E&T news weekly #29 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday December 05 2014

Aasha Bodhani Aasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor
Cyber ring steals firms’ secrets to game stock market

Cybercrime shows no signs of slowing down, as security firm FireEye recently revealed it found an organised espionage ring targeted individuals with access to sensitive insider data that could be used to make profit on trades, particularly in pharmaceutical and healthcare firms, before its made public. The hackers stole email account passwords instead of injecting malware into the PC. The execution shows the method was simple yet effective.

Technology reveals ancient city without digging

A team of archaeologists from the University of Southampton used technologies magnetometry, ground-penetrating radar and electric resistive tomography and found the footprint of a medieval town near Salisbury, Wiltshire. Old Sarum town is believed to be one of the oldest settlements in England, but was abandoned as Salisbury grew. The technology enables archaeologists to discover the sites history and also explore other parts of the country.


  Laura Onita Laura Onita, online news reporter
South Stream pipeline proposal dropped by Russia

What an economic blow for a handful of European countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Austria), and what a gain for Turkey. Putin pulled the plug on the EU-South Stream project because of Brussels’ sanctions that indicated the pipeline might not be realised as the crisis in Ukraine intensified. Bulgaria was to be the key gateway to Europe for gas, but now a new alternative gas-hub will be built at the Turkish-Greek border, with considerable energy price discounts up for grabs for Turkey.

BT launches National Inventors Day

Every day ends up being ‘the day’ for a national or global event, so it’s only natural for inventors to have their own designated little box in the calendar. The telecommunication company launched the first National Inventors Day this week, and I’m surprised this hasn’t happened sooner. After all, where would we be without the bright minds that gave us the telephone or the jet engine? Maybe this way we’ll see an increase in the number of UK adults (58 per cent) who can only name correctly one British inventor, as the BT study has shown.


  Rebecca Northfield Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Stephen Hawking’s new Intel talking system to be made open-source

I am so impressed that this genius has gifted the world with his presence for so long. Steven Hawking has received a new communications system that means he only needs to type 15 to 20 per cent of speech, and the SwiftKey system will predict the rest for him. He demonstrated the new system consisting of a control monitor, a speech synthesiser and predictive language software, at a press conference on Tuesday.

What I like about Hawking – apart from his brain – is that he’s been pushing the boundaries of assistive technology for 25 years with the help of Intel, who built his new system. The Intel software will be free to people in January 2015, which is a great thing. Hawking is replacing his old talking system after two decades and has said that the new technology is ‘life-changing’.

Although the mouthpiece for Hawking has always sounded a little creepy, it is very distinctive, not to just me, but to everyone. It has spoken of many incredible things; science would not be the same without him.  So I’m not sure if it’s time he got a new voice.


  Jonathan Wilson Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Media firm announces plans to test news-gathering drones

The march of robots stealing our jobs continues, with the news that a media company in the USA wants to use drones to gather news, once the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued new rules on the technology. Alpha Media, which owns nearly 70 radio stations in the US, wants to test the use of drones to gather video footage of highway traffic and concerts in Oregon for its Portland radio station KXL-FM 101. The FAA currently bans most commercial drone flights, but has been required by Congress to integrate drones into the US airspace in coming years.

BT launches first National Inventors Day

BT has launched National Inventors Day to celebrate the creativity of UK inventors, but also to encourage future inventive thinkers. As part of the initiative BT published the British Invention Index, a study of 3,000 people that addressed the general attitudes towards inventions and included further recommendations for young innovative thinkers, regarded as ‘Generation I’. Tim Whitely, managing director, research and innovation at BT, said that the event is a way to celebrate inventors past and present.


  Lorna Sharpe Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Technology reveals ancient city without digging

Archaeologists using non-invasive surveying techniques including  magnetometry, ground-penetrating radar and electric resistive tomography have created a detailed map of the medieval settlement of Old Sarum, just outside modern Salisbury in Wiltshire.

Future highways to use self-healing concrete

Actually, it’s not just about cracks that heal before they can develop into potholes. Arup’s ‘Future of Highways’ report looks at a host of technologies that are available or under development and considers the implications for road transport. As the temperature drops in England this week, the notion of embedded heating elements to clear ice begins to sound rather attractive.


  Vitali Vitaliev Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Media firm announces plans to test news-gathering drones

It was only the other week that Amazon announced forthcoming testing of their new delivery drones in Cambridge, UK where academics and students traditionally order piles and piles of books. A farewell to Postman Pat? Time will show…  And now – news-gathering drones directly threatening the very existence of the world’s second-oldest profession (we all know what the first oldest one is)! Why not? If drones are capable of spying, they should be also be suitable for some basic investigative reporting too. For many an editor, they can actually be preferable to their human, flesh-and-bone, counterparts for several reasons: drones do not smoke or drink beer; they do not hold union meetings and are unlikely to go on a strike, unless of course a military object – and not a pay rise – is a target. And imagine paparazzi drones – no celebrity will be able to hide from them.  Yet the best feature of the would-be drone hacks will be their total lack of what John Cleese called “the main quality of a London tabloid journalist” – hypocrisy.  The truth is that, for all their technological sophistication, drones are and will always remain relatively straightforward.


  dominic-lenton Dominic Lenton, managing editor
BT launches first National Inventors Day

TV talent shows like X Factor might encourage Britain’s youngsters to believe that it’s possible for anyone to become a showbiz success overnight, but Dragons’ Den doesn’t seem to have had the same effect. Launching a new National Inventors Day, BT revealed results of a study which found less than a third of 16 year olds consider themselves to be ‘inventive thinkers’. For all the talk of how economic measures are going to drag the country out of recession, this is one issue that needs to be tackled if UK plc is going to compete in the future global marketplace.

Technology reveals ancient city without digging

One of my all-time favourite newspaper headlines – or at least the one that I had to admire for its inventive use of facts to grab readers’ attention – was the Evening Standard’s “Mars probe finds remains of lost city”. It turned out of course that the city was on Earth and the probe had only spotted it by looking back over its shoulder, as it were. Closer to home, we may now all be familiar with the idea of geophysical surveys replacing old-fashioned digging, but the work in Wiltshire that has created a detailed map of one of England’s oldest settlements without moving a single shovelful of soil is a remarkable example of how much easier technology can make an archaeologist’s life.

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