USE Basic Course

Do you know how your mobile telephone works?

At first glance that doesn’t seem very difficult. You have a microphone, an electrical signal, a loudspeaker and some kind of wireless connection. But if you look closely at how your telephone works, you will see that it is actually very complicated. And not only because of the technology, but also because of a number of non-technical issues.

There has to be an agreement on communication protocols between telephone companies, the telephones need a number so that they can be reached, a distribution network has to be set up, people have to learn how to use their telephones, the privacy of the user has to be safeguarded, a revenue model has to be developed, technical inventions have to be protected legally (think of the patent war between Apple and Samsung), a reliable network of transmission and reception masts has to be set up within the existing infrastructure, professionals with the right skills are required to set up and maintain the network and provide the services, the safety and health impacts have to be determined, etc., etc. In short, your telephone is part of a system of technical and non-technical elements that interact to make sure it works.

The role of the engineer

The engineers of the future will be confronted more than ever with three players who are essential to the success or failure of a technological development: the user (U), the government (S) and the company (E). In USE subjects students learn about these players and the role of the engineer on the basis of the social and management sciences and the humanities. The USE basic course takes a first step in this direction. Current dilemmas relating to technology are examined from the perspective of the humanities, history and ethics. First the various players are introduced and then the role of the engineer, the user, the government and the company in relation to sustainability, health care, energy, mobility and ICT are analyzed more deeply through specific assignments. An important question here is: what role do you see for engineers in all this?