E&T news weekly #23 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

October 24, 2014

Friday October 24 2014

  Vitali Vitaliev Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Second Chinese high-speed train maker to bid in California’s tender

China’s fast progress in the high-speed railway sector is nothing short of astounding if we remember that it practically did not exist in the country, which now boasts the world’s longest high-speed rail network, only 10-15 years ago. I remember having a premonition of the big things to come when attending a SIFER international railway industry exhibition in Lille in 2011, where China’s section was by far the largest. If other countries were represented by a handful of engineers and PR professionals, China had sent to Lille over a hundred official representatives, many accompanied by their families. I clearly recall flocks of Chinese children playing among the exhibits during an impressive North China Railways presentation in one of the pavilions. As we can see, China’s confidence and perseverance have paid off, and the country is now the world’s major player in the lucrative high-speed rail market.

Perception of manufacturing decline ‘wide of the mark’

Reading this news story, I couldn’t help remembering Mark Twain’s famous pronouncement to the effect that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated. I was always of the opinion that the much-lamented ‘decline’ of British manufacturing was always exaggerated by some ever-moaning hacks. As Jeremy Paxman repeatedly points out in his excellent book ‘The English’, at no point in its history has Britain been short of pessimists asserting that the country is going to the dogs. That is why it was nice to see a piece of optimistic (and realistic!) news reporting, for a change.


  Jonathan Wilson Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
No more solar farms at expense of food production

Striking the balance between generating renewable energy from solar and continuing to feed the population which is using that energy, the UK Environment Secretary Liz Truss announced that the government will end a £2m subsidy program for solar farms, on the basis that food production needs the support more. At present, farmers are able to claim subsidies for covering their land with solar panels. “I want Britain to lead the world in food and farming and to do that we need enough productive agricultural land,” Truss told the Mail on Sunday, a receptive oracle for such proclamations, before resorting to that classic informal unit of measurement to paint a vivid word picture by saying, “We’ve got 10,000 football pitches worth of new solar farms in the pipeline.”

Doctor Who to help teach kids to code in new game

Having lost touch with Doctor Who the day Tom Baker morphed into Peter Davidson, his latest incarnation as a computer code instructor for schoolchildren came as a surprise to me. In a new online game to be released by the BBC, called The Doctor and the Dalek, the Doctor, voiced by Peter Capaldi, is thrown into a dangerous quest in which he has to team up with a renegade Dalek to save the universe from destruction. Players will be presented with a series of puzzles linked to the new computing curriculum, designed to help children pick up core programming principles and includes several Key Stage 2 and 3 curriculum points, such as combining instructions to accomplish a given goal, using variables to alter behaviour, repetition and loops and logical reasoning. Anything that gets British children coding again has to be a good thing.


  Lorna Sharpe Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Lidar survey to reduce tree-related risk to power lines

When storms hit, it’s often falling trees that cause problems to power and transport networks, rather than direct wind damage to infrastructure. UK Power Networks, the electricity distribution network operator for London, the South East and the East of England, has turned to the relatively new technology of lidar to help it plan its vegetation management programme.


  Aasha Bodhani Aasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor
Microsoft offers free cloud-computing to Ebola researchers

The Ebola outbreak around the world, particularly in West Africa, has resulted in at least 4,877 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation. Though there is no known cure, Microsoft is offering its cloud-computing platform, Azure to help medical researchers with their Ebola research. Azure will enable researchers to store and analyse large data sets which would usually be difficult to do on local computers and networks.

Medical devices under review over cyber-security flaws

As more medical devices rely on wireless features, they instantly become vulnerable to cybercriminals. This has been the case in the US, as the Department of Homeland Security is investigating medical devices which have supposedly become victim to hackers. The worry is that hackers have the skills to control a wireless device, without the patients’ knowledge or ability to stop them, such as overdosing a patient with lethal amounts of drugs.


  Edd Gent Edd Gent, online news reporter
Start-up Builds Back to the Future style Hoverboard

Normally when you hear about something like a hoverboard or a flying car or a personal jetpack, the reality tends to fall short of your expectations. But with the Hendo Hoverboard, apart from the fairly reasonable caveat that it only works on surfaces coated with non-ferrous metals, this actually does what it says on the tin. I know what I’m going to be asking Santa for this Christmas.


  dominic-lenton Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Rebrand engineering to represent diverse profession, says report

There’s nothing new about the idea that engineering – in the UK at least – needs to shed its image of hard hats and high-viz jackets if it’s going to get the recognition it deserves. The latest call to action comes from Engineering the Future estimates that as well as 2.7 million people who declare themselves to be engineers, another 1.6 million are applying engineering skills in areas as diverse as brain imaging, drug delivery systems and materials science. As well as rebranding, it says, institutions need to cast their nets wider to bring people not traditionally considered as engineers into the profession and develop them at all levels from apprentice to chartered engineer.

Spanish city tests acoustic sensors in EU future internet project

Field trials of acoustic technology in the Spanish city of Santander hope to prove that traffic noise can be a boon as well as a nuisance. A junction near the city’s hospital is the site for tests of EAR-IT, a system that among other things ‘hears’ the sirens of emergency vehicles then triggers sensors to track them and change traffic lights in their favour.


  Tereza Pultarova Tereza Pultarova, online news reporter
China’s lunar return probe carries European radio experiment

Radio amateurs from around the world can listen to messages sent from aboard the latest Chinese lunar satellite thanks to a small payload built by German satellite manufacturer OHB. During its only eight-day mission, the Chinese Chang’e 5 T1 orbiter will fly around the Moon and return to Earth testing technology critical for a planned 2017 lunar sample return spacecraft. The European transmitter is hitching the ride aboard Chang’e 5 T1 in the memory of recently deceased German aerospace engineer Manfred Fuchs.

Telecoms satellite in wrong orbit after another Proton glitch

Seriously? What’s wrong with the Russian rockets lately?

#Apple HealthKit and Health app aims to spark fitness revolution – an annotated infographic

October 24, 2014

Whether we like it or not, Apple wants to make us all healthier and more active. Counting our steps, counting our calories, digitally scoffing at our half-baked attempts at fitness – the new Health app is like a disapproving aunt watching over your shoulder, tutting at every anti-health transgression we make.

Apple is making the HealthKit open to third-party health metrics, so any fitness device worn by the user can feed data in to the Health app. Whether its your smart earbuds, a smartwatch or smart fitness socks, you’d better be careful what you wear if all you feel like doing is lying on the sofa and eating cream cakes all weekend.

Naturally, E&T maintains its svelte, racing-snake physique year round, kept active tracking all the latest Apple news and gathering it on to one handy Apple news page so you don’t have to.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Apple Health: keep up, fatty

Apple Health: keep up, fatty

#Microsoft to enter the #wearable technology sphere with new smartwatch – an annotated infographic

October 21, 2014

Ever-anxious to join in with what looks like a fun party to be at, Microsoft will shortly launch its own wearable device, according to Forbes.

With the likes of Apple, Google and Samsung already making headlines and – more importantly – money out of the wearable technology sector, it was inevitable that Microsoft would chime in at some point with another me-too gadget of its own. Zune, anyone?

According to the Forbes report, the device will be a smartwatch that will passively track a wearer’s heart rate and sync with different mobile platforms, including Apple iOS, Google Android and it’s own native Windows Phone. That seems a smart move on Microsoft’s part, not obliging a user to have a Windows PC or phone in order to use the watch. How it works in practice remains to be seen.

E&T news reported on this latest wearable technology story yesterday. E&T also had a smartwatch special issue of the magazine last year which covered the latest watch technology, both smart digital and smart analogue.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Microsoft: watch out

Microsoft: watch out


Secretive U.S. Air Force space plane ready to return to Earth – an annotated infographic

October 17, 2014

The U.S. Air Force’s robotic X-37B space plane is set to return to Earth after almost two years in orbit. The secret mission is believed to have been a test of new sensors and other next-generation satellite technologies.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

U.S. Air Force X-37B

U.S. Air Force X-37B

E&T news weekly #22 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

October 17, 2014

Friday October 17 2014

  Aasha Bodhani Aasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor
First Google Glass addict admitted for treatment

It has been reported an American man has been diagnosed with having an addiction to Google Glass, having used the wearable technology for up to 18 hours a day as part of his job. The man experienced irritable and aggressive traits when stripped of the glasses, and would dream about seeing the world through the Glass’s small screen. He’s now reportedly under an ‘internet detox’ programme, including Google Glass and other electronic devices.

Windows flaw used by hackers to spy on Nato

Cyber security experts iSight Partners say they’ve detected a flaw in Microsoft Windows, providing Russian hackers the opportunity to spy on Nato, the EU, Ukraine and energy and telecommunications companies. The attack was achieved by targeted phishing emails and an unknown method to bypass all forms of security protection. While no comment has been made from the Russian government, Microsoft have been alerted and are issuing an automatic update.


  Tereza Pultarova Tereza Pultarova, online news reporter
First Google Glass addict admitted for treatment

Most of us have probably observed the negative effects of excessive Internet exposure on our attention span and would admit sometimes checking our smartphones, emails and social media accounts far too often. However, the world’s first Google Glass addict has taken the gadget addiction to an entirely new level, even developing dreams in which he sees the world through the Google Glass display.

Mars One settlement would perish in weeks

There has been a lot of media fuss about the daring Mars One project, which aims to establish a permanent human colony on the Red Planet within the next decade. With a reality show-style astronaut selection process and a claim that the technology needed for such an ambitious venture already exists, the project has raised eyebrows of many experts. It doesn’t come entirely as a surprise then that the concept didn’t fare particularly well in an independent engineering assessment.


  dominic-lenton Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Influx of foreign engineers to UK mightier than ever

With immigration set to be one of the hot topics of next year’s general election, news that the number of non-EU engineers recruited by UK companies has increased by 36 per cent in the last year. Good news that firms are getting back in the hiring mode, but why are they finding it so hard to find suitable workers that they have to look overseas?

TV white space used to monitor endangered wildlife

With the annual return of the BBC’s ever popular Autumnwatch on the horizon, thousands of viewers will be tuning in to live wildlife webcams on the web. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Google are taking a more innovative approach to ‘citizen zoology’ by using the white space gaps between channels in the digital TV spectrum to test technology that monitors endangered wildlife in remote areas.


  Lorna Sharpe Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
TV white space trial to provide flood warning

interesting application of so-called ‘TV white space’ technology, collating data from a network of sensors that monitor waterways and groundwater in a flood-prone area, with the intention of giving residents early warning of problems.

Radar tests detect small aircraft among wind turbines

Ever since wind-farm developments took off in a serious way it’s been recognised that moving turbines create spurious signals on air traffic control radars, and engineers have been looking for ways to mitigate the problem. UK trials of a Danish radar system are showing promising results.


  Edd Gent Edd Gent, online news reporter
Experts question Lockheed fusion reactor claims

Fusion is one of those technologies that always seems to be 50 years away, so fair play to Lockheed for sticking their necks out with a prediction that they will be able to produce one in a decade. The jury is very much still out on the claims, largely due to the lack of detail, but here’s hoping it’s not all a load of hot air.


  Jonathan Wilson Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Shelve the Climate Change Act, says former minister
Shale firm to appeal council’s exploration refusal

It isn’t much of a stretch to join the dots of these two stories from the same day this week to complete an ugly picture of the shortsighted, selfish greed typical of Tory MPs and vampiric fossil-fuel drilling companies. First, former (note former) Tory environment secretary Owen Paterson challenges David Cameron to shelve the Climate Change Act, on the basis that scrapping policies focused on renewable energy targets in favour of “common sense” energy policies would be a “glorious opportunity” for the Conservatives and a chance to address the threat posed by the rise of right wing rival party Ukip. One of Paterson’s primary columns supporting his argument? Push for shale gas. And what do you know? Celtique, the shale drilling company, is now challenging the decision made in July this year by West Sussex County Council’s planning committee to refuse Celtique’s application to drill for oil and gas exploration near Wisborough Green, a conservation area just outside the South Downs National Park.

New issue of E&T magazine available online now – the Antarctica issue, conservation vs fossil fuels

October 15, 2014

The new issue of E&T magazine is available online now: the Antarctica issue.

The Antarctic is the Earth’s last great wilderness, but can we keep it that way? As global warming melts that continental land ice, ironically the region becomes more attractive to companies interested in extracting fossil fuels and countries looking to extend and secure their territories sitting on or near valuable natural resources.

Nations are also readying for take-off in a race to exploit the energy resources of another great uninhabited region, but this one is sustainable and it’s extraterrestrial. Solar power from space is an exciting prospect, but so far it hasn’t got off the ground. Shouldn’t more of our energy needs be met by renewables now, anyway? The UK is lagging well behind its neighbours in its contribution from renewable sources.

While the debate over extra runways for London rumbles on, could electric planes be the answer to the concerns about air pollution and noise? Also in this issue: special effects taking over films; the rights and wrongs of U2 album spam, and how more electronics in cars is causing headaches about safety and security.

Check out the new issue of E&T magazine online.


E&T magazine. Cool.

How West African countries hit hard by #Ebola outbreak get medical aid by plane – an annotated infographic

October 15, 2014

Only a handful of international carriers are still flying to the three West African countries hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak, keeping a vital air link open for medical aid workers. However, this has raised fears that the virus could spread further afield.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Ebola medical air services

Ebola medical air services

E&T news weekly #21 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

October 10, 2014

Friday October 10 2014

  Jonathan Wilson Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Turing’s codebreaking machine voted engineers’ favourite

It’s been a momentous week for the mathematical legacy of Alan Turing. Not only did the biopic of his life, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightley, debut at the London Film Festival, Turing’s World War Two codebreaking machine, nicknamed The Bombe, was also voted the engineers’ favourite artefact in a new survey to mark the 30th anniversary of the Engineering Heritage Awards.

Police struggling with cybercrime says top policeman

A worrying admission that the robbers are smarter than the cops these days, as Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe acknowledges at a recent security conference that police have still not “got to grips” with online fraud despite a huge rise in the crime.


  Vitali Vitaliev Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Driverless and first-time air-conditioned Tube train design revealed

This welcome development looks like a possible end of a very long saga. It also contradicts earlier conclusions of London transport engineers to the effect that effective air-conditioning in London Tube stations and trains was technically impossible. In 2010, we had a rather heated (sorry for the pun – could not refrain from it!) discussion on the pages of E&T as to whether cooling the Tube was a reality or a dream. Looks like it was (is, will be?) a reality, after all – a fact particularly pleasing for an inveterate passenger like myself who had a heat stroke while travelling on the Tube in July 2003!


  Edd Gent Edd Gent, online news reporter
LED inventor unhappy at Nobel Prize snub

It’s great that research central to a lot of electronic engineering received the Nobel Prize for Physics this year, but the furore over the snubbing of the inventor of the first visible-light LED and also the inventors of the first ever LED, the infrared LED, highlights the fact that scientific research is not a series of Eureka moments but a steady and incremental accumulation of knowledge.


  Dickon Ross Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game opens festival

As The Imitation Game, the new biopic of cryoptoanalyst and computer science pioneer Alan Turing, opens the London Film Festival, the stars admitted they struggled with the maths. E&T has seen the preview of the film and found it really quite moving. Bletchley Park, prepare for a lot more visitors.

LED inventor unhappy at Nobel Prize snub

Not everyone was happy about the Nobel prize for physics going to the inventors of the blue LED.

Spanish smart meters easy to hack

Concerns that hackers could take control of smart meters in Spain. There will be more like this to come as the security of the new generation of networked devices will become a running story – and not just consumer devices in the home. The players involved in building the Internet of Things are taking security and privacy issues very seriously indeed and talking about what needs to be done by industry and government to reassure the public. Watch this space.


  dominic-lenton Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Smart waste collection service launched in Spain

Suggestions that how well British householders are at recycling could be monitored by ‘smart’ rubbish bins have met with predictable mutterings about Big Brother going through our bins. Spain isn’t going that far, but is using technology to plan refuse collection routes more effectively by tracking which bins are closest to overflowing.

Engineering adventure stories to inspire next generation

American aerospace engineer Ken Hardman is determined to attract more young people into engineering by telling stories about the exciting side of the job. “Engineers don’t just sit around writing software and solving mathematical equations,” he says. “They go on business trips, they have deadlines, they conceive new ideas, they solve problems.”

Malaysia Airlines flight #MH370 – undersea search area moves on – an annotated infographic

October 8, 2014

The near-impossible search for the wreckage of flight MH370 valiantly continues in the Indian Ocean, as the search area is moved to a new location.

Now three ships will use “towfish” – underwater vessels equipped with Synthetic Aperture Sonar that creates high-resolution images of the ocean floor – in the search for any sign of the missing plane.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Flight MH370: still missing, still looking

Flight MH370: still missing, still looking

#AppleWatch launch may be delayed – manufacturing issues – an annotated infographic

October 7, 2014

So not everything goes Apple’s way. On a day when the world has been openly gawking with car-crash fascination at Samsung’s announcement of a projected 60 per cent collapse in its smartphone profits for Q3 this year, details have emerged of a fly in Apple’s Watch ointment that may delay production and launch.

GT Advanced Technologies, the makers of the watch’s toughened Sapphire Crystal screen, unexpectedly filed for bankruptcy. No screen: no Apple Watch. It’s a rum old business, really, as you’d think a company that had potentially secured a lucrative revenue stream with the world’s pre-eminent high-end gadget brand would be immune to such financial ruin.

More details will undoubtedly emerge over time (no Watch pun intended). Will Apple move to secure its own supply chain, instead of having to rely on third-party suppliers?

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Apple Watch: it's about time

Apple Watch: it’s about time


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