By Jeff Williams, Electrical Engineer
April 15, 2014
A talented engineer is an artist who paints with materials on the palette of the world.
An engineer is a creative artist. In the same way a writer faces the blank page or a sculptor the raw rock, the engineer faces the challenges of the problem to be solved with the science and mathematics of the profession applied through the lens of experience. As the adage goes, 'Anyone can design a bridge that stands. It takes an engineer to design one that barely stands.'
But stand it must. As a colleague once told me early in my profession, 'There are more ways to design a computer wrong than right.'
So, what's my point? An engineer faces a design challenge and the solution proffered has to meet the needs incumbent to that challenge. Of course. But how the challenge is met, well, there's the rub. A good engineer will design a solution that not only meets the problem thoroughly, but with panache and flair.
There is elegance inherent in a good engineering solution. Sometimes this elegance is inscrutable except to those skilled in the art. But sometimes, that elegance transcends the sum of the parts and becomes an artistic statement available to all.
Have you figured it out yet? I'm talking about the remotely operated vehicle Deep Discoverer, ROV 'D2', and the engineers who designed and built it.
With miles of wire and a touchless oil-filled hose, you would be hard pressed to see a more elegant cabling layout. One that, by the way, allows convenient service access to a thousand or so termination points and cable connections.
Or consider the function of a hydraulic system that controls two independent manipulator arms each with seven independently articulating functions plus four deployable and rotatable carbon-fiber swing arms each with enough light to make a professional cinematographer smile. Hooked up to this system is a new temperature probe that is designed to sample discrete temperature differentials—this cruise we used it to learn more about a brine pool we discovered on Dive 2. In the future, a number of other sensors to help us understand the deep-sea environment can be integrated into this system. Oh, and D2 does all of this smoothly, surrounded by pressure three-times greater than that inside a scuba tank.
Consider the control system that allows either of two pilots to instantly access any of six thrusters, eight cameras, or 26 high-intensity LED lamps; to pirouette around a delicate deep-sea coral; or to pause motionless mere inches above the shiny surface of an underwater lake of brine.
The aesthetics of the vehicle itself with its brilliant white buoyancy foam and stark blue logo almost seem gratuitous in response. Almost.
Taken together they form a 6000-meter, 40-HP vehicle capable of delivering broadcast-quality high-definition television video from the unexplored reaches of the ocean.
That's a bridge that can stand and be admired.