Technology and Sustainability

I was caught unawares when the A380 took off from John F. Kennedy airport en route to Paris.  With the pinging of the onboard safety announcement, I came back to my senses.  Looking out of the window, I was suddenly transported back to the day I first stepped into a two-seater aircraft – my maiden flight.  Aside from the technology, I remember a feeling of imagination, exploration and, more than anything else, the greatest inner satisfaction that I could FLY!

Decades ago with a nauseating feeling, I had stepped into the cockpit to be greeted by my co-pilot.  This flight training was an innovative effort from my school to enliven the courses of our aerospace engineering curriculum.  The old maxim is certainly true that an ounce of practice is better than a shipload of precepts.  This was our one and only chance to observe, feel, and experience the flight controls as we slowly taxied into the runway.  Looking ahead through the small windshield into the horizon beyond, you had a real sense of adventure.  There were no modern gadgets inside the cockpit – in fact the throttle design did not differ a great deal from that of a joy stick on a Nintendo!

We had to plug our ears with soaring decibel levels gushing air and tremulous noise all around us.  Fast forward to the present, I found myself sitting in a quiet ambience inside a 500+ ton monster cruising close to a Mach number, with 500+ fellow passengers.  This level of performance quite possibly exceeds the wildest imagination of our earliest noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) experts.  Back then, our monoplane had a cruising speed less than our current V4 engine automobiles.  We were flying at a speed of 70mph at an altitude of 14000 ft, which provided a mesmerizing picturesque view of Bangalore from the skies.  At that time, the area surrounding Bangalore boasted thick vegetation and many lakes.  Now it is unfortunately more of a concrete jungle.  This memory of the beauty of a formerly pristine area made me realise that despite our technological prowess, despite the advancements that we are able to achieve for our own comfort, the reality of vanishing flora and fauna is a gloomy prospect.

What is happening around us has remained an enigma.  I pause for a moment to consider the tradeoffs associated with technology.  I think we can all agree that scientific and technological innovations have led to great comfort, luxury in some cases, and higher life expectancy and quality of life globally.  However, great ecological imbalance is causing many calamities and diseases around the world.  How can we justify our actions with respect to this damage being done to our planet Earth?  Do we blame the innovators, the beneficiaries, or our reckless, inhumane attitude towards our natural resources?  Or do we take on the challenge of using our technological prowess to tackle some of the ecological problems created by humankind?  I think the latter is the most productive approach.

Caring for our own precious lives we take all sorts of precautions, like occupant safety in every vehicle in which we commute whether by land, air, or sea, even to the extent of six sigma.  We build systems to ensure that we anticipate, inspect, maintain, and repair any damage to these safety protocols.  Why aren’t we extending that same consideration to Mother Earth which is our “lifetime free carrier”?  As a human race, we rarely admit that any damage wrought to the environment ultimately harms ourselves.

There is no time like the present; now is the time to focus on sustainability as we create, explore, and innovate.  We must continue with our groundbreaking efforts in optimization and weight analytics to reduce our carbon foot print.  Difficult environmental challenges must be addressed with the best technology we can muster.  Enterprise-wide green initiatives are small steps in this direction; international and local policies and legislation are also making an impact.  With a sigh of relief, I realize that Altair’s technological contribution to lightweighting and weight management is definitely a positive step in the right direction.

Satish Kumar
Latest posts by Satish Kumar (see all)
Satish Kumar

About Satish Kumar

Satish began his career in the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) as a scientist in 1987, spending a number of years in various organizations before coming to the University of Michigan, where he worked as an investigator. In 1998 he joined Altair, working in Troy, Michigan for several years. He later relocated to Altair India where he is currently a senior director. Satish has worked in most areas of product development, including consultancy, management, design, research, and testing. He has participated in prominent national and International conferences as well as contributed to numerous journal articles and proceedings. His areas of interest and experience include finite element analysis (FEA), computer-aided engineering (CAE), computer-aided design (CAD), product lifecycle management (PLM), composites, fatigue and fracture, commercial software development, engineering management, and strategy crossing multiple industry verticals. He has a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, a Master of Technology in Industrial Structures from the University of Mysore, and a Bachelor of Engineering from Bangalore University.