Everyday Miracles: The Work of IEEE Societies

Video shows how members make a difference in people’s daily lives

17 February 2012

Every time you microwave a cup of coffee, get directions from your GPS device, or video-chat with loved ones, you have members of IEEE societies to thank. But do you know which of the 38 societies, often working in conjunction with each other, made those ubiquitous technologies possible?

A five-minute video composed of a series of still photographs takes a look at such "everyday miracles" and, in the process, illustrates the impact members of IEEE’s societies have on our daily lives.

 “Making the Everyday Possible” from IEEE Technical Activities premiered in August at the IEEE Sections Congress, where it was demonstrated on a touch screen that allowed viewers to interact with it and learn more about the technologies it discusses. The video is now available online.

It opens with a familiar image: the start of a new day as a family scrambles to get to work and school on time. First the mother describes the scene, and then a narrator takes over as the mother moves about the kitchen, past images of the microwave oven, coffeemaker, and other electronic devices. As each appliance appears on screen, a plus sign pops up next to it. By clicking on the symbol, a viewer links to a window that presents a technical sentence or two about the device, as well as the names of the IEEE societies whose members are responsible for it. For example, the oven uses technology developed by members of the IEEE Consumer Electronics, Microwave Theory and Techniques, and Power Electronics societies. Three other societies made the coffeemaker possible.

The story progresses through three more chapters. In the second, the mother, Laura, is shown buckling her kids into the family car as she prepares to drop them off at school and day care before heading to work. Laura is on a tight schedule, but features in her car make things easier. Her Bluetooth headset, with which she calls her office, is enabled by applications developed by the IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society. The auto-dimming rearview mirror was made possible by the IEEE Product Safety Engineering Society and the IEEE Sensors Council. The GPS unit in her car that can guide her around a traffic jam uses technology from the IEEE Computational Intelligence, Control Systems, and Signal Processing societies.

Things get very dramatic in the third chapter, when Laura is hurt in a traffic accident. But her injuries could have been worse if not for the car's integrated crash response system, which automatically shut off the engine and unlocked the doors—tasks made possible by members of the IEEE Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation and IEEE Vehicular Technology societies. Emergency personnel rush Laura, to the hospital and into surgery. Along the way, her medical treatment benefits from technologies from the IEEE Communications, Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Magnetics and other societies.

When Laura returns home to recuperate, her doctor monitors her progress remotely (using technology from four IEEE societies), and she and her husband video-chat using the videocams on their laptops (more innovations made possible by IEEE members).

"Making the Everyday Possible" was the brainchild of Laura J. Wolf, executive director of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society.

"We wanted to come up with a way that helps people understand that pretty much everything they touch in their daily lives has been influenced by a member of IEEE," Wolf says.

Mercy Kowalczyk, executive director of the IEEE Signal Processing Society, wrote the video’s script. "There are societies, like SPS, that have a difficult job explaining what they do to the general public," she says. "We wanted to put something out that would be informative at any level."

The goal, Kowalczyk says, was to show that products we all use every day were developed by engineers from multiple societies.

"It's a great way of informing the public at large about the disciplines of engineering,” she says, “and conveying the excitement engineers feel about what they do."

Other society executive directors and Jayne Cerone, staff director of Governance, Communications, & Volunteer Relations in IEEE Technical Activities, in Piscataway, N.J., helped produce the video. A team of volunteers reviewed the script at every stage. Wolf recorded the mother’s voice-over, speaking the part of Laura and a professional actress played the part.

All told, 30 IEEE societies are represented in the video.

 "We're hoping to do more of these videos and focus on additional societies," says Kowalczyk, who has two new scripts ready to go.

The video will be shown at IEEE events and trade shows, organizers say, and it might be translated into other languages for use around the world.

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