The best of this week’s E&T

August 29, 2014

It’s been a short week with the bank holiday weekend, still we have covered enough news to chose from for our weekly best off. See which technology stories caught the attention of our editors: 


James HayesJames Hayes, technology features editor
Poor coding puts business applications at risk of hacking

Software developers have long been criticised for not ‘baking-in’ sufficient security from the moment the first line of code of a critical application is created, but CAST’s findings also revivify a debate that has been raging in enterprise IT governance circles for years: to what extent should critical software be ‘security audited’ before it is passed fit to be commissioned for ‘active service’?


Vitali VitalievVitali Vitaliev, features editor
Robots make best bosses, study suggests

Looking back at my 35-year-long career in journalism spanning a number of countries and continents, I am inclined to believe that robotic managers have been with us (covertly!) for a long time. Please note that my nearly seven years with the IET are excluded from this observation for obvious reasons…

London’s tech heart suffers from slow Internet

This story brings to mind an old, yet relevant, Russian proverb: “Cobbler’s children never have shoes.”

Professor Stephen Hawking backs ice bucket challenge

Three cheers for Professor Hawking and for his lovely daughter Lucy – a very talented writer, who, as I heard, took the brunt of the challenge onto herself.


dominic-lentonDominic Lenton, managing editor
Renewables growth stunted by policy, Agency warns

There are plenty of people sceptical about the wisdom of relying on renewable energy who will welcome the International Energy Agency’s prediction that although the sector is expected to account for just over a quarter of global generation by 2020, growth will slow rapidly after that point. Whether or not you agree, that fact that this is largely due to uncertainty about government policies and not something informed by technical evidence is another indication that security of supply is too important to be left to the politicians to sort out.

Sheepdog study could lead to herding robots

Today’s youngsters would probably find the idea that there was once a whole television programme dedicated to sheep dog trials rather quaint, although I recall it being a lot more engaging than 24-hour live streaming video of events in the Big Brother house. With the imminent arrival of mechanical sheep dogs though, perhaps the time is ripe for a 21st century animal versus robot version; One Man and his Droid anyone?


Tereza PultarovaTereza Pultarova, online news reporter
Frantic efforts to save Galileo launch fiasco

It seems as if Galileo, Europe’s planned global navigation satellite system, was born, or designed, under an unlucky star. After years of organisational and budgetary problems, the ambitious project, aiming to show its technical superiority over American GPS, finally seemed to be on track. … Until that unfortunate August 22 when the first two Full Operational Capability satellites were launched to end up in a useless orbit.

HitchBOT completes its journey across Canada

We had been following hitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot, from the onset of its cross-Canada trip and were happy to learn that the talking tweeting creature arrived at its destination in British Columbia safe and sound.

E&T news weekly #14 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

August 22, 2014

Friday August 22 2014

  Vitali Vitaliev Consumer adoption of 3D printing five to ten years away

Well, it looks like the much-hyped printing of cars, factories and skyscrapers will have to wait for a while. In the meantime, I am told that Dassault Systemes have developed a fully functioning 3D version of human heart which they will be demonstrating to the Press in Paris this autumn. I very much hope E&T gets an invite.

Canadian rail disaster could happen again, says regulator

Last January, while on holidays in Canada, I was very impressed by the Canadian Railway Museum in the outskirts of Montreal where, among other things, I learned about the fascinating history of Canadian railway dining (see my After All blog post). All stays fine on the Canadian railway dining front, so it’s time for the country’s railway authorities to look up from their restaurant car dining menus, to put aside their starchy serviettes and to start paying more attention to the issues of safety on the world’s second-largest country’s railways – the network that had helped to shape modern Canada.

Vitali Vitaliev, features editor


  Tereza Pultarova Safety car first step for Formula E’s wireless charging revolution

Having to put up with the reputation of an underdog in motorsport, Formula E is eager to prove not only the abilities of its all electric racing cars but also the potential it bears for technology development. At the last test event before the inaugural season’s kick-off, the championship’s partner Qualcomm unveiled its wireless charging technology for safety cars promising that, in the not so distant future, fans will see much ambitious wireless charging concepts deployed in the races including charging racing cars while driving.

Tereza Pultarova, online news reporter


  Edd Gent Car batteries recycled to make solar panels

Perovskite solar cells hold major promise as an ultra-cheap alternative to silicon technology, but their production can have some nasty side effects on the environment due to the use of lead. A method for reusing the lead in car batteries, which would otherwise end up in landfill, is a brilliant way of killing two birds with one stone.

Edd Gent, online news reporter


  Aasha Bodhani M2M connections to increase by 21 per cent in 2014

Research from analysts Berg Insight says mobile network connections for M2M communication will increase by 21 per cent this year. This ‘connected management’ is being driven by adoption and demand in Europe and North America – this means companies can collect and analyse data. The analysts say the annual growth rate will reach 22.9 per cent by 2019.

Car batteries recycled to make solar panels

Roughly 90 per cent of the lead recovered from recycling batteries is used to produce new ones, however researchers at MIT have come up with another solution; solar panels. According to the team, lead-acid batteries are most likely to decline, leaving a lot of lead with no obvious purpose. However, tests reveal a single car battery could produce enough solar panels to power 30 households.

Aasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor


  Jonathan Wilson Wireless charging using resonating crystals

As someone with two recently failed mobile phones and a defunct laptop – all of which are only considered ‘broken’ because the batteries in all three devices no longer respond to charging from the USB cable – the idea of a wireless charging system is like manna from heaven. Sadly, for me, the technology is still at the research stage, so I can’t put off buying a new phone any longer.

Camouflage system mimics cuttlefish skin

News of an electronic camouflage skin that automatically adapts to its surroundings seems so perfect and obvious a solution to the problem of hiding in plain view that I’m surprised it hasn’t been invented before now. Inspired by octopi and cuttlefish, the prototype currently only works in black and white (ideal for zebra enthusiasts), although a full colour spectrum version is next on the agenda for researchers at the University of Houston.

Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor


  James Hayes First large-scale ‘Heartbleed’ cyber-breach reported

Expect to see more targeting of patient record data around the world. Black Hat hackers know that such datasets are among the most desirable in terms of resell value, because they contain plenty of categorised information that could prove lucrative to marketers of medications, healthcare services, and insurers, for example. It is one of the reasons why initiatives like the UK NHS’s ill-fated programme raised such vociferous concerns – big, publicly-funded healthcare organisations have the resources to properly secure patient data, but what about the third-parties with which that data might be shared?

James Hayes, technology features editor


  dominic-lenton Call to reverse decision to scrap engineering GCSE

Tighter marking of English exams may have made the headlines when GCSE results were released this week. Less well reported was the fact that the number of students who took engineering rose by 73 per cent, from 2,897 last year to just over 5,000. Why has the Government decided to scrap the course, along with electronics and manufacturing, by 2017? A good question, and one that the IET is urging it to consider in light of the skills crisis troubling employers.

New game to find next generation of cyber experts

In a similar vein, GCHQ has developed a new game that sees players attempt to protect a fictitious aerospace company from hackers as part of efforts to find the next generation of cyber-security experts. So the next time you ask your teenager why they waste so much time on computer games and they reply that they’re actually developing skills which could help them find a job one day, they could be telling the truth.

Dominic Lenton, managing editor

More #Apple #iPhone6 rumours – product images, new features, tech spec – an annotated infographic

August 22, 2014

Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em in blogging about it: Apple’s iPhone 6, scheduled to revolutionise our lives and transform the very fabric of society (again) any day now.

The 2014 incarnation of the iPhone is expected to include a larger, redesigned form factor with a choice of 4.7″ or 5.5″ diagonal screens. The 4.7″ model is thought to be launching first, with the 5.5″ model following later.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Apple iPhone 6, possibly

Apple iPhone 6, possibly

#Apple stock price hits $100+ all-time high as #iPhone6 fever froths up – an annotated infographic

August 20, 2014

As the world readies itself for the official seismic news of – gasp! – another iPhone to drop, Apple is already reaping the stock market benefit of the heady, intoxicating swirl of rumours, “leaked” prototype images, Photoshop-mockups and typically foolish conjecture erupting out of the interwebs from every digital orifice.

When the exchanges closed on Tuesday August 19, Apple’s stock price had hit a record high of $100.53 per share. Cashing in six of those bad boys would buy you a new iPhone. We don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that.

Either way, we sure as sugar wish we’d bought a sackload of Apple stock when it was way off the $100 pace, not much more than a couple of years ago. Oh well!

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Apple stock: like angels printing money

Apple stock: like angels printing money


#Wearable airbags are a thing now – an annotated infographic

August 19, 2014

Yeps, as loopy as it sounds, wearable airbags could be the next big thing for unstable elderly people prone to falling over a lot.

An estimated one in three elderly people fall over each year and many do not recover. Hip bones and other pointy body extremities are particularly susceptible to fractures and such like.

A new belt-like device deploys an airbag around the hips to cushion the wearer in the event of a fall. 3D sensors in the belt detect any sudden gravitational movements and inflate instantly, ideally before the wearer hits the pavement.

ActiveProtective will unveil the airbag belt at the TEDMED medical conference in Washington D.C., USA, which takes place September 10-12 2014.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Wearable airbag protection

Wearable airbag protection

#Ebola vaccine hunt – scientists race to test and find a cure – an annotated infographic

August 18, 2014

The world’s worst outbreak of the Ebola virus – which has killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa so far this year – is fuelling efforts to speed vaccine and drug development.

Numerous high-profile laboratories around the world are focusing intently on experimental vaccines and other drugs. At present, the initial tests and results are showing mixed benefits for those infected with the virus and creating fresh research challenges for the pharmaceutical companies.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Ebola vaccine: the hunt is on

Ebola vaccine: the hunt is on

#Google announces Project Ara, the really smart smartphone – an annotated infographic

August 15, 2014

Project Ara is a modular cell phone that can be customised by swapping out individual pieces, such as the battery or camera.

The intention is that instead of buying a new smartphone, users can simply upgrade out-of-date elements or replace malfunctioning components. In this way, the Ara could have a useful working life of five or six years. Of course, any half-decent piece of equipment should have a shelf life of at least that amount of time, but other factors prevail, such as obsolescence-inducing OS upgrades.

With a $50 base price, Ara could bring smartphones to the six billion people around the world who currently cannot afford to buy one.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Project Ara smartphone

Project Ara smartphone

E&T news weekly #13 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

August 15, 2014

Friday August 15 2014

  dominic-lentonMaths top A-level but gender gap remains

Good news – the number of students taking STEM subjects at A-level has increased for the fifth year in a row, according to official figures. Bad news – the gender gap highlighted by the recent IET skills survey which found the proportion of tech sector professionals who are women remains in many areas. Even in computing, which saw the biggest rise of any subject with the number of students taking the qualification rising 11 per cent to 4,171, just 7.5 per cent of candidates were female.

Drones to help explore cultural heritage

The biggest archaeological studies these days often begin with a geophysical survey spotting an anomaly in the landscape that wouldn’t have been picked up by even the most keen-eyed observer on the ground. The latest development is an unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with ground-penetrating radar that will be able to explore inaccessible areas. One of the first stops is a Roman villa currently being studied by Leicester University’s Department of Archaeology & Ancient History.

Dominic Lenton, managing editor


  James HayesNew Trans-Pacific subsea cable backed by Google

It often comes as a surprise to many users of global communications systems such as the Internet that the extensive subsea cable networks are increasingly critical for maintaining international digital links. New cables laid around the coast of Africa, for instance, are transforming the continent’s communications infrastructure.

James Hayes, technology features editor


  Aasha BodhaniCharging mobile phones with noise

Have you ever been in the situation where your smartphone is running on 5 per cent battery and you have no charger to hand? Well, scientists at Queen Mary University of London and Nokia may have solved the problem. Jointly, they have created a prototype device which aims to generate enough power to charge a smartphone by being exposed to unwanted noise. The device is embedded with energy-harvesting nanogenerators, which turn sound wave vibrations into electricity.

New breast cancer imaging tech enter clinical trials

Researchers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London are hoping a new scanning technology will be a major development in cancer surgery. The two devices – LightPath and EnLight – hope to remove breast tumours and cancerous lymph nodes without unnecessarily cutting out healthy tissue and also saving patients from having to undergo two operations.

Aasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor


  Edd GentCheap hemp as good as graphene for supercapacitors

Hemp has long been touted as a wonder crop as it can be used to make everything from food, to clothes, paper, fuel and even building materials, so it seems fitting that it should be displacing nanotechnology’s wonder material graphene.

Edd Gent, online news reporter

E&T magazine – what Scottish independence could mean for engineering and technology – new issue available online now

August 13, 2014

New issue of E&T magazine online now – the Scottish referenda:

‘Yes’ or ‘No, Thanks’? That’s the choice for Scots in next month’s referendum. What might Scottish independence mean for engineers and engineering? Also this issue, is shale gas a viable alternative to renewable energy resources? We look at what has been built for flood prevention since the last UK floods, as well as sea defences for Venice with the MOSE project, currently beset by allegations of corruption.

We also meet industrial designer Tom Karen, as well as hearing about fibre-optic interconnects, how utilities are the new front line cyber security, why sculpted drugs drove Pfizer to bid for AstraZeneca and how RFID tags are being used everywhere, even on USA marijuana plantations. Yes, you read that right.

Catch up with all the latest E&T features here:

E&T issue 8 2014

E&T issue 8 2014

China plans railway to India through Tibet – an annotated infographic

August 8, 2014

China plans to extend its railway line to Tibet to the borders of India, Nepal and Bhutan once an extension to Shigatse, Tibet’s second city and a key site in Tibetan Buddhism, opens in August.

Critics say the railway spurs an influx of migrants, who threaten Tibetans’ cultural integrity. Beijing believes Tibet’s mineral reserves are worth around $96bn.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

China to India, via Tibet

China to India, via Tibet


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