E&T news weekly 34 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday January 23 2015

  Jonathan WilsonJonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Solar Impulse readies for round-the-world trip

Details of the ambitious trip were unveiled this week by Solar Impulse founders and pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg. Crossing two oceans and four continents during its 35,000km journey, the elegant, dragonfly-esque, single-seater plane will take off from Abu Dhabi and make stops in multiple cities around the world including Muscat in Oman, Varanasi and Ahmedabad in India, Chongqing and Nanjing in China, and Phoenix, Arizona in the US. It will also stop in Europe and North Africa.

Street lamp fully powered by wind and sun

On a smaller solar scale, although with equally seismic ramifications in its sector, sustainable street lamps have been developed by Spanish researchers. The world’s first street lamps powered solely by solar and wind energy are set to appear along, appropriately enough, the Costa del Sol. The 10m-high street lamps, the result of four years of development, are fitted with a solar panel and a wind turbine and are 20 per cent cheaper than conventional lighting, the researchers say.


  Aasha BodhaniAasha Bodhani, assistant technology features editor
Warning by spending watchdog over forensic science market

The National Audit Office has claimed there is an increase in police forces internally commissioning forensic experts, which can ‘undermine’ specialist forensic science companies. As police labs begin to use their own unregulated experts, the NAO claims they are operating cheaply and not meeting accreditation standards.

Smart grids help India battle energy theft

India is planning to combat electricity theft, a loss of $1.6bn a year, by investing billions of dollars into smart grid development. Northeast Group suggests India ‘loses more money to theft than any other country in the world’ and as India’s electricity demands grow, the company has planned dozens of projects over a ten year period, with spending reaching $21.6bn.


  dominic-lentonDominic Lenton, managing editor
Refusal recommended for Cuadrilla Lancashire fracking

Whatever the decision about whether Cuadrilla’s plans to explore potential shale gas sites, someone’s going to be unhappy and lawyers at least stand to make some money. Planning officials say permission should be declined, councillors haven’t yet made a formal decision, and the Environment Agency has granted environmental permits for one site. There’s no shortage of opposition, and when the announcement comes it’s unlikely either side will give up and go away.

New biometric solution analyses touchscreen habits

A new take on biometrics from SecuredTouch, which  claims to have done away with all the hassle of remembering passwords by equipping mobile devices with technology that identifies unique user characteristics based largely on touch. Just make sure you don’t plan to do any online banking after a drink or two when you might not be as accurate with your typing and swiping as usual.


  Alex KalinaukasAlex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Google Glass sales come to a halt

The news that Google was to stop selling its much vaunted Glass smart eyewear was a shock for many in the technology industry. After years of talk surrounding what was considered one of the leading products in the emerging wearable tech market, Glass went on sale to developers via Google’s Explorer research programme for around £1,000 in the UK last summer. But problems around privacy, image, battery life and consumer understanding of what Glass actually did undermined the project. Google insists that Glass will continue to be developed but it appears that unless substantial changes are made to entice consumers and app developers to embrace the concept it is unlikely Glass will be making a return to shop shelves.

Beagle 2 found on Mars but antenna blocked by solar panel

The loss of Beagle 2 was a mystery that had puzzled space exploration scientists for over 11 years. Now that mystery has been solved thanks to high-resolution images taken by Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which show the probe apparently intact but with two of its solar panels not unfurled. This consequently blocked any communication signals. It has been speculated that Beagle 2 sustained damage as it landed on the surface of Mars leaving its developers pleased to have discovered its fate but frustrated at having failed when they came so close to success.


  Lorna SharpeLorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Solar Impulse readies for round-the-world trip

It was in 2008 that E&T first wrote about this pioneering project to fly a manned solar-powered aircraft around the world, staying aloft even during the hours of darkness. The following year I saw the first demonstrator aircraft unveiled in Switzerland and now the full-scale version is ready to begin its epic journey. We wish it well. As I explained more than six years ago, Solar Impulse is far more than a bold adventure for its pilots, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg. It’s intended to show the world that we can do the things we want to do (like passenger flight) without using fossil fuels, if we are only willing to take the first steps.

Airport technology to cut flight delays

Just like other transport modes, air traffic can suffer from congestion around busy hubs. This British project has seen the Transport Systems Catapult collaborate with NATS to collect departure information and share it with European air traffic control centres so the flow can be managed better. Early studies indicate that it can achieve real savings in fuel consumption and associated pollution as well as the hypothetical costs of passengers’ time when flights are delayed.


  Tereza PultarovaTereza Pultarova, online news reporter
Air Asia crash calls for emergency locator improvements

The tragic December crash of Air Asia flight QZ85021 marked the third instance of a major aviation disaster occurring above open ocean in the past five years where technology designed to locate the crash site in real time failed. Instead of immediately dispatching help to increase chances for possible survivors (no matter how low the probability there were any), the rescue teams were left frantically searching for the missing jet. However, the aviation community seems to be taking the matter seriously and is discussing how to redesign the Emergency Locator Transmitters (part of every commercial aircraft) to prevent another MH370 scenario in the future.

Solar Impulse readies for round-the-world trip

The world’s first fully solar powered aircraft will take to the sky in late February to embark on a round-the-world journey. We keep our fingers crossed for Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg and hope to see the plane making at least one stop in Europe during the ambitious venture.


Vitali VitalievVitali Vitaliev, features editor
Government investment of £1.1m for engineering jobs

This government announcement is very time, for it was only last week that trade body Engineering UK published a rather worrying statistics about the chronic shortage of engineering skills in the UK. According to the Report, engineering profession is short of 55,000 apprentices and 182,000 workers. Had the above targets been met, the economy would have grown by £27 billion a year. At the same time, “Science” magazine published a study concluding that women keep being put off from becoming scientists and engineers by the persisting “grubby boys club” image of these professions, and only 2 percent of parents want their daughter to become an engineer.  Well, what can I say? “Nothing is new under the sun” – pace Ecclesiastes.

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