E&T news weekly #25 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday November 7 2014

  Tereza Pultarova Tereza Pultarova, online news reporter
Re-entry device at fault but experts still concerned about Virgin’s hybrid engine

It’s been two unfortunate weeks for the private space sector. After the spectacular explosion of the Antares rocket seen live by millions on the Nasa TV, the tragic crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo stole the media attention. Virgin Galactic’s CEO British billionaire Sir Richard Branson has masterfully kept the public in suspense for years with repeated promises to start commercial sub-orbital flights “in the next few months” but this time, he would surely have preferred to avoid the media spotlight. However, the accident that killed the co-pilot of the experimental space plane, led to multiple aerospace engineers to step forward and question the viability of the venture, which, as it seems, has always been much further from actual operations than Sir Richard led us to believe.

Chinese Moon return probe back on Earth

Unlike Virgin Galactic, China has always been rather secretive about its space progress, choosing to stun the world with its achievements without much prior advertising. Its latest success came with the successful completion of a return trip to the Moon and back. The eight-day Chang’e 5 T1 mission tested technologies enabling a spacecraft to survive the fiery return to Earth from space, critical for China’s planned lunar sample return mission scheduled for 2017.


  Rebecca Northfield Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Lab-on-a-chip for the home to help elderly

The people of the older generation I know have always been stubborn, and from personal experience have had to drag my grandparents kicking and screaming (not literally) to the doctor for a problem that has bothered them for countless months. This stiff-upper-lip attitude is admirable, however many elderly people leave their ailments unchecked until it is too late. Another problem for older people is they often have mobility problems, or have no one to take them in to a medical centre. This is why I’m a big fan of this non-invasive lab-on-a-chip (LOC) system. The LOC chip can analyse blood samples, detect abnormalities, monitor blood pressure and heart rate, and send the information to a doctor, all without the elderly person having to leave their home.

Shakespeare available on demand from Globe theatre

I love Shakespeare. I love his plays. I love my tablet. Sorted.


  Dickon Ross Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Bangladesh in the dark due to major blackout

Power cuts are a major obstacle to industry growth in Bangladesh, and a blackout last weekend is the worst since 2007…

Indian businesses seek solace in self-managed solar plants

…and power cuts are such a problem in India that companies are building their own self-sufficient solar plants.

Apple-1 computer in half a million dollar auction

One of the first Apple computers is coming up for auction next month. Its memory is a million times smaller than today’s iMac but it will cost you many times more.


  Jonathan Wilson Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Paper still jamming businesses on World Paper Free Day

As the digital-native generation grows up, could the paperless office finally be a real possibility? According to a recent survey of some of the world’s largest organisations, that day is still some way off. The instinctive need to print out even the most insignificant documents to carry to meetings or circulate to colleagues still afflicts millions of people, even when the document in question has lived an entirely digital existence up to that point. Some documents do require a physical presence: many more decidedly do not.

Shakespeare available on demand from Globe theatre

The beloved Bard of Avon has now become the iBard, with the announcement from the Shakespeare’s Globe theatre that performances of his plays are now available over the internet as video on demand. Over 50 performances have been recorded at the Globe in recent years, which can be either rented or bought for repeat viewing – as you like it, as the iBard might say.


  Aasha Bodhani Aasha Bhodani, assistant technology features editor
Apple-1 computer in half a million dollar auction

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once sold the Ricketts Apple-1 personal computer for $600 in 1976, however on 11 December, auction house Christie’s will be auctioning the computer for $500,000. The auction house has revealed an Apple-1 expert has serviced the computer and used its original software program, Microsoft Basic and an original Apple-1 Star Trek game to test the machine out.

Half the world’s population connected to mobile internet by 2020

GSMA Intelligence has revealed that mobile is now the gateway for connecting billions to the internet worldwide and by 2020 half the world’s population, in particular from the developing world will be connected. While many users in developing countries are using the internet via 2G connections, the 3G and 4G migration has meant by 2020, the number of mobile internet subscribers will shrink to 800 million.


  Vitali Vitaliev Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Orbital to ditch Russian engines in light of crash investigation hints

No matter how much I may disagree with current Russian politics, I think that Orbital Science’s decision to dump Russian rocket engines and to blame them entirely for the catastrophe may be more than just a knee-jerk reaction, but also an attempt to earn some political capital from the disaster. Everyone is imposing sanctions on Russia, so let’s jump the bandwagon… I may be wrong of course, but, from what I know, rocket engines, were among very few things they always did well in Russia and in the Soviet Union, and I do hope that it was not just an attempt to promptly find a scapegoat to be blamed for the crash.


  dominic-lenton Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Cyber-security guidelines for safer buildings

The idea of bad guys taking over a bank or casino by hacking into its building management system has become a Hollywood staple, even if the technical accuracy of how they go about doing so is usually questionable. In reality, there’s a genuine and more prosaic risk of cyber-attacks on things like heating, ventilation and air-conditioning. Step forward the IET with a new Code of Practice on cyber-security in the built environment that’s surely a must-read for anyone with responsibility for an internet-connected buildings.

Three-quarters of parents would recommend engineering career

Good news about changing attitudes from a survey released to coincide with Tomorrow’s Engineers Week, which has been going on this week. Not only are more parents aware that a job in engineering doesn’t mean their child’s going to be a car mechanic (useful though it is to have one in the house), but nearly half of youngsters at secondary school would think about taking their advice. Downside is that a third of students know what they need to do about it.

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