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

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.

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