E&T news weekly #32 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday January 9 2015

Vitali VitalievVitali Vitaliev, features editor
Autonomous vehicles from Mercedes, BMW and Audi debut at CES

I hope they will test autonomous cars away from busy city streets, preferably in the desert, where they will only be surrounded by other driverless vehicles. Otherwise, I can imagine the shock some (flesh-and-blood human) drivers will feel when overtaken, cut off or tail-gated by a ghost-driven car, with nothing but emptiness behind the wheel. Humans can be unpredictable when shocked, and sudden accidental braking or accelerating may follow – with catastrophic (in the true sense of this word) results. Call me a pessimist, but I’ll make sure I refrain from driving in Greenwich next May. Just to be on the safe side, you know.

Cities across Europe to become climate-smart

It’s appropriate to mention here the story of the pioneering Lyon Confluence city regeneration project, covered by E&T last year. As part of Europe’s biggest urban development scheme, a number of positive-energy buildings (PEBs) are being constructed in the historic city centre. These buildings will have three sources of renewable energy production: photovoltaic elements on the roofs and facades, a geothermal energy system, and a co-generation power plant fuelled by locally produced rapeseed oil. As a result, they will produce more energy than they consume, making La Confluence the first fully sustainable neighbourhood in France and one of the first in Europe.

Bitcoin exchange suspends service amid security breach

“Security is our main concern,” they kept telling me at the Bitcoin Embassy in Montreal which I visited last January. As we see, the Embassy employees’ concerns proved justified: the new crypto-currency had experienced a number of security breaches and setbacks in 2014. The reason for such vulnerability is simple: with all the intricacies involved, hacking an Internet site is still much easier – and safer – that holding up a High Street bank branch.

  Aasha BodhaniAasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor
Headband to spot fatigue and wake up drivers

As wearable technology continues to grow, Impecca has designed a wearable solution to combat tiredness whilst driving. Dubbed the Alert Band, It works by analysing brainwaves via Bluetooth – when it sees the driver is dozing off, it will send a notification to the driver’s smartphone three minutes before, where an alarm will be triggered off.

Samsung’s plea for ‘Internet of Things’ collaboration

The Consumer Electronics Show kicked off this week and one of the hot topics will be around the Internet of Things, which means objects that can be controlled remotely, such as fridges, alarm systems and health monitoring devices.  Though it is already here, Samsung has warned more electronic firms must collaborate and share information openly to make the IoT a success.

  Jonathan WilsonJonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Headband to spot fatigue and wake up drivers

Reading the late John Peel’s autobiography recently, I learned that when he was driving home from DJ gigs late at night, he would keep one arm in the air so that if he accidentally dozed off his arm would fall down and wake him up. Now 2015 brings sleepy drivers a more practical solution in the form of Impecca’s Alert Band. This wearable technology headband measures the driver’s fatigue levels and sends real-time notifications and alarms to the driver’s smartphone, family and friends approximately three minutes before the driver is likely to doze off.

In-car personal sound zones

If wearable headbands sound too much like a meeting of the Mark Knopfler Appreciation Society to you, perhaps Harman’s Individual Sound Zones technology is more up your alley. Putting an end to the age-old passenger debate about who gets to put their music on first, the ISZ concept is intended to isolate sound and reduce noise clutter in a shared vehicle, allowing people to be more selective about what they can hear. Perhaps sleepy drivers could pump up the volume in their own sound zone or put on something suitably up tempo or discordant to keep their mind alert.

  dominic-lentonDominic Lenton, managing editor
Concerns over data collection by smart gadgets

There are plenty of good reasons to share personal data about things like location; lots of technology that makes life easier relies on users sacrificing a certain amount of their privacy. What we often forget though is that once handed over, it’s usually impossible to be certain this information has been deleted. Now the chair of the US Federal Trade Commission has used the annual gathering of the world consumer tech industry at CES in Las Vegas to warn that the deeply personal profile that can be created by gathering together data from a range of sources poses a significant threat to privacy. Whether or not companies will pay any attention to his call for them to retain less data, they can at least make it easier for users to opt out if they wish and ensure the whole process is more transparent.

Ejectable black boxes back in the spotlight

I can’t be the only person slightly mystified by the apparent difficulty in recovering flight data recorders that has been evident from recent aircraft crashes. Now a requirement for commercial airliners to be equipped with detachable black boxes that float in water rather than sinking is back on the agenda after being on hold for years. Obviously there’s more to this than might at first appear, but can it really be so hard to implement?

  Laura OnitaLaura Onita, online news reporter
Headband to spot fatigue and wake up drivers

With so many accidents caused by driver fatigue, we need the wearable headband that keeps you from falling asleep at the wheel. The Alert Band monitors and analyses brainwaves via Bluetooth, which sends real-time notifications and alarms to the driver’s smartphone, family and friends, approximately three minutes before the driver begins to doze off.

SpaceX to attempt rocket landing on sea-barge

This week California’s SpaceX will try to land part of its Falcon 9 rocket on a platform in the Atlantic. If everything goes to plan, some of the routinely discarded and destroyed components of a rocket could be reused. Although the success rate is at 50 per cent, it could forge the way to a revolution in space travel that could cut costs considerably.

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