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IEEE and the Titanic: A Century of Technological Heritage and Innovation

Notable IEEE experts comment on maritime and media advancements sparked by the Titanic 

12 April  2012 — A hundred years after the loss of the RMS Titanic, members of IEEE, the world's largest technical professional organization, share their perspectives on the role that technology played during the hours following the collision, and the new technologies that were sparked by the tragedy.

“In 1912, the Titanic was the pinnacle of maritime technology,” said Gordon Day, IEEE President and CEO. “It had the most advanced shipboard wireless available and, were it not for that, few if any passengers would have survived. Had nearby ships been similarly equipped, and had it been the custom to operate communications systems around the clock, more passengers would probably have been saved. Over time, the recognition of what might have been led to substantially improved equipment, better protocols, and international standards for communications at sea.”

“Today, as we remember the loss, it’s also important to celebrate the century of technological innovations the Titanic has inspired and appreciate the innovations that continue to improve our lives both on land and at sea,” Day added.

Technology in Film Making
Advances in technology allowed filmmakers to transform James Cameron’s original 2D version of the 1997 blockbuster Titanic into a 3D must-see. “It took three hundred computer artists, 750,000 man hours and sixty weeks, but frame by frame, James Cameron and his team were able to convert the film to 3D,” said Stuart Lipoff, a technology consultant and past President of the IEEE Consumer Electronics Society. “As computer technology improves and available content increases, you’re going to see more and more 3D sets in homes, especially once companies introduce improved glasses-free options that are currently in development. Right now, sports programming is leading the way in the 3D home consumer experience and in the near future, 3D will become the standard for watching the big game at home.”

Innovations in Deep-Sea Discovery
Seventy-three years after the sinking, Robert Ballard forever put his name in the history books by deploying his deep-sea robot craft Argo and finding the ship’s wreckage. According to Bob Wernli, IEEE Senior Member and owner of First Centurion Enterprises, an underwater technology consultancy, advancements in miniaturization, robotics and GPS technologies have revolutionized deep-sea exploration in recent history. These innovations allowed Ballard to make multiple trips to the vessel since his first discovery, and recently played a vital role in James Cameron’s dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

“Autonomous vehicles are now the primary tools used to explore the depths of the ocean, allowing us to learn more about the uncharted areas of our world with each dive. It will be the dreamers who will continue on missions to the bottom of the ocean in the future. With today’s technological advances, we’re not far away from a one-man deep sea submersible, allowing manned expeditions to explore depths that previously have only been achievable by robots.” said Wernli.

Advances in Detecting Maritime Hazards
Since the Titanic predated the invention of sonar and radar, the ship used lookouts tasked with visually identifying any potential obstacles in a ship’s course. When the lookouts first saw the iceberg, it was approximately 500 yards away, too short of a distance for such a large ship to turn.

"Today, most ships are equipped with surface surveillance radar that could have easily detected the iceberg at far greater ranges than the lookouts,” said William Hayes, Director of Engineering and Technology at Iowa Public Television and Vice President of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society. “With modern wireless technology, including radar, sonar and GPS, it’s nearly impossible that a ship would be surprised by an iceberg. Technology can help improve our lives, however it can only take us so far when human error is still part of the equation, as we saw all too with the Concordia.”

“IEEE and the Titanic share a rich history. IEEE’s journal covering technological progress and innovation, the Proceedings of the IEEE, is also celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year. In the journal’s second issue, Proceedings featured an article that argued for standards that improved the safety and efficacy of maritime radio for years to come,” said Day. “For over 125 years, IEEE members have been working to improve the daily lives of people around the world, driving the advancement of technology in areas including safety, communications, and deep sea discovery, and finding new ways to experience the world around us."


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