E&T news weekly #26 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday November 14 2014

  Jonathan Wilson Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Robo-dolphins exploring polar ice sheets

You only have to see a headline about robo-dolphins exploring the polar regions and you’re laughing already. Fortunately, there is a serious side to this story. The dolphin-shaped robots have been collecting data on the melting of Antarctic ice, which has helped scientists to better understand how ocean currents transporting warm water towards Antarctica add to the disruption of the fragile ice sheets. Thanks, robo-dolphin dudes!

New York’s largest transport hub opens to the public

Having infamously and irrevocably demolished one of the city’s most celebrated and architecturally imposing transit centres – the old Pennsylvania Station – in the late 1960s, NYC is at least making late amends with the Arup-designed Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan. Flooded with light and a swirling cascade of steel and concrete inside, it marks the point where nine subway lines converge adjacent to the city’s revitalised World Trade Center.


  Lorna Sharpe Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Pilot study investigates generating solar energy from roads

Dutch researchers are paving a length of cycle track with solar panels to test the viability of generating electricity from sunlight falling on road surfaces. No doubt they’ll want to study how durable the panels are, how much useful electricity they can produce, and whether it’s economic, but I can envisage that the concept might be useful on lightly-used roads in open country, a long way from grid supplies.

Stranded Galileo satellites to be moved to better orbit

Europe’s home-grown Galileo satnav system has been a long time coming, but we’re getting there. That two of the satellites were pushed into the wrong orbit because of a launcher fault was a setback, but controllers now think they can at least improve the orbits to synchronise with the rest of the constellation, which has to be good news.


  Rebecca Northfield Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Global temperature may rise by 3.6°C despite renewables boom

A report published by the International Energy Agency says the world is going to get hotter – the planet’s energy consumption is set to rise by 37 per cent in the next five years, meaning efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions will be obliterated as more renewable generators are deployed. As well as the obvious problems it will cause, the 3.6 per cent global temperature increase will cause problems for me. I love cold weather. That’s why you’ll rarely see me leave England for a blazing hot holiday. And, as always, society preaches that mankind is in danger, and if we don’t do anything soon, the world will be inhospitable. The thing is, the world will be fine. It will recover. It’s done it before. Us on the other hand, have no idea. I’m glad I won’t be around to see the destruction of the environment. Bon voyage, world.

Robo-dolphins exploring polar ice sheets

These dolphin-like robots are expensive, about £150,000 a piece, and they’re busy collecting data on ocean currents and their disruption of the ice sheets in Antarctica. It’s interesting, but I’m more interested in how I can get my hands on a robot dolphin! Why weren’t they invented when I had ‘show and tell’ back in the day?


  Aasha Bodhani Aasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor
iOS bug exposes most iPhones and iPads to hackers

After the iCloud breach, Apple’s is now facing another cyber-security problem. Researchers at FireEye have revealed hackers are able to attack Apple’s operating system by prompting users to install a malicious application through text messages, emails and web links, which then replaces genuine apps with malicious software. FireEye call it the ‘Masque Attack’ and say hackers can steal bank and email login credentials using this method.

Extension to Northern Line of Tube given green light

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin gave the go-ahead to extend the Tube’s Northern Line from Kennington to Battersea via Nine Elms, which will cost up to £1bn. With construction beginning next year and two new stations by 2020, the aim is to reduce journey times to the West End and the City to under 15 minutes. Boris Johnson explained the project will not only reduce journey times but it will also create 24,000 new jobs and more than 18,000 new homes.


  Dickon Ross Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Half the world’s population connected to mobile Internet by 2020

More people in the world have mobile phones than have sanitation. Smartphones are catching up fast.

Space station threatened by space junk fragment

Dangerous debris from the crash of a Russian satellite threatens space station. Sounds like the plot of the film Gravity, but the International Space Station was pushed away from its orbit last week to avoid just such a disaster.

Energy engineers call for relaxation of fracking rules

Rules surrounding the seismic impact of fracking are unnecessarily restrictive and should be closer to those for activities like quarry blasting, researchers say.


  dominic-lenton Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Failure to take STEM subjects ‘holding back’ many young people

The message from Education Secretary Nicky Morgan that more needs to be done to encourage young people to study science and maths at A level is hard to reconcile with government moves to do away with the AS-level system and go back to more traditional A levels. The ability to choose four AS’s post-GCSE then drop one and continue with three to A level meant more students would at least go with a STEM subject for a year in combination with arts and social sciences. Having to pick three subjects at age 16 and stick with them is going to force those who take that route to make a choice that can eliminate engineering from their career options.

Researchers demonstrate thought-control of gene expression

Another week, another story that reads like it’s come straight out of the realms of science fiction. This one has been published in Nature Communications, so is genuine science, and potential applications are rather prosaic in the form of pain control for headaches and back pain.

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