Claudia Galván clearly remembers the morning when the water taps stopped running.
September 19, 1985 began like any other day in Mexico City. Claudia had been up for a little while when something strange happened: her home began to shake. Earthquakes aren’t unprecedented in the capital—just last week the city felt rumblings from a powerful earthquake in southern Mexico—but this one was uniquely violent. Lasting a full 50 seconds, the 8.0-magnitude quake reduced huge swaths of the metropolis to rubble. The scale of the disaster was immediately evident. Yet one of the most consequential effects of the earthquake happened out of sight. It ravaged the city’s antiquated underground water infrastructure.
“For the next two years, we had no running water—zero,” Galván said. “The water trucks would come up the street so that we could all wash our dishes.” To a child, it was interminable—how could something so accessible all of a sudden just disappear? But unbeknownst to Galván at the time, Mexico City’s engineers were hard at work. The needs of Mexico City residents were urgent, and engineers wasted no time rebuilding and modernizing the maze of subterranean water pipes. But it didn’t just take weeks or months to fix; it took years.
It’s a lesson she’s taken to heart in her own career as an engineer. Most people think of innovation as the single instance of inspiration or a never-been-done-before moonshot vision of the future. The impact of engineering, however, is really found in the painstaking process of getting solutions to market. It’s more than the idea. It’s the years of trial and error, dead ends, revisions and safety testing to make reliable and affordable products available to people who need them. All of this is the necessary and oft-unacknowledged work by which problems are solved. Engineering has the ability to transform lives for the better. But it doesn’t just happen. This is the heart of engineering hope.
Innovate, then test, then measure, and innovate more
Engineering is a vast sector of work. It can encompass projects ranging from digital infrastructure to food science—and everything in between. Joy Harris knows this better than most. As the director of Georgia Tech’s Engineering for Social Innovation Center, Harris works with students from across diverse engineering fields on projects that solve global problems. She stresses that while varied, these projects share at least one commonality: Creative engineering of all strips demands a careful but urgent development process. “Innovation is not limited to the eureka moment,” she said. “You innovate on a regular basis.”
Testing is at the heart of this effort. The reality is that many technologies that would make our world better—that clean-up our ecosystems, keep our roadways safe and more—have already been prototyped. They exist. The challenge is that invention is only the beginning when it comes to delivering engineering products that help people. The next steps are vital: teams work carefully to review and tweak designs. They test for safety and functionality, balancing the urgency of the request with the need for efficacy, reliability and sustainability.
“Testing and repetition for continuous improvement are necessary,” noted Joseph Sarkis, an engineer and faculty member at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “You don’t know if you have something that works without testing and measuring.”
For Harris, the ability to test with speed, but also precision is fundamental to realizing impact. “As an engineer, you’re looking for that iterative feedback that makes products better for the user,” she said. “If you do that continuously, you’re not only going to design stuff that people want—you’re actually going to design something that people need and that makes the world better.”
Enter the experts
The problem is that testing can be an arduous process. And for many of these challenges, we don’t have time to wait. That’s where NI comes in. The company is dedicated to working with clients to ensure a speedy testing process—allowing engineers to actually deliver innovations that the public needs.
The company, for example, has worked with the automotive industry to design advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving (AD) testing systems that ensure next-generation vehicles perform safely on the road. Human mistakes like speeding and distracted driving cause roughly 94 percent of car accidents in the United States. Engineering teams are responding by equipping vehicles with digital features like automated braking and 5G-enabled vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity that can help mitigate these errors. The widespread adoption of this mobility future—which relies on test products and solutions from NI to ensure safety features work consistently—could potentially save tens of thousands of lives every year. This is innovation that is needed now, but safety and reliability of these systems must be guaranteed.
NI is helping to enable this process-driven approach across a range of sectors. In addition to working with the automotive industry, NI touches industries as diverse as aerospace, industrial machinery and semiconductor manufacturing, which is working to usher in the reality of 5G. They also help enable the development of medical devices like the Berlin Heart ExCor, which saves the lives of children with heart conditions. NI is doing this by offering engineers around the world the tools to deploy world-changing products quickly and safely.
According to Galván, this iterative development process demands imagination—whether rebuilding a water system or creating a medical device. “Engineering is a highly creative field,” she said. And it’s in the moments of outside-the-box probing and tinkering that innovators are able to deliver solutions. “Creativity can solve a big problem and truly help people,” she added.
NI allows innovators to do this vital work with the urgency that the moment demands. This is not just engineering—this is engineering hope.
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