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Mechatronics, the term coined in Japan in the 1970s, has evolved over the past 25 years and has led to a special breed of intelligent products. What is mechatronics? It is a natural stage in the evolutionary process of modern engineering design. For some engineers, mechatronics is nothing new, and, for others, it is a philosophical approach to design that serves as a guide for their activities. Certainly, mechatronics is an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary one. It is clear that an all-encompassing definition of mechatronics does not exist, but in reality, one is not needed. It is understood that mechatronics is about the synergistic integration of mechanical, electrical, and computer systems.
One can understand the extent that mechatronics reaches into various disciplines by characterizing the constituent components comprising mechatronics, which include: (i) physical systems modeling, (ii) sensors and actuators, (iii) signals and systems, (iv) computers and logic systems, and (v) software and data acquisition.
Engineers and scientists from all walks of life and fields of study can contribute to mechatronics. As engineering and science boundaries become less well defined, more students will seek a multi-disciplinary education with a strong design component. Academia should be moving towards a curriculum, which includes coverage of mechatronic systems. In the future, growth in mechatronic systems will be fueled by the growth in the constituent areas. Advancements in traditional disciplines fuel the growth of mechatronics systems by providing “enabling technologies.”
For example, the invention of the microprocessor had a profound effect on the redesign of mechanical systems and design of new mechatronics systems. We should expect continued advancements in cost-effective microprocessors and microcontrollers, sensor and actuator development enabled by advancements in applications of MEMS, adaptive control methodologies and real-time programming methods, networking and wireless technologies, mature CAE technologies for advanced system modeling, virtual prototyping, and testing. The continued rapid development in these areas will only accelerate the pace of smart product development. The Internet is a technology that, when utilized in combination with wireless technology, may also lead to new mechatronic products.
While developments in automotives provide vivid examples of mechatronics development, there are numerous examples of intelligent systems in all walks of life, including smart home appliances such as dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, microwaves, and wireless network enabled devices. In the area of “human-friendly machines”, we can expect advances in robot-assisted surgery, and implantable sensors and actuators. Other areas that will benefit from mechatronic advances may include robotics, manufacturing, space technology, and transportation. The future of mechatronics is wide open.