E&T news weekly #31 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday December 19 2014

  Aasha Bodhani Aasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor
‘Tap and Pay’ gloves tested by Barclays

We’ve heard of contactless payments via credit cards and smartphones, but now Barclays bank is taking it one step further by trialling contactless payment woolly gloves. Using the same method, users can pay for goods up to £20 without using their PIN by a simple tap on a contactless reader. As wearable and contactless technology continues to grow, it was only a matter of time before both trends merge together.

Blackberry targets traditional customers with new smartphone

It wasn’t long ago when BlackBerry confirmed its sales has drastically dropped, however this week the company has gone back to basics as it unveiled its new smartphone with its trademark Qwerty keyboard. Though the BlackBerry will resemble the Bold 9990 design, it will also feature more battery life and a faster browser, all in bid to reignite sales.

 

  Jonathan Wilson Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Oil prices hit new lows as OPEC rejects production limit

Finally some good news for the beleaguered motorist, relentlessly squeezed dry at the petrol pumps for years. With Brent crude oil prices dropping to $60, a five-year low, prices on the nation’s garage forecourts have been tumbling accordingly. There is even serious talk of petrol prices rolling back to 99p a litre. Oil prices have collapsed over the last six months as high-quality, light crude from North America has flooded the market, surpassing demand. Combined with lukewarm global economic growth, the situation resulted in a fuel glut, pushing oil prices down. It’s hard to feel bad for the oil barons of the world, so make the most of the cheap prices before they’re hiked back up again.

Jaguar to develop transparent roof pillars and ‘ghost car’ navigation

Talking of getting out and about in our cars, Jaguar Land Rover this week revealed its latest research projects, which uses transparent roof pillars to make blind spots a thing of the past and a ‘ghost-car’ concept to aid drivers on busy roads. The ‘360 Virtual Urban Windscreen’ is designed to give drivers visibility all around the car, with screens embedded in the surface of each pillar inside the vehicle which take a live video feed from cameras outside. The ‘Follow-Me Ghost Car Navigation’ technology could increase the driver’s attention span and reduce distractions that could lead to accidents, as an image of a vehicle is projected in front of the driver’s car for them to follow, turn by turn, to their destination.

 

  Lorna Sharpe Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Jaguar to develop transparent roof pillars and ‘ghost car’ navigation

I’m fairly small and I have to sit well forward when I’m driving, so the front pillar obscures quite a lot of my view to the right, leaving me moving my head around like Noddy when I’m approaching a roundabout. If Jaguar can succeed in its attempt to overcome this problem (by embedding live-feed video screens in the pillars) it will be a real boon for many people.

Massive battery to help balance UK’s renewable grid

A 10MWh energy storage unit in Bedfordshire has been dubbed ‘Europe’s largest battery’. Distribution network operator UK Power Networks will operate the Smarter Network Storage facility in Leighton Buzzard for two years in technical and commercial trials to discover the best ways of using energy storage.

 

  Dickon Ross Dickon Ross, editor in chief
People question mobile payment security, survey reveals

interesting developments in payment technology this week. A survey for online security company Tripwire found the public really doesn’t trust paying with their mobile phones in stores.

Tap and Pay’ gloves tested by Barclays

Only one per cent felt it was safe to buy things in shops with their mobiles. They may prefer another payment method in development at Barclaycard. Next year you could be paying for your Christmas shopping by glove. The company is trialling ‘payment gloves’, which put contactless payment technology into wearables that will also keep your hands warm.

 

  dominic-lenton Dominic Lenton, managing editor
BlackBerry targets traditional customers with new smartphone

The decision to give the new BlackBerry ‘Classic’ smartphone a proper keyboard has been described as a back to basics move. I’ve always found touch-sensitive screens at phone size a pain to work on but can pound out emails quickly and accurately on a BlackBerry, so am more than happy that one company is sticking with an approach that works perfectly for something that’s meant to be a business tool

Jaguar to develop transparent roof pillars and ‘ghost car’ navigation

Never mind back seat drivers, the ‘Follow-Me Ghost Car Navigation’ Jaguar Land Rover is hoping to put into future vehicles projects an image of another vehicle on the road ahead that the driver can simply follow to their destination. Coupled with screens embedded on interior surfaces that create the illusion of being in an open-top vehicle whatever the weather, it’s the sort of thing Q would have been proud to demonstrate to James Bond not so long ago. Mind you, 007 never had to get the hang of these things with a carful of fractious children on a long motorway journey. “Are we nearly there yet?” “I don’t know, ask the ghost driver in the car in front!”

 

  Tereza Pultarova Tereza Pultarova, online news reporter
Russia may build its own space station to spite the west

Rouble is sinking, the economy outlook for Russia is bleak, but hey – let’s do something to cheer the nation up – like once again building a solely Russian space station. Why? Probably just to show the west that we don’t need them. The ambitious idea was mentioned by Roscosmos chief Oleg Ostapenko in an interview with Russian news agency RIA Novosti. How realistic the prospect is may be hard to tell but the fact is that earlier this year Russia hinted it may not wish to commit to the extension of operations of the International Space Station as envisioned by the USA.

Cheapest way to bleach clouds to fight climate change

Are we really nearing the moment when attempts to fix the climate by various engineering interventions from injecting salt water into clouds to building solar shields in space will be acceptable? We can’t even fix the human body, it seems a bit delusional to think we could be able to fix something as complex as a planetary ecosystem without causing more harm than good along the way.

 

  Laura Onita Laura Onita, online news reporter
Jaguar to develop transparent roof pillars and ‘ghost car’ navigation

Jaguar Land Rover made the headlines this week with its new research project. What’s so great about their concept is that it addresses two big issues drivers are faced with: blind spots and convoluted navigation instructions. The transparent roof pillars let you “see” through the metal, while the “ghost car” projects a virtual vehicle on your windscreen – and all you need to do is follow it to your destination. Can we have the prototype already?

‘Tap and Pay’ gloves tested by Barclays

I was reluctant about Barclays’ announcement of on-the-go payments with gloves, but not so much now. There’s no impending risk of purchasing unwanted items. The warm woollen gloves will have an electronic chip linked to a credit or debit card for convenient instant payments. Similarly to contactless cards, the technology would only permit smaller payments up to £20, without the need to enter a PIN number. Think about it, no need to put those bags down and rummage through your bag.

 

  Rebecca Northfield Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
‘Tap and Pay’ gloves tested by Barclays

Barclaycard has merged wearable and contactless technology together, creating a warm woollen glove equipped with an electronic chip, aiming to make Christmas shopping easier.

The technology only allows payments up to £20, like contactless cards. In my experience of Christmas shopping, I don’t spend small amounts of money. It’s usually a bulk buy of some kind, so there is no way £20 will cover it.

In addition, a recent survey by Tripwire revealed that 99 per cent of respondents are dubious of mobile payment security. If people are wary of that sort of innovation, only time will tell if Barclaycard customers warm to this wearable accessory.

BlackBerry targets traditional customers with new smartphone

I remember BlackBerry in the good old days. I owned three versions altogether; my favourite was the Torch. However, I have been brainwashed to love the iPhone like so many of my fallen comrades.

The Blackberry Torch was incredible to me. It was big, had a slide-up screen and you could choose to use either the trademark Qwerty keyboard or the new touchscreen. Unfortunately, it began to glitch. One day, my Torch decided to give up the ghost for good. Perhaps the technology was too advanced to maintain itself, who knows? This new BlackBerry Classic does not appeal to me. It looks too old school. Now society has adapted to touchscreens, it may be difficult to crack the market.

 

  Vitali Vitaliev Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Do it yourself satellite kit hits the market

This charming news item made me think again about the unstoppable growth of DIY technologies. What next? An assemble-yourself portable nuclear power station kit? That could be a nice Christmas present to any bright schoolkid, or to an SNP member (as a timely reminder of the party’s defeat at the recent referendum). What else? A fully functioning desktop Large Hadron Collider (although to fit onto a desk, the latter will probably have to be renamed Small Hadron Collider, or SHD)? My pre-Christmas imagination is now going wild. A miniature (yet fully operational, no doubt) DIY Arctic icebreaker to be tested at the Somerset House skating rink in London? I’d better stop here before it (my imagination) comes up with something grossly un-PC. There’s just one more thing I want to add: I think the time has come to start calling the century we all inhabit not the age of computers and space exploration, but the epoch of DIY and self-service. I also want to wish the ingenious Glasgow students best of luck with launching their DIY satellite into orbit. And to wish a merry DIY Christmas to all our readers, too.

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