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

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?

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