REVISTA FACULTAD DE INGENIERÍA, U.T.A. (CHILE), VOL. 11 Nº1, 2003, pp. 02

EDITORIAL


UBIQUITY OF AUTOMATICS IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY

Many authors have written about the great scientific discoveries and advanced technological developments of civilization and epoch. Also, people daily use and enjoy many services and amenities derived from science, engineering and technology. However, there seems to be little knowledge and acknowledgment of the inherent, widespread and symbiotic role of Automatics and Automatic Control, in all areas of human activity.

Since early times humans have had to govern or exercise control over their environment, a task, which is not precisely exciting. The control of fire and domestic animals as well as the government of clans and societies, among other examples, seem somehow natural and have been accomplished by Man himself. In more recent times, in ancient Egypt, for example, it became necessary to replace workers with mechanical devices of "automatic" action, in functions or jobs of a heavy, or repetitive nature.

"Kybernetes," or the government of city-states, according to Plato and Aristotle has its 20th Century equivalent in the term "Cybernetics," coined by N. Wiener, meaning "automatic control of the animal and the machine." Nevertheless, this term has been used by other authors in the sense of "Computation", so perhaps It is better to use the word "Automatics" to designate "science, technology and operations of automatic control in all areas." Presently, there are many scientific and professional Societies devoted to the study of theories, technologies and applications of Automatics.

The fundamental principles of Automatics are those of environmental measurement, comparison with a reference, feedback, optimization and others. These principles are present in practically all human, animal, vegetal and natural activities and processes. For example, in the human body there are many types of automatic control or regulation, that make life possible. As it is known, there have been several types of artificial substitute organs that have been developed based on Automatics.

At home, there are many automatic devices that are used to control the operation of water tanks, refrigerators, heaters, lighting and alarms, as well as systems that are used to control radio and television sets, computers, telephones, cellular phones and other equipment.

The generation, transmission and distribution systems found in electrical, water or gas companies, operate automatically or with a variety of automatic control devices. Several types of vehicles, ships, aircraft, trains and subways that, if necessary, are operated automatically or with the help of many automatic control systems. Likewise, Automatics are essential in computer networks, communication systems and management of institutions, enterprises, nations, and military resources.

Automatics have permanently maintained a symbiotic relationship with science and technology. This discipline has always made good use of scientific discoveries and advancements in technology and engineering. Nonetheless, this has not been a one way action as, in reciprocity, Automatics have made possible the automatic control or regulation of machines, engines, laboratories and systems for new advancements in those areas. For example, it would be impossible to control the Hubble Space Observatory without automatic devices, even those of a virtual nature. The same can be said about astronomical observatories, nuclear reactors, non-conventional energy generators and break through research in medicine, genetics, bioengineering, robotics, mechatronics, micro devices, automatic-guided vehicles, automated manufacturing and many other systems or disciplines.

There are many varieties of Automatic control; among others: linear, non-linear, multivariable, adaptive, distributed, distributed-parameter, optimal, robust, reconfigurable, fuzzy, neuronal, genetic or evolutionary. Automatics employ practically all of the principles or methods found in physics and mathematics and many of chemistry and other disciplines or specialties. Conversely, Automatics sometimes generate reciprocal contribution by inspiring new fields or methods in those disciplines.

A social drawback attributed to Automatics, Automation and Automatic Control is that, in the initial stages, they cause unemployment. However, it has been demonstrated that they later generate many new jobs that require higher levels of knowledge and better skills . Automatics and its derivatives are indispensable in tasks that are dangerous, heavy or repetitive, or in jobs of a continuous nature, precision and repeatability. They are also essential when there are frequent changes in manufacturing different types of products.


Dr. Juan Hernández S.