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Field Degree, International Programs

Stay nimble. Stay creative.


Consider the fidget spinner. It’s the newest toy, a technological marvel taking the world by storm. If you know a tween, chances are you’ve seen one. If you know someone who knows a tween, chances are you’ve seen a meme about fidget spinners on social media.

The device is uniquely suited to being the takeover toy of 2017. High end, bespoke spinners utilize machined metals and advanced bearings. On the lower end, spinners are 3D-printed. You can download a schematic, create your own, or simply purchase one of the thousands of varieties. It’s the perfect storm of the tech zeitgeist.

More interestingly, no one brand known for making the best-known or highest-regarded fidget spinner—they just are. Made possible by seamless manufacturing, global shipping, and supply chains of unfathomable complexity: an end result that can only exist because of another chain of unfathomable complexity, the Internet.

Are fidget spinners really that new though? They’re simply better-engineered tops, aren’t they? And tops are one of the oldest recognizable objects found in archeological sites, being theorized to have been invented independently by different cultures throughout history. The fidget spinner is but the latest iteration in a long tradition that includes dreidels, rattlebacks, perinolas, teetotums, and gyroscopes.

Party like it's 1590

Party like it’s 1590

And speaking of gyroscopes, that’s the same technology that gave us the last breakthrough device that took over hearts and minds through the Internet’s infinite supply chain: hoverboards. Gyroscopes have existed since at least 1743. Skateboards have existed since the 1940s. The hoverboard’s not even the first gyroscopic board—that honor goes to the Segway, first unveiled in 2001.

Both fidget spinners and hoverboards fuse existing technologies—tops, gyroscopes—with more modern ones—3D printing, long-lasting batteries—and take advantage of synergies of engineering, manufacturing, marketing, and distribution that would not be possible even a few years ago.

This may sound trivial. Maybe a fidget spinner isn’t about to change the world. But there are three important phenomena to consider.

  1. It isn’t just about toys. These processes affect every part of our daily lives. High technology isn’t just about quantum computing. Any product or service that changes human lives will leverage an aspect of new technology with innovative engineering. Apple, SpaceX, Tesla, Google, Microsoft—they all use these same synergies, they too marry processes with imagination.
  2. This is the essence of innovation, the purest form of the art and science of engineering. Taking disparate processes and changing lives. Today, it’s marrying the ancient technology of a top and putting it in a new form. Tomorrow, it may be using the Internet of Things to create a medical device which uses sensors to provide a patient with a complete physical diagnosis.
  3. The world is speeding toward an awesome future. Embedded systems to create intelligent devices for everyday use. Artificial intelligence creating new music. IoT-enabled products that connect you to a server that helps you make better decisions. Big data informing even the tiniest aspects of your everyday life.

As an engineer, your biggest question becomes: how am I preparing to change the world? How can I stay nimble and creative? How can I fuse different technologies, how can I think across disciplines, how can I be a more thoughtful and involved member of the human race? How can I change the world?

There are many, many ways to answer those questions. The E.C.E Field Degree will give you the vocabulary with which you can do so.

Arafat Kazi

Things I love: tech convergence, the singularity, cats.

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