Technology and Innovation: Engineering Education

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ASU Engineering Professor John Robertson talks about his involvement with Analog Devices’ University Engineering Program which gives engineering students a hands-on approach to analog circuit design.

Steve Goldstein: In our continuing coverage of Arizona technology and innovation tonight we tell you about an Arizona state university professor who was recently named to an advisory board for an electronics company set up a program to help university students. John Robertson, a professor in the ASU college of technology and innovation, was named advisor to the analog devices university program. Here to tell us about the program is John Robertson. Welcome, professor.

John Robertson: Thank you very much.

Steve Goldstein: When people hear the term analog, some may think dated. Why is it not?

John Robertson: Well, it's one of these little invisible links in the electronic chain that we tend to take for granted these days. But I'm afraid like it or not the world is analog. It's only when we get into the computer that we can really start manipulating all the information. For example, if you think on a car what happened with Toyota when they had the accelerator pedal problem, that was an analog signal. They wanted it to vary continuously. Unfortunately it didn't, it stuck hard on. So this little space between the sensor in one hand and the computer on the other is something that is really very important in everything that we have these days from cars, consumer goods, cameras.

Steve Goldstein: Why is the analog device going to help an engineer get hands on -- I'm going to date myself here and sound like a non-engineer As a kid I remember using a heath kit. Is this an advanced version of that?

John Robertson: Absolutely. Of course the thing in technology is that science tends to emphasize what's new and shiny. In technology it's the weakest link that kills you. So inevitably, the attention goes to the areas where people are having the most difficulty. If you have anything that can affect the signal before it gets into the computer, it's the old story, you're puting in garbage you know what you're going to get out. It's also been a skill where there hasn't been a lot of emphasis. There's been so much going on in the digital world. That's been the attractive thing. So there's almost like a Cinderella approach to it. Analog Devices is one of the major companies in the world with Texas Instruments on this subject. They are known very well to all the professionals. You've got probably half a dozen of their components inside your cell phone. But they have decided that they really want to try to foster a new approach in universities. So we have got this real -- it's bringing the cheap, very low cost -- I shouldn't say cheap. Low cost components into the lab so for something like $100 you get a complete electronics lab. Now, in a little box like this. What's attractive for me is that I'm able to steer them in terms of their emphasis and priorities and what works with the students. And also to start looking at ways in which we can teach students differently with this extra degree of freedom --

Steve Goldstein: We often hear the term public-private partnership. How did this come about?

John Robertson: Well, it's interesting, it's also a private-private partnership in the sense analog device is a big company. They are working together with a small company up in Washington because the small company is more agile and doesn't have all the overhead of the big company. I have been working with them, so that was my link in to Analog Devices. And I guess they are trying to get representation around the country. So it was nice to be giving the West half view, keep all these Easterners in line.

Steve Goldstein: Briefly, we have about 30 seconds left, take us into the future. How important is something like this going to be in making our engineers better?

John Robertson: Well, I think it's going to be very important because it's going to speed up the process. It's going to let them be more adept. Some very scarce skills. There's people who come out with skills in this business have jobs up the kazoo. There's no shortage of jobs for them. I think one of the nice things at ASU is that we have the leading edge. We're on the front line to get into all the new developments. We push them out to the students and push them into the curriculum.

Steve Goldstein: Professor, thanks so much.

John Robertson: Pleased to be here.

John Robertson - ASU Engineering Professor

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