E&T news weekly 36 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday February 6 2015

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Lost part of UK’s pioneering computer found

News of how collectable vintage computers have become, with an Apple 1 selling at auction recently for nearly a quarter of a million pounds, may not have filtered through to people who should be scouring their attics. Following the announcement that an original part of one of the world’s first computers, EDSAC, had been discovered in the US, it’s been claimed that others sold off when the machine was decommissioned in the 1950s could be lying undisturbed in Cambridge lofts, sheds and garages. Even if, like the one that’s been located, they’re “quite distressed with corrosion and much of the wiring broken away” they could still be useful for reconstruction projects.

Turing’s notes found in Bletchley Park hut roof

More evidence of how things that seemed ephemeral at the time have become significant as paperwork used by Alan Turing at Bletchley Park has been discovered during restoration work on the building where it had been used as roof insulation. The arrival of the digital age and the paperless office mean future generations won’t be stumbling across anything similar from today that a click on a delete button has consigned to history.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, online news reporter
Hospitals test Apple’s health tech to improve care

Apple is the first of the big tech companies pushing forward with healthcare technology that provides doctors with the opportunity to remotely monitor their patients. Allegedly a response to the US government’s Affordable Care Act, the technology should allow doctors to provide patients with better care, focusing on maintaining their health instead of just cashing fees for costly procedures. Google and Samsung are already fine-tuning their own services. Let’s hope the projects won’t turn into just another ruthless money-making venture, selling the most personal of people’s data to companies eager to force the ill into purchasing their products.

East Africa’s first large-scale solar plant online

What better way forward for Africa then solar energy? If there is something the continent doesn’t have a shortage of, then Sun could certainly be it.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Tackling emissions and cyber threat priorities of Obama’s budget

After a number of high-profile cyber-security issues over the last few months it’s no surprise that President Obama has allocated $14bn in his 2016 budget. This is a 12 per cent increase in spending that will cover federal and private networks – good news for companies after the Sony hack scandal last year. $4bn of the budget will also go towards green energy in the US as which reflects Obama’s promise to make climate change a top priority for his final years in office.

BMW cars found at risk of being unlocked by hackers

The days of a car thief using a coat hanger to pop open the lock and hotwire the engine to steal a car are long gone, but thieves exploiting weaknesses in the security systems of high-performance cars and making easy getaways has been in the news a lot over the past year. It’s good to hear that BMW have fixed the issue and I hope they can stay one step ahead of criminals in the future.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, assistant features technology editor
New app could diagnose skin cancer

There are many apps in the market that help patients monitor their health and fitness levels. However medical and software experts have joined together to develop a new app to help healthcare professionals diagnose cancerous skin lesions using their smartphone. The app, Lūbax, aims to improve melanoma detection by relying on image-recognition software which can identity skin lesions through its database filled with 12,000 diagnosed skin lesions images.

Millions of records stolen from US health insurer Anthem after cyber-attack

Cyber-crime is showing no sign of slowing down as the US’s second-largest health insurer, Anthem, was attacked this week. The company revealed personal data, such as names, addresses and phone numbers of up to 80 million customers were stolen, but there is no evidence credit card or medical details were taken. Anthem has now hired cybersecurity firm Mandaint to analyse the flaws in its system and to find a solution.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
New app could diagnose skin cancer

This new app that could diagnose skin cancer is definitely a good move. In my experience, people who suffered from cancer of any kind often had to wait for the GPs to make appointments, get test results and book scans, which was often a very lengthy process. The time it would take to get a decent diagnosis could take weeks. Weeks that could be spent treating the disease, and improving life expectancy. The app is called Lūbax. By using image-recognition software, it has the potential to identify many types of skin lesions that could be a sign of skin cancer.If Lūbax improves melanoma detection, this could address cancer globally, and help so many more people get the diagnosis and treatment they need more efficiently. The app is free and will be available on the iPhone for medical practitioners in the US, UK and Australia.

Superfast octopus robot inspired by nature

There’s been a lot of hype with drones in the skies; Christmas being the time when there was a huge surge in purchases for gifts. This in turn led to disruption with airports, as people wanted to test their presents in ‘no-fly’ zones. Since conquering the skies – their use in the military seems to be the most worthwhile to me – they are now conquering the water, with the use of an experimental 3D-printed octopus-like robot to show how to make underwater drones faster. The robot has been developed by the Southampton University researchers and a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Using nature as inspiration seems to be the best way to go when it comes to advancing our technology, what with the android ‘dolphins’ I fondly remember from last year, which gave us clues to the Antarctic melt.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Superfast octopus robot inspired by nature

Sometimes the headline is all you need. Who could resist a story like this? An experimental 3D-printed octopus-like robot developed jointly by British and American scientists has demonstrated how to make underwater drones faster. The robot, inspired by the ability of cephalopods to move rapidly by expelling water from inside their bodies, can accelerate at a speed equivalent to a Mini Cooper car carrying a 350kg load going from 0 to 60mph in less than one second. That’s one zippy robot octopus.

Turing’s notes found in Bletchley Park hut roof

An endearingly British story, wherein some of Alan Turing’s top secret documents that were used to break the Nazi’s Enigma Code have been found scrunched up in the roof of Hut 6 during a restoration at Bletchley Park. Apparently, having served their historically significant mathematical purpose, they were then pragmatically deployed to block draughty holes in the primitive hut walls and help keep the boffins toasty. That really is the Dunkirk spirit that won the war.

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, news reporter
Drug-delivery pioneer wins top engineering prize

This year the £1m Queen Elizabeth Prize, dubbed the ‘Nobel for engineering’, went to Professor Robert Langer, known for his pioneering work in drug-delivery systems, tissue building and microchip implants. “Why is what you’re doing engineering?” a journalist asked Langer at the press conference, while we had a comment on Twitter this week from a user suggesting that Langer might be a better fit for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Although some said he wasn’t an obvious winner, Langer is undoubtedly responsible for a ground-breaking innovation that benefited more than more than 10 million patients, and all by bridging the gap between biomedical science and engineering. It’s the cross-pollination of mechanisms the he used in his research that make him the worthy winner without a shadow of a doubt.

New standards to prevent future aircraft disappearance

The United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization has endorsed a new standard for tracking of commercial aircraft in a bid to prevent another MH370 scenario. It’s a welcome and important victory for the aerospace industry, even though a little too late. The decision is a response to a string of deadly plane crashes – that in some instances seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth, forcing rescue teams into lengthy and costly search operations.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
First planetarium in the UK to go 3D

This story is a coveted piece of good news. I have been a planetarium enthusiast since childhood. In my native city of Kharkiv, there was an excellent small planetarium, opened in 1961 by Yuri Gagarin, the world’s first astronaut, himself, and as a kid I used to spend countless hours there exploring the night sky or just watching space-exploration documentaries, projected onto the large panoramic screen inside the dome. Sometimes, they showed cartoons there too. In short, for me – and for many other Soviet kids of my generation – the planetarium was a temple of learning and fun bordering on magic. Now you will understand why I was so thrilled to visit La Coupole 3D planetarium in Northern France during a press trip last November. Located in a former Nazi bunker, from where V2 rockets were supposed to be launched, it was, as I was told, the only 3D planetarium in Europe at the time. Now we have another one in Bristol. I am sure it will become one of the city’s most popular attractions – a source of knowledge and joy for both kids and adults.

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