He doesn’t know, either.
Last week Akbar tackled the idea of whether the word “mechatronics” is effective in describing our field to people. However, that discussion is based on a more fundamental question – what do we actually do (i.e. what is the thing that “mechatronics” or any other word is actually trying to describe)?
Field vs. Application
To answer this question, I think it is important to first distinguish between the tools we use and the purposes we apply them towards. A good analogy might be to consider an engineer at an automotive company. Their field (the collection of tools, techniques and concepts they use to do their job) may be mechanical engineering, but their application (the project that they are working on) is a car. Similarly, I would say that mechatronics describes our field but that our applications may be much more varied.
What Is Our Field?
The literal definition of mechatronics is actually pretty straightforward – our niche lies around the intersection of mechanical engineering, electronics, and software. The semi-coherent pinwheel of death / Venn diagram shown below is a nightmare to parse but actually does a decent job of summing up the different areas that fall within our purview (with the qualification that we work on all of the intersection areas, not just the “Mechatronics” one). However, neither the diagram nor the above definition resonates in any meaningful way with the vast majority of people. Because of this, I think it is probably more effective to evangelize our field in terms of what mechatronics allows us to do as opposed to how we do it.
Perfectly comprehensible, right?
So, What Do We Actually Work On?
Because we are a consulting firm, we work on a wide variety of applications, from cleantech projects to medical devices to consumer products to automotive systems. However, if I had to pick one common thread that links virtually all of the work we do, I would say that we generally work on making devices and systems smarter. This can involve changing the way a user interacts with something or making the device able to function more effectively independently from the user.
Because saying “make things smarter” is pretty vague, let’s consider some examples. Imagine a house that turns off the lights when people aren’t in the room to save electricity, or a coffee maker that starts brewing your coffee in the morning before you get up so it is ready when you come downstairs. Picture a system that keeps track of your workouts at the gym and helps you track your progress and improve your technique, or even a Segway (by the way, all of these products currently exist). Making products smarter could mean equipping them with better communication technology so that you can control them remotely via a computer or phone. Or it could mean adding sensors to allow them to be aware of the situation around them so that they can respond in the most useful possible way. Finally, it often means integrating motors or other actuators so that the system is able to actually affect the physical world.
At the end of the day, we believe that mechatronics and its applications to smart products can enable a staggeringly broad set of improvements to our quality of life. Our goal is to get other people as excited about it as we are.