The February 2023 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Does Having a License Make You an Engineer?

In Oregon, a consultant was fined for claiming he has expertise

2 min read
Mats Järlström at the intersection at the root of his case.
Photo: Institute for Justice

Video: Institute for Justice

THE INSTITUTEMats Järlström has been researching traffic-signal timing intervals ever since his wife was caught running a red light by a traffic camera in 2013. His calculations suggest that at certain intersections the timing of yellow lights isn’t long enough.

Järlström, who says he has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Sweden but not a state-issued engineering license, is a self-employed consultant who tests audio products and repairs, upgrades, and calibrates test instruments.

Video: Institute for Justice

According to an article in U.S. News and World Report, Järlström discussed his theory with “60 Minutes,” a local TV station, a sheriff, and a leading authority on traffic-light technology. He was invited to address the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

The Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying said Järlström practiced engineering without a license each time he critiqued the traffic-light system and identified himself as an engineer in correspondence. The board, a semi-independent panel whose members are appointed by the governor, funds itself through licensing and registration fees. The licensing board said that without an engineering license from the state, Järlström broke the law if he even referred to himself using the word engineer.

After a two-year investigation, the state in January fined him US $500 for “applying special knowledge of the mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences to such creative work as investigation, evaluation, and design in connection with public equipment, processes, and works. Järlström thereby engaged in the practice of engineering” under state law.

After paying the fine, he filed a civil rights lawsuit against the licensing board, accusing it of violating his First Amendment rights. He says the Constitution allows him to criticize the camera formula and to call himself—accurately, in his view—an engineer.

The Institute for Justice, a U.S. nonprofit libertarian public-interest law firm, is representing Järlström, challenging the vague definition of what constitutes a professional engineer in Oregon. A federal judge recently ruled that Järlström could temporarily call himself an engineer while the litigation is pending.

Do you side with Järlström or the licensing board?

The Conversation (0)

Get unlimited IEEE Spectrum access

Become an IEEE member and get exclusive access to more stories and resources, including our vast article archive and full PDF downloads
Get access to unlimited IEEE Spectrum content
Network with other technology professionals
Establish a professional profile
Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
Discover IEEE events and activities
Join and participate in discussions
Illustration showing an astronaut performing mechanical repairs to a satellite uses two extra mechanical arms that project from a backpack.

Extra limbs, controlled by wearable electrode patches that read and interpret neural signals from the user, could have innumerable uses, such as assisting on spacewalk missions to repair satellites.

Chris Philpot

What could you do with an extra limb? Consider a surgeon performing a delicate operation, one that needs her expertise and steady hands—all three of them. As her two biological hands manipulate surgical instruments, a third robotic limb that’s attached to her torso plays a supporting role. Or picture a construction worker who is thankful for his extra robotic hand as it braces the heavy beam he’s fastening into place with his other two hands. Imagine wearing an exoskeleton that would let you handle multiple objects simultaneously, like Spiderman’s Dr. Octopus. Or contemplate the out-there music a composer could write for a pianist who has 12 fingers to spread across the keyboard.

Such scenarios may seem like science fiction, but recent progress in robotics and neuroscience makes extra robotic limbs conceivable with today’s technology. Our research groups at Imperial College London and the University of Freiburg, in Germany, together with partners in the European project NIMA, are now working to figure out whether such augmentation can be realized in practice to extend human abilities. The main questions we’re tackling involve both neuroscience and neurotechnology: Is the human brain capable of controlling additional body parts as effectively as it controls biological parts? And if so, what neural signals can be used for this control?

Keep Reading ↓Show less
{"imageShortcodeIds":[]}