Women in Computer Science and the Impact on Modern Control Systems
In honor of Women's History Month, we explore the ways in which computer science is integral to the design of control systems and how women of the past have shaped the field of control systems today.
Control system engineers are responsible for designing and implementing control systems that ensure the safety of people and property. They also work to improve the efficiency and productivity of plants, factories, and other industrial facilities. Control systems engineers need a solid understanding of computers and software to design, analyze, and test control systems. They must know basic programming languages, data structures, data communications, algorithms, and computer architecture. In this article, we will be exploring the importance of computer science in the context of control systems. We will also review women in computer science in the 20th century and explore what settings computer scientists are likely to work in today.
A portrait of Evelyn Granville. Image used courtesy of The U.S. Department of Energy
Why is Computer Science Vital to Control Systems?
The use of computers in control systems is called computer-aided control system design (CACSD). It is a specialization of computer-aided design (CAD) that uses algorithms to create models and simulations to design and optimize a system's performance.
Computer numerical control (CNC) machines calculate toolpaths from CAD files by reading and processing them through computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software. The CAM software will then generate G-code that is then read by the CNC machine to produce a physical product. The CAD file is the source of information for the CAM software, which processes it and outputs G-code. G-code is a subset of the programming language which controls CNC machines, which can then produce a physical product. G-code is also called "the language of manufacturing”.
In the context of the design and operation of autonomous vehicles, a dedicated computer system utilizes the sensor subsystem to gather information about the vehicle’s surroundings by using radar, cameras, and lasers. The control system takes in data from the sensor subsystem and decides how to respond based on pre-programmed rules. The actuator subsystem controls the vehicle’s steering, braking, and acceleration systems using electric motors.
The above are just some examples of the influence of computer science over modern-day technology. Artificial intelligence is another branch of computer science that has led to the evolution of robotics and other fields.
Women Behind Computer Science and Technology of Today
Hedy Lamarr (originally named Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) was an Austrian-American actress and inventor. She was trained in acting and was a successful actress in her time. She was self-taught in the field of technology. She had an interest from a young age and was said to listen to her father talk about the latest technologies when out on walks. In 1940, Hedy met composer and pianist George Antheil. Together, they invented a unique communication system for guiding torpedoes to hit their target. The electronic device used “frequency hopping” amongst radio waves to stop radio waves from being intercepted. This technology is behind modern-day wifi, Bluetooth, and GPS technology.
A portrait photograph of Hedy Lamarr. Image used courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica
Another influential woman from the past was Evelyn Granville. She was the second African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from an American university. In the 1950s, Granville worked as a mathematician at the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) in Washington, D.C., where she worked on missile fuses. Later, she worked on programs in the assembly language SOAP and later in FORTRAN for the International Business Machines (IBM) 650and the IBM 704. The IBM 650 was the first computer intended for use in businesses. When working with NASA, Granville created computer software to analyze satellite orbits for its space programs.
Other influential female pioneers in computer science-related fields include Jean Bartik, Grace Hopper, and Margaret Hamilton.
Control System Software Jobs
During this century, the job market for computer scientists is growing exponentially because of the increased need for data processing and analysis. This has been driven by technological advances that have made it easier to process large amounts of data and store it on fast-growing storage devices such as cloud computing and hard disks. Computer scientists are in demand in a variety of fields, from data science to cybersecurity. The different types of jobs they can take on today include:
- Data Scientist
- Cybersecurity Analyst
- Software Engineer
- Database Administrator
- Network Engineer
- Systems Analyst
- Security Analyst
Featured image used courtesy of chenspec on Pixabay
This is an excellent article, bringing out the talent of these powerful women! Congrats.