The weekly best of E&T: 3D printer in space, remote control of rats and the parcelcopter

September 26, 2014

Friday September 26 2014

James HayesJames Hayes, technology features editor
Computer modelling to cut carbon footprint of air travel

Computer modelling and simulation is transforming aerospace development by enabling designers and engineers to ‘build’ software-based prototypes that can be tested against highly accurate ranges of variables – such as operational pressures and tensions, and new kinds of materials and payloads. Aircraft encounter continually-changing environmental stresses during the course of a flight, and the fine-tuning of these can help determine potential ways of improving fuel efficiency – see also  ‘Green skies ahead: charting a course to sustainable aviation’

Dickon RossDickon Ross, editor in chief
First 3D printer and 20 mice launched to space

Now here’s a really useful place to put a 3D printer…

ARM unveils new Internet of Things chip

Hardware is only a part of the Internet of Things jigsaw puzzle but it is an important part.

Hospital deaths fall with use of new software

Smart charts have already cut death rates in hospital wards, says this study.

Tereza PultarovaTereza Pultarova – online news reporter
India conquers Mars with maiden spacecraft triumph

If there were any astronomers on Mars, they would have been perplexed by the sudden invasion of strange winged, metallic, box-like objects to their planet. They would have gotten used to odd things being dumped on their heads every now and then in the past decades but two in just one week? That’s certainly a bad omen. Is it the Martian apocalypse looming?

DHL launches Europe’s first UAV parcel delivery

The postman always rings twice but what about the parcelcopter? In fact, it’s about high time for the delivery companies to update their procedures as our wheelchair-bound neighbour would testify after a delivery guy dumped his parcel at our second-floor apartment. (We didn’t know the neighbour and were quite surprised that no one came to pick up the parcel for nearly two weeks).

Edd GentEdd Gent, online news reporter

Remote-control rats developed to study spinal injury rehab

While the fact that the researchers had to deliberately paralyse the rats in question, raises certain ethical questions, the ability to remotely control a complicated process like walking could have huge implications for medical rehabilitation technology.

dominic-lentonDominic Lenton, managing editor
New testing site to improve building materials of the future

Surprising to learn that innovative building materials like hemp are usually tested in a laboratory. This ‘plug and play’ facility will let construction companies see how new designs stand up to real weather conditions (in Swindon, at least).

FTSE 100 social star Burberry trials Twitter’s Buy button

A new hazard for anyone who’s received an unexpected and unwanted parcel in the wake of a late-night eBay session, perhaps after a drink or two. Twitter users will be able to purchase fashion and luxury goods from British label Burberry straight from the retailer’s timeline at the click of a ‘Buy’ button. The company says it’s a way of “taking the conversations that are already happening between brands, retailers and consumers and turning them into transactional relationships.”

E&T news weekly #18 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

September 19, 2014

Friday September 19 2014

  James Hayes James Hayes, technology features editor
Hacking behind third of London’s car theft

Hacking NFC-enabled car door locks is a growing problem, but is just one aspect of growing automotive cyber-security concerns. The connected road vehicle is going to become increasingly targeted by hackers – for a variety of motives ranging from sniggering mischievousness as they cause in-car infotainment systems to suddenly switch on at full volume, to bloody assassination following an immobilisation attack on a VIP’s limousine.

  Vitali Vitaliev Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
First woman elected president of Royal Academy of Engineering

I was thrilled to learn that Ann Dowling was elected President of the Royal Academy of Engineering – the first woman ever to occupy this post. I remember hearing Ms Dowling interviewed for BBC Radio 4’s “Life Scientific” one morning and being so impressed with her personality and intellect that I commissioned Amy Spurling, one of the E&T magazine regular contributors, to interview her asap. It took Amy some months to arrange the interview with Professor Dowling, as she is an extremely busy lady, but it finally appeared in the magazine in February 2013.

Tube goes contactless

I am happy to report that I tested this new technology yesterday when at meetings in London and can confirm that it works. London Tube is getting increasingly ‘contactless’, and the meaning of this word is much broader than just the technology. True, Londoners seldom talk on the Tube and rarely make eye or other contacts with each other. During my very first months in London many years ago, I even tended to believe that the frequently heard “Mind the gap!” announcement was not a warning to watch the distance between the train and the platform, but a reminder to the passengers not to stand too close to each other in a crowded train carriage.

  Jonathan Wilson Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
SpaceX and Boeing to carry astronauts to space

Nasa has chosen Boeing and SpaceX to build commercial space taxis to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station. The decision seemingly eliminated Sierra Nevada Corp’s Dream Chaser concept from Nasa’s future plans, but space transportation is an expensive business and now that the responsibility for trucking astronauts and cargo has been completely handed over to third-party suppliers, it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine someone needing an interplanetary lift from Dream Chaser one day.

Flying robot technicians gearing up for dangerous work

A self-organised fleet of autonomous robots could soon replace human fire-fighters, rescuers or construction workers in tasks that could put human lives at risk. The flying robots, equipped with multi-joint manipulator arms, are being developed as part of an EU-funded project. The cooperating robots can grasp objects, transport and deposit material, including industrial parts, debris or pieces of space stations. They could clean up after nuclear accidents, erect antennas on mountain tops, speed up construction work or examine piping systems. If it’s not too much trouble, perhaps they could also help me get my Frisbee off the roof.

  Dickon Ross Dickon Ross, editor in chief
First woman elected president of Royal Academy of Engineering

A real boost for women in engineering.

New digital cameras to crack down on London’s speeders

The surprise in this story is that they are not digital already.

  dominic-lenton Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Microsoft to buy Minecraft maker

Anyone whose children have spent hours immersed in the world of Minecraft will see what a canny investment Microsoft’s £1.5bn acquisition of its developer Mojang could turn out to be. The sight of a young person ‘playing’ online, working collaboratively with a group of friends to build things rather than shoot them up, probably gives a taste of what the workplace of the future will be like.

Smartwatches increase risk of car accidents

Distraction from mobile phones has been a factor in too many road accidents and the fact a device is on your wrist doesn’t mean that using it is just like glancing at your watch. Apple’s wearable technology isn’t the first of its kind, but it’s put the hazards of smartwatches in the spotlight. Good to see that the Department for Transport is going to police their use rigorously, with penalty points just for using one while driving.

  Tereza Pultarova Tereza Pultarova, online news reporter
Smart system increases electric vehicle range by third

I’d say I know many drivers who would be less than happy to be told what to do by an overly smart computer. However, the integrated system developed as part of the EU-funded OpEneR project promises to cut electric vehicle energy consumption by a third by simply telling drivers when to brake and when to change the route based on traffic or inclination of slopes. The team has also advanced energy recovery technology and optimised the electrical power train. Will it help sway the public more in favour of the quiet, non-polluting electric vehicles?

SpaceX and Boeing to carry astronauts to space

The eagerly awaited decision on which company will help Nasa regain the ability to launch astronauts to space aboard US-made vehicles from US soil was finally announced. Ditching the bit more sophisticated space shuttle inspired Dream Chaser concept, the American space agency opted for Boeing’s and SpaceX’s capsules. With the deteriorating relations between the US and Russia, from whom Nasa has been purchasing space rides for some $70m per astronaut (what a bargain!), all parties involved will likely be eager to meet the 2017 deadline.

If #ScotlandDecides YES, what might the Union Jack flag look like in the future – an annotated infographic

September 18, 2014

The current Union Jack flag is a composite of the flags of England and Scotland, plus Ireland’s cross of St Patrick, adopted prior to Irish Home Rule. If Scotland were to vote yes today in the majority for breaking away from the Union, what will become of the Union Jack flag?

The flag’s backstory: in 1603 King James VI of Scotland inherited the crown of England and became King James I of England. At this point, although both kingdoms had the same king, they remained separate sovereign states with their own parliaments, judiciary and laws.

In 1606, the King ordered a Union Flag to combine the Scottish Cross of St Andrew (also known as the Saltire, the term being a heraldic symbol in the form of a diagonal cross) with England’s Cross of St George. According to the Flag Institute, over the following years the Union Flag became known colloquially as “the Jack” or the “King’s Jack”, the term jack being a diminutive derived from the term for a small flag flown from the bow of a vessel to indicate its nationality. By 1674 the flag was officially recognised by the term Union Jack.

In 1707, the two parliaments were united to form the Parliament of Great Britain, based at the Palace of Westminster in London. In 1801, the Kingdom of Great Britain united with the neighbouring Kingdom of Ireland. That particular decision has provoked lively debate, shall we say, over the years.

It seems likely that today’s decision will prove equally contentious, with reverberations set to echo from Land’s End to John O’Groats for years to come.

If you are interested in the referendum decision from an engineer’s point of view, you genuinely could do a lot worse than consult our last magazine issue, the Scottish referendum special.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

"United we stand, divided we're lumbered"

“United we stand, divided we’re lumbered”

New issue of E&T magazine now available online – the Back to School issue

September 17, 2014

The new issue of E&T magazine is available online now: the Back to School issue.

Yes, it’s that time again for back to school: the three little words every child dreads, but which are as inevitable as the autumn leaves falling. We look at ICT in the classroom and how the new curriculum is a welcome change. It takes the students more ‘under the hood’, from computer architectures to coding. It was a lack of computing graduates that inspired Cambridge technologists to come up with the Raspberry Pi. The new curriculum now allows teachers to use the miniature computer in ICT lessons.

We also look at how more students are taking STEM A-levels and choosing maths over English, with more children also taking engineering GCSEs – just as the courses are about to be phased out. The engineering skills shortage may be worse in the UK than elsewhere but it’s not alone. We look at who is doing what in schools and colleges around the world. Who gets the best education in engineering? Who gets ‘Well Done’ and who ‘Must Try Harder’?

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

E&T: old school

E&T: old school

#Rosetta comet landing site identified – J marks the spot – an annotated infographic

September 16, 2014

Scientists have selected a landing site on the surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for the first-ever comet landing attempt in November.

Dubbed ‘Site J’, the spot where the Philae lander carried by the Rosetta spacecraft will attempt to touch down lies on the head of the comet. The location was chosen from five candidate sites as part of a complicated evaluation process, which forced the engineers to many trade-offs.

“As we have seen from recent close-up images, the comet is a beautiful but dramatic world – it is scientifically exciting, but its shape makes it operationally challenging,” said Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR).

“None of the candidate landing sites met all of the operational criteria at the 100 per cent level, but Site J is clearly the best solution.”

Read the E&T news story about the Rosetta comet landing site in full online.

Click on either graphic for an expanded view.

Rosetta, coming to a comet near you

Rosetta, coming to a comet near you

 

All about Rosetta

All about Rosetta

#PistoriusTrial verdict: Oscar guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter) – trial history – an annotated infographic

September 12, 2014

A South African judge has found Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, or negligent killing, in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but declared him not guilty of murder and premeditated murder.

The sentence for a culpable homicide conviction is at the judge’s discretion and can range from a suspended sentence and a fine to up to 15 years in prison. Sentencing will be announced at a later date.

Pistorius was also convicted on one of three unrelated firearm charges. The judge ruled that the athlete was guilty of unlawfully firing a gun in a public place when a friend’s pistol he was handling discharged under a table in a restaurant in Johannesburg in early 2013 – mere weeks before Steenkamp’s killing.

He was acquitted on two other gun charges.

Oscar Pistorius appeared in E&T magazine in 2012, in our feature on paralympic technology. We also featured the technology behind Oscar Pistorius’ blade legs in an infographic here on our WordPress blog.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Oscar Pistorius: guilty of manslaughter

Oscar Pistorius: guilty of manslaughter

#AppleWatch and #iPhone6 officially here… and there was much rejoicing – an annotated infographic

September 10, 2014

And lo, it came to pass: Apple finally announced some new gadgets and the interwebs went in to meltdown.

As everyone in the world now knows – even people in medical comas and lost civilizations deep in the Belgian Congo, prob’ly – Apple has unveiled its newest iPhone, alongside a larger-screened version and the company’s first foray into the wearables market – the Apple Watch.

The iPhone 6, the latest iteration of the company’s flagship smartphone, has already boosted screen size from the 4 inch iPhone 5S to 4.7 inches, but the new iPhone 6 Plus comes with a 5.5-inch screen, closer to the increasingly popular ‘phablets’ produced by companies such as Samsun and HTC.

The company also revealed the first new product to be developed and introduced under CEO Tim Cook’s reign, is a smartwatch wirelessly tethered to the iPhone that can receive phone calls and messages, play music, serve as a digital wallet to pay for goods and monitor heart rates via special sensors.

“I am so excited and I am so proud to share it with you this morning. It is the next chapter in Apple’s story,” said Cook. “Apple Watch is most personal device we’ve ever created.”

Read the E&T news story in full online, covering the Apple iPhone 6 and Apple Watch in detail.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

OMG!! Apple iPhone 6 and Apple Watch!! Etc!!!

Apple iPhone 6 and Apple Watch released!!! OMG, WTF and so forth!!!

Malaysia Airlines #flightMH17 definitely hit from the outside, preliminary report states – an annotated infographic

September 9, 2014

A preliminary report into the causes of the MH17 tragedy has confirmed the aircraft was penetrated from outside, in line with suspicions it was shot down by either side of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The report, released by the Dutch Safety Board (DBS) who is leading the investigation, said damage found on the wreckage “appears to indicate that there were impacts from a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft” and that “the pattern of damage observed in the forward fuselage and cockpit section of the aircraft was not consistent with the damage that would be expected from any known failure mode of the aircraft, its engines or systems.”

Read the full E&T news story about the Flight MH17 preliminary report.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Flight MH17: shot down

Flight MH17: shot down

#Apple #iPhone6 is a new threat to Samsung’s sliding market share – an annotated infographic

September 5, 2014

It’s been a topsy-turvy week for Apple, first with the news that it was probably a vulnerability in its iCloud service that was exploited in order to winkle out amateur-ish, pseudo-saucy photos of foolish celebrity ladies; then the news that it probably wasn’t iCloud’s fault; to finally the announcement from its 2012 arch eco-nemesis Greenpeace that Apple is now looking pretty spiffy in the renewable energy department – much classier than Microsoft, Google and Amazon, for instance.

Now with the iPhone 6 launch imminent, Apple is looking forward to giving its most-hated market rival Samsung a sound kicking in the finances. Seen by many as the Android foil to Apple’s iOS devices, Samsung has already lost seven per cent of its global smartphone market share in the last 12 months. The launch of the super-sized iPhone 6, along with a possible iWatch, could see the stock price of the Korean tech giant/serial intellectual property appropriator slide further south – and this in spite of, or possibly because of, the release of such nonsensical gadgetry as the Samsung Gear VR headset.

Apple’s stock, naturally, is at an all-time high.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Apple iPhone 6 threat to Samsung

Apple iPhone 6 threat to Samsung

E&T news weekly #16 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

September 5, 2014

Friday September 5 2014

  James Hayes James Hayes, technology features editor
Parents increasingly keen on digital careers

World economies will need more software-savvy techies to enter the workplace over the next two decades; but the practice of managing and analysing large datasets also should prove to be an important determiner of employment. By the end of 2015, Gartner estimates that 4.4 million IT jobs globally will be created to support Big Data, generating 1.9 million IT jobs in the US alone. Every Big Data-related role in the US will create employment for three people outside of IT, so over the next four years a total of 6 million US jobs in the US will be generated by the information economy, the analyst predicts.

 

  Tereza Pultarova Tereza Pultarova, online news reporter
Apple says system not breached in celebrity photo hack

Is there seriously more fuss about a few dozen of revealing pictures than about all the industrial know how and money stolen around the world by various cyber gangs? It must have been a hard way for the celebs to learn the cyber security basics, such as not putting naked pictures online (seriously? who could ever do that?), or not bothering about their passwords too much.

Gut bacteria turned biofuel producer

Bioengineering is fascinating. A little bit of clever modification and voila – an ordinary gut bacteria starts producing engine ready propane. Now scale it up a bit and who needs fossil fuels anymore?

 

  Jonathan Wilson Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Apple leading the way on green gadgets

Two years ago, Greenpeace publicly slammed Apple over its use of “dirty energy” in powering the California computer company’s iCloud data storage centres. Now, the environmental campaign group has singled out Apple as a leading light in the use of renewable energy and also for its commitment to the total removal of hazardous substances in its products. Apple’s data centres scored 100 per cent in Greenpeace’s clean energy index, with none of Apple’s energy coming from coal, nuclear or natural gas sources. The company was awarded “A” ranks in energy transparency, deployment and advocacy and commitment, scoring a “B” rank in its energy efficiency. Microsoft was awarded “C” rankings for all categories, while Amazon scored “D” and “F” – the same ratings Apple got in 2012.

 

  Aasha Bodhani Aasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor
EU bans power-hungry vacuum cleaners

Starting this month, a new EU legislation means manufactures in Europe will be unable to make or sell vacuum cleaners with the power consumption of more than 1,600 watts. Currently vacuums average around 1,800 watts but this new law aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions and boost research in energy efficient technologies. With the rush to buy existing power-hungry vacuums, retailers, such as Dyson have experienced a surge in profits.

Apple says system not breached in celebrity photo hack

This week, a wave of celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton were victims to intimate photos of themselves being exposed on image-sharing site 4Chan, due to a hack in Apple’s iCloud. Cyber-security experts have criticised Apple for not implementing two-factor authentication, especially as the iCloud can hold personal information. With Apple’s latest iPhone 6 set to be released this month, the timing of this hack couldn’t have come at a worse time.

 

  Edd Gent Edd Gent, online news reporter
Futuristic new airport for Mexico City

Norman Foster has been responsible for some pretty fantastic looking buildings, but this would certainly rival them if it comes to fruition. The single terminal design is both attractive and highly practical, doing away with the need for inter-terminal transport and allowing for some clever environmental conditioning technologies to be included.

 

  dominic-lenton Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Dyson’s robot vacuum cleaner packed with patented technology

Robot vacuum cleaners have been around for a while, but until now have been more of a status symbol than something you can rely on to keep your home clean. Much of their attraction is sheer entertainment value – from seeing them demonstrated I’d say that watching one negotiate a typical living room is probably more absorbing than most television. James Dyson reckons his ‘360 Eye’ will change that, branding previous attempts as gimmicks that “don’t see their environment, have little suction, and don’t clean properly”. Probably also avoids the strategy of the teenager coerced into household chores who believes that if they do it badly enough you won’t ask them again.

Hacking behind third of London’s car theft

Proving that the criminal fraternity will take advantage of any technological advance designed to make our lives easier, car thieves are cutting out the onerous business of stealing keys and hacking into remote locking systems. At the moment it’s a problem for owners of high-end vehicles that are attractive to thieves and also more likely to include the latest technology. As keyless access and operation become more mainstream though, it’s another thing for drivers to worry about. Another incentive to avoid driving altogether and get on your bike?

 

  Vitali Vitaliev Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Barclays to introduce biometric finger vein scanning

This new technology sounds promising. My only concern is that its predecessors – fingerprint readers – often malfunction and are deemed not too reliable by many. I am all too familiar with daily tribulations of my friends at a London organisation where each morning they have queues at reception of visitors and staff banned from entering the offices by their chronically malfunctioning fingerprint scanners. It can be even more frustrating to face similar problems while trying to log into one’s bank account from a PC… So fingers crossed- in more than one sense! – for the new vein readers!

Dyson’s robot vacuum cleaner packed with patented technology

Breaking news: James Dyson has suggested this morning that Britain should leave the EU, over a dispute about vacuum cleaner energy efficiency regulations! I wonder what Brussels’ reaction to his new robotic hoover is going to be like (it is unlikely to fit it with their new restrictions either, or so I reckon). On a lighter note, I personally welcome the new robotic Dyson. In my latest book, a fantasy novel called “Granny Yaga”, both Yadwiga, a benign witch and the main heroine, and her sister Melissa, another white witch, fly Dyson vacuum cleaners, rather than traditional brooms. Their flying Dysons are equipped with photovoltaic panels, GPS devices, Koshchei (the demon) detectors and special “witch on” buttons… What can I say? Reality can often be stranger than fiction…


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