Learning about engineering at a young age is a great way to prepare students for an interesting and fulfilling career. Engineers move society forward by designing new machines, developing new medicines, harnessing the power of electricity, and creating other things that change the way we live and work.
Engineering is also a very broad term. There are so many types of engineering that it can be challenging for students to choose a direction. A good place to start is to learn the key differences among the main branches of engineering.
The main types of engineering are mechanical, electrical, software, firmware, aerospace, civil, and chemical.
Keep reading to learn more about these types of engineering and how introducing students to Sphero products can teach them the engineering design process involved in many of these fields.
7 Types of Engineering
Explaining engineering is easier if you first break it up into different types. Every engineering discipline involves creativity, technical knowledge, and solving complex problems, but depending on the engineering field each will differ widely.
By presenting each discipline along with the type of problems that are solved, you can spark an interest in the branch of engineering that resonates most with the student.
1. Firmware Engineering
Because technology and software account for so much of our lives, we will also put firmware engineering in its own branch. Firmware engineers do write code like software engineers, but they write code that runs on tiny computers called microcontrollers. All types of products contain microcontrollers, from complex robots to the thermostat that keeps your house at a comfortable temperature.
While firmware engineering does deal with abstract code, the hardware (e.g. computer, device, robot) it runs on must also be considered. This is because firmware engineers write the code that controls how the hardware or device reacts to input, or a command. This code runs in a layer that connects the digital world (code) to the physical world (hardware or device). Both the Sphero BOLT and RVR have two microcontrollers that control how these devices interact with the world.
2. Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineering involves designing and building mechanical systems and components. Mechanical engineers tend to be the type of people who have a natural inclination to build things with tools and like to work on projects that they can see and touch.
Mechanical engineering is the most diverse of all the engineering types because they can work on various mechanical devices like vehicles, firearms, household appliances, and robots. It is also good to know some elements of electrical, computer, and chemical engineering in this field because mechanical engineering covers so much ground that these branches touch upon as well.
The Sphero RVR Programmable Robot includes the gears, wheels, frame components, and enclosures to help students develop basic mechanical engineering skills.
3. Electrical Engineering
This branch of engineering focuses on anything that uses electricity, including electrical equipment the size of industrial generators to small electronic devices. Electrical engineers work in the invisible world of electricity, where they have to measure the output of circuits to know for sure if something is working because electricity can’t physically be seen with the naked eye.
There are a few subfields of electrical engineering, including power engineering, which deals with large systems like power plants that provide electricity for whole cities, or electronics engineering, which deals with solid-state components and circuit boards like the ones you would find in the Sphero BOLT.
4. Software Engineering
Software engineering deals with the programs that run on computers, mobile devices, IoT devices, and other computational elements. Because software controls many aspects of our personal and professional lives, it touches every type of industry.
Software engineers work on a very abstract level. Much of the time, they will write code where the physical hardware the code interacts with doesn't even have to be considered. The Sphero Edu app introduces young coders to the world of software engineering by giving them a hub where they can learn how to write code for Sphero robots.
5. Aerospace Engineering
Aerospace engineering is the field of engineering concerned with the design, development, testing, and production of aircraft, spacecraft, and any related systems. It focuses on the problems related to both atmospheric and space flight.
Much like electrical engineering, software engineering, and firmware engineering, aerospace engineering started abruptly with an invention that changed the world. With aerospace engineering, that invention was the Wright Brothers’ 1903 airplane. Within 50 years, aerospace engineering would expand beyond our own atmosphere to include the design of spacecraft as well as airplanes.
6. Civil Engineering
Civil engineering is one of the oldest fields of engineering. Technically speaking, this field started when the first person cut a tree down to cross a river or put a roof over their head. That's because civil engineers are responsible for the houses we live in, the buildings we do business in, and the cities we call home. Put simply, civil engineers design and build homes, skyscrapers, bridges, roads, subways, sewage systems, and more. Civil engineers are experts in building materials and compounds, their composition, and the type of loads they can handle.
7. Chemical Engineering
Whether you realize it or not, chemicals are just as much a part of our lives as technology is. Chemical engineers design the systems that manufacture a wide variety of chemicals used and needed in our day-to-day lives. Chemical engineers use their knowledge of chemistry, biology, physics, and math to create chemical compounds that make our lives better.
A chemical engineer's career could consist of creating new medicines, pesticides, fertilizers, food additives, sustainable plastics, types of paint, and more.
Exploring Engineering Further
Choosing a field of engineering can be tricky, but it starts with finding what interests you most in the world around you. Knowing the different engineering disciplines can help guide you in the direction that sparks that passion.
In middle school or high school, aspiring engineers can look for opportunities to complete engineering and science projects or join an after-school engineering club. Then, use programmable robots and STEM kits, like those we make here at Sphero, to study the engineering design process.
No matter what direction engineering takes someone, each discipline will teach creativity, effective problem solving, and perseverance.
About the Expert
Jim Konish is a Senior Firmware Engineer at Sphero. In his time working for the company, Jim as been involved in a number of engineering projects including Sphero RVR and indi.