Hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes abound. The polar ice caps apparently are melting.
Energy prices are reaching new highs, and likely won't be going down. It's becoming obvious that fossil fuels � the driving force behind our economy, will someday be depleted.
So what are we to do?
All is not lost. Some of the brightest minds in our nation � and in South Dakota � have demonstrated a remarkable sense of creativity.
I still have a news clipping from a couple years ago when students in California put their entrepreneurship to the test.
A vibrating pillow. A rodent alarm. A parking spot finder.
With $500 and a wireless sensor, graduate students in a mechanical engineering class had developed models for products they hope to see on the market.
One student invented a wireless pager system that would alert fire departments to the whereabouts of people trapped in an office building during a fire.
You're probably wondering what you'd do with a vibrating pillow. You could probably sell a ton of them here. Its inventor has given it a more technical name: The Intelligent Design Pillow.
The pillow makes no sound, but students who tested it said the battery-powered pillow's vibration could rouse someone from slumber without disturbing a roommate.
Imagine a doorbell that could be programmed to play any tune, a wireless pager for referees so they could "hear" the final buzzer over the crowd, or a car that the driver wouldn't have to steer because it's controlled by Global Positioning System.
These are just a few of the projects engineering students from South Dakota State University will showcase at the 11th annual Senior Engineering Design Conference next week at the Brookings campus.
Students, faculty and the general public can expect to see a variety of different project designs on display at the event, which shows how fundamental science, engineering and technology bring together students' ideas that result in a practical design.
The conference, started in 1995 by Dr. Virgil Ellerbruch, a retired professor of electrical engineering and dean of engineering, also gives students the opportunity to polish their communication skills and provides valuable experience in team building.
Here are some of the other inventions the SDSU students will be introducing:
? A Home Audio System.
? "Improvement of Bobcat Dumping Hopper" (I assume we're talking about the motorized Bobcat, not the feline)
? Automatic Cotton Tarping.
? Post Pounder and Supply Magazine.
? Nutrient Runoff Prevention for feedlots.
? A Computer Controlled Variable Flow Meter.
? Agricultural Equipment Guard.
? Irrigation System Design.
? Redesign of Hydraulic Test Station.
? Dakota Steel Automatic Strapping Cutter.
? A Pneumatic Cannon.
? A Dialysis Cell Apparatus.
? An Automatic Shutoff Valve for an LP Tank.
"The success of all professional engineers depends on not only their technical abilities, but also their skills in written and oral communications," said Lewis Brown, dean of the College of Engineering at SDSU. "Successful engineers must also be effective at working in a team environment, as they often work on multiple projects and design teams.
The annual SDSU Senior Design Conference provides a showcase of senior-level team design projects, and highlights the team and communications skills of our newest class of graduating engineers, he said.
It also provides a sense of hope.
There's always a chance, when the best and the brightest of our young people work together, that the result will be revolutionary.
I know I'd take a GPS-controlled car, complete with parking spot detector, over a George Foreman grill any day.