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Old 06-11-2017, 12:49 AM
Stranger On A Train Stranger On A Train is offline
Join Date: May 2003
Location: Manor Farm
Posts: 17,146
Originally Posted by rbroome View Post
I can't find the post, and my memory could be failing me here, but I remember Stranger on a train saying that automobile tires are the most highly engineered objects ever.

Hopefully, Stranger will stop by and correct/update/validate my poor memory.
I would call it the most highly engineered single mechanism device. (A tire has multiple components, of course, but as a finished product it is installed and used as one component with no service other than inflation.) When I did some research a few years ago for a book that never got written, I found estimates of total engineering development hours in the tens of thousands of person-years of effort that have contributed to the materials and structure that go into the modern automotive radial tire. I can't think of a single tool or other "simple" device which even approaches that.

It depends on what the criteria for "most highly engineered device"; given innovations in engineering design and analysis tools I don't think merely citing labor hours or costs is really an adequate metric; both the Manhattan Project fission device and the "Super" (hydrogen bomb) took a lot of person-hours of effort but much of that was performing laborious calculations that could now be done in seconds with more precision and fidelity with a desktop computer. With the right technical knowledge one could produce the basic layout for a novel nuclear device within a few months or less, although building the systems to refine and enrich weapons grade material is more challenging. In terms of innovation and refinement, the most highly engineered finished product the average person comes into contact with on a daily basis is either the automobile or the smartphone. In military and defense projects it probably falls somewhere between the Peacekeeper Advanced Inertial Reference Sphere (AIRS) guidance system or the Keyhole digital imaging (KH-11 and -12) surveillance satellites.

For humanity overall, I'd suggest the Large Hadron Collider particularly if you include all of the experiments associated with it. The National Ignition Facility is probably a good runner up, as will be the ITER fusion power project if and when it actually becomes operational. The International Space Station is an impressive effort of construction but while many of the systems are innovative in their own way but given the amount of difficulties it has and continues to have I'd be hard pressed to call it "well-engineered".

My vote for most highly engineered self-mobile device would be the Mars Science Laboratory, which is a phenomenal work of taking a large lab worth of equipment and jamming into a package the size of a refrigerator, then designing it to roll across the abrasive regolith of an almost airless planet with remote and delayed instruction. As for the comment about the Voyager probes being "overengineered" for surviving so long, when it comes to space probes and devices the phrase "too much is never enough", particularly given the rare opportunity for NASA to launch interplanetary missions of such scope; both Voyagers survived a dive trip through Jupiter's intense radiation belts, obtained never before seen images of Saturn, and Voyager 2 to Uranus and Neptune, delivering some of the most fantastic data for planetary science imaginable. That the probes are still operating and still providing useful scientific data about the Sun's magnetic field and the heliopause boundary speaks to the enormous value we received from this mission, and from launching two simultaneous redundant probes, an indulgence which we've never seen again other than the Mars Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity).