understanding computers and their programs and being able to apply that knowledge is very important in todays workplace. Engineering is a field that requires an extensive background in computer technology. Future engineers will benefit dramatically from having a strong background in computer technology. In order to understand why computers are important, we have to understand what a computer is and what it does. A computer is a device capable of performing a series of calculations or logical operations without human intervention. The computer is characterized by the number and complexity of operations it can perform and by its ability to process, store, and retrieve data (“Computers” 1).
The development of computers began in the 19th century by British mathematician Charles Babbage (Eadie 3). Babbage designed, but did not build, a mechanical digital device capable of processing information as a modern computer does (4). In 1930 American scientist Vannevar Bush built a mechanically operated device, called a differential analyzer (4). It was the first general-purpose analog computer. Analog computers will be discussed later in this paper.
The first information-processing digital computer actually built was the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator, or Mark I computer (4). Completed in 1944, this electromechanical device was designed by American engineer Howard Aiken (5). In 1946 the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC, was put into operation (5). Using thousands of electron tubes, it was the first electronic digital computer. In the late 1950s transistors replaced electron tubes in computers, allowing a reduction in the size and power consumption of computer components (5).
In the 1960s hybrid computers were tried that connected analog computers to digital ones. Later integrated circuits were developed that allowed further reduction in component size and increase in reliability. The introduction of a relatively easy to use PC in 1981 began a period in the rapid growth of the computer industry. The computer industry is still thriving today with the introduction of faster processors such as the Pentium II and now the Pentium III, high tech printers, scanners, and of course the Internet. There are two types of computers, analog and digital. An analog computer is designed to process data in which the variable quantities vary continuously; it translates the relationships between the variables of a problem into analogous relationships between electrical quantities, such as current and voltage, and solves the original problem by solving the equivalent problem, or analog, that is set up in its electrical circuits (Eadie 9).
Because of this feature, analog computers are useful in the simulation and evaluation of certain complex situations. Analog computers do not play a role in engineering today, but without the introduction of analog computers PCs would not be what they are today. Digital computers are referred to as PCs. PCs are used everyday in the workplace, at school, and at home. Many programs can be accessed and loaded into a digital computer. Most technical jobs, including engineering, require experience and understanding of PCs and the programs that are related to the field in which the PC is being used.
A digital computer is designed to process data in numerical form; its circuits perform mathematical operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The numbers operated on by a digital computer are expressed in the binary system. Binary digits, which are also known as bits, are 0 and 1, so that 0, 1, 10, 11, 100, 101, etc. correspond to 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. A series of eight bits, called a “byte”, is the basic data unit of computers. A digital computer can store the results of its calculations for later use, can compare the results with other data, and on the basis of such comparisons can change the series of operations it performs (“Computers” 2). PCs would not be useful if it were not for the information that we enter into them.
Input to a computer can come directly from people. Human beings can directly communicate with the computer terminals, entering instructions and data by means of keyboards or by using a mouse and receiving the information through a printer. Entering data into a computer can be extremely complicated for someone who is not experienced in downloading. In engineering understanding how to download a program is not as important as knowing how to run a program unless, of course, you are planning a career in computer engineering. When the necessary programs are loaded into a PC it can be used for tasks such as computer-aided design. Computer-aided design (CAD) is used frequently in engineering.
CAD is a form of automation that helps designers prepare drawings, specifications, and parts lists for a wide variety of products. The technology is widely used in architectural, electronics, aeronautical, naval, and automotive engineering and design. At first CAD programs only performed less complicated automated drafting projects. Now they include computer simulation as an important component. Rather than having to build “bread-board” circuit prototypes and change components to determine effects of tolerance ranges, engineers can use computers to simulate circuit operation (Ferris 19). As microelectronics devices have become smaller and more complex, CAD has become an especially important technology.
The introduction of CADs have lowered costs and shortened the design cycle in many industries. The understanding of CADs and similar programs are a vital component to any engineering career. Other programs that are related to engineering are ones that help create blueprints, estimate production costs, and simulate certain situations that will help in production. There are many different programs that correspond to each field of engineering. In todays society computers are taught starting in elementary school.
Computerized instruction continues all the way through high school. Now, many engineering degrees require certain computer classes. Todays students are going to have an advantage over the engineers of the past. Design and planning will become easier even though the designs may be more complex. The advancements in technology have contributed greatly to the field of engineering.