"There is so much that can be done in the fields of control and safety. Plus, let's face it. Cars are cool."

"Cars exert a huge influence on American culture," says Craig Beal. To him, cars aren't just a means of transportation: They can be works of art, and they can express our personalities — yet they also have many negative effects on society. "They also cause pollution, injuries and deaths from crashes, and they deplete resources," he says.

Interested in vehicle dynamics and controls, Beal, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, has been looking in particular at safety systems, a field in which he sees a tremendous opportunity to improve vehicles by incorporating computerized "intelligence."

"Humans are great at innovative problem-solving, but our reactions are generally slow and imprecise," he says. "Computers are just the opposite; they can rapidly respond to any situation they've been programmed to handle. It makes sense that a partnership between human and computer would result in better control of the vehicle and fewer accidents."

Beal acknowledges there are multiple implications inherent in highly computerized automobiles. "You assume a lot of things — politically and socially — when you think a car is going to actively participate in driving," he says.

Because of his research focus, Beal thought he would most likely begin his career at a research facility when he completed graduate school. However, his work as a teaching assistant helped him realize how deeply he enjoyed working with students and led him to teach engineering in Bucknell's liberal arts environment. He says he enjoys working with smaller groups to understand how students absorb what they study.

"I stress the connection between book work and real world," he says. "We can get very academic here, but I want students to understand how to apply their learning practically. There is so much that can be done in the fields of control and safety. Plus, let's face it. Cars are cool."

Posted October 2012

  Bucknell Engineering Network

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