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Computer Engineering Overview - Preparation - Specialties - Day In The Life - Earnings - Employment - Career Path Forecast - Professional Organizations

Specialty Areas
Coding, Cryptography, and Information Protection - Communications and Wireless Networks - Compilers and Operating Systems - Computational Science and Engineering - Computer Networks, Mobile Computing, and Distributed Systems - Computer Systems: Architecture, Parallel Processing, and Dependability - Computer Vision and Robotics - Embedded Systems - Integrated Circuits, Very Large-Scale Integration (VLSI) Design, Testing, and Computer Aided Design (CAD) - Signal, Image, and Speech Processing

Coding, Cryptography, and Information Protection
Computer engineers in this area are developing novel methods for protecting digital images, music, and other information from errors in transmission or storage, copyright infringement and other forms of tampering. Coding theory is used to detect and correct errors caused by distortions in the transmission or storage of digital information, or to compress information. In particular, wireless communications, multi-antenna systems, optical transmission, and other realistic communication systems pose important open challenges for the reliable transmission and protection of information. Digital watermarking is the process of embedding codes, usually secret, in the images/information to be stored to deter hackers from downloading information obtained illegally, and to efficiently manage large image databases.

Communications and Wireless Networks
This specialty area focuses on a broad range of topics that will advance the frontiers of communications systems and networks (with particular attention to wireless), modulation and error-control coding, and information theory. Computer engineers working in this area may explore wireless communication opportunities to take advantage of new frequency bands and increase the efficiency of current bands.  Other areas of focus are design techniques for high-speed networks, interference suppression and modulation, design and analysis of fault-tolerant systems, and storage and transmission schemes.

Compilers and Operating Systems
Those focusing on the specialty area of compilers and operating systems design future computer operating systems, libraries, and applications to be automatically customized for each deployment environment. They might develop new operating system architectures, transparent program analysis techniques, post-link-time code transformation algorithms, and novel quality assurance techniques.

Computational Science and Engineering
In this area, computational methods are applied to formulate and solve complex mathematical problems in engineering and in the physical and the social sciences. Computer simulation methods are developed for all kinds of systems, and effective display techniques are employed to communicate the computational results to the user. Examples include aircraft design, the plasma processing of nanometer features on semiconductor wafers, VLSI circuit design, radar detection systems, ion transport through biological channels, and much more.

Computer Networks, Mobile Computing, and Distributed Systems
Individuals working in this area would build integrated environments for computing, communications, and information access over heterogeneous underlying technologies. Specific projects might include shared-channel wireless networks, adaptive resource management in dynamic distributed systems including mobile systems, improving the quality of service in mobile and ATM environments, a platform for adaptive computing and seamless memory over heterogeneous wireless networks, and reliable and efficient communication on a fast Ethernet cluster.

Computer Systems: Architecture, Parallel Processing, and Dependability
The Computer Systems area encompasses a broad spectrum of research projects that address all aspects of reliable, testable, secure, high-performance computer systems. Specific projects might include designing a super-pipelined single-chip coprocessor for executing multi-threaded digital signal processing applications; investigating how to build highly-available and secure computer hardware, software, network, and telecommunication systems; and developing new theory, algorithms, and tools to predict the availability of computer hardware, software, network, and telecommunication systems.

Computer Vision and Robotics
In this area computer engineers focus on (a) visual sensing, in which images of a scene are taken as input and estimates of the three-dimensional characteristics of the scene are output, (b) representation, which addresses efficient visual depiction and communication of the environment, and (c) manipulation of the environment, in which the acquired three-dimensional information is used to perform tasks such as navigation and assembly. Applications offer the promise of improved human modeling, image communication, and human-computer interfaces, as well as devices such as special-purpose cameras with versatile vision sensors. 

Embedded Systems
Computer engineers working in this area focus on enhancing the speed, reliability, and performance of systems, by means of computer technology -- for example, consumer products, and business and industrial machines. Most functions of the modern automobile are controlled by embedded microprocessors. Embedded systems are currently being developed that coordinate systems such as automated vehicles and equipment to conduct search and rescue, automated transportation systems, and human-robot coordination to repair equipment in space.

Integrated Circuits, Very Large-Scale Integration (VLSI)Design, Testing, and Computer Aided Design (CAD)
Computer engineers working in this area focus on enhancing the speed, reliability, and energy efficiency of next-generation Very Large-Scale Integration (VLSI) circuits and microsystems, as well as automating the design process. Projects might include low-power VLSI algorithms and architectures, noise-tolerance for VLSI and DSP (digital signal processors), mixed-signal analog IC (integrated circuit) design, MEMS (Micro Electro Mechanical Systems) for integrated passive RF (radio frequency) components, electrothermal simulation and electrostatic discharge protection for silicon-on-insulator CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) circuits, and a theoretical exploration of the fundamental bounds of efficiency and reliability of VLSI computation.  

Signal, Image, and Speech Processing

Computer engineers working in this area might focus on developing  improvements in human-computer interaction, speech recognition and synthesis, medical and scientific imaging, or communications systems. Computer vision tasks such as facial feature recognition, when combined with multimedia databases and novel schemes for representation and compression, are examples of work in this area. Work in speech and language engineering would seek to understand human language faculties and to develop computer systems with comparable faculties. Dynamic MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), fast computed tomography, electron microscopy, laser imaging of ocean mines, and passive radar imaging of aircraft using radio and television signals are among the imaging systems currently being developed. Signal processing projects might focus on developing new advances in hearing aid technology.

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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