E&T news weekly #40 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday March 6 2015

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Ford launches smart electric bike

The idea of having a folding electric bike stored in the boot of your car in case you get stuck in heavy traffic seems a bit pointless to me. Given that most traffic queues occur in urban areas surely the most sensible thing to do is to make your entire journey by bike and get fit and healthy at the same time. I do like Ford’s idea to make the bike vibrate to alert you when a car is directly behind you as this can be a real danger when cycling.

Online tool to measure UK General Election pulse

While I certainly agree that social media is going to play a huge part in the outcome of the UK’s general election this May, I question whether a party’s popularity on Facebook or Twitter realistically represents the number of votes it’s likely to win. I mean, I follow Piers Morgan on Twitter but does that mean I like him or his views? Certainly not!

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Time-space technology shows effect of ‘massive switch’ to electric cars

Researchers from the DATA SIM EU-wide project coupled data from GSM and GPS to predict what would happen if large numbers of people start to drive electric vehicles. The research analysed the effect on mobility and electricity distribution networks in a scenario where electric cars would be in mass production and driven by everyone. It’s going to happen, people.

Ford launches smart electric bike

However cars of the future are propelled – petrol, diesel, LPG, electric, methane, solar – one thing is as certain as death and taxes: traffic jams will only get worse as the world’s population continues to grow. With this in mind, automotive manufacturing giant Ford announced the ModeMe smart electric bike at MWC 2015 this week. While the driver travels toward his or her destination, the ModeMe iPhone app evaluates available traffic data for the road ahead and instructs the driver when and where to stop the car, take the electric bike from the boot and continue the journey by cycling.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
More than half of London’s Wi-Fi hotspots poorly protected

Cybersecurity firm Avast tested Wi-Fi hotspots in nine cities, with London scoring the worst of the three European cities examined. Users connecting to London’s public Wi-Fi hotspots are at risk as the company claims the protection is weak and hackable by ‘every IT college student’. The problem stems from many public routers being unsecured or using weak or default passwords, enabling hackers to access private data.

Touch-sensitive skin sensors to operate mobile devices

Imagine using any part of your body to answer your smartphone? Well, scientists from Saarland University are working towards creating silicone rubber stickers embedded with sensors, dubbed iSkin, which can be stuck anywhere on the body and will be able to control mobile devices. At present, the stickers require a cable to a computer to work, but in the future the scientists aim to embed wireless methods.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Cargo ship powered by wind and gas

Are tankers set to go back to the golden age of sailing ships? Using the ship itself as the sail, it might need to take roundabout routes and carefully plan how it will stop – perhaps by turning into the wind at the right moment?

Ford launches smart electric bike

You’ve left early in your new Ford car to make that important breakfast meeting when you hit a traffic jam. What to do? No problem, open the boot and out comes your folding electric bike. And then off you go, whizzing between all those stuck cars. Ha ha! See you, suckers! Just as soon as you’ve found a free parking space…

Fully digital radio transmitter could be turnkey solution for IoT

The world’s first all-digital radio transmitter from Cambridge Consultants – just another step towards the Internet of Things and its 50 billion connected devices – or 100 billion depending on which forecast you choose to believe.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Online tool to measure UK General Election pulse

Reaction to this week’s furore over who’s going to ‘debate’ whom has suggested that the great British public is already suffering pre-election fatigue before the campaign proper has even begun. BirdSong’s web tool, which will assess the various parties’ popularity by analysing social media traffic won’t be the only application of this sort of technology, but if it’s engaging enough to persuade more people to look at policies and consider voting that has to be a good thing.

Wireless phone-charging furniture unveiled

You know that wireless charging has really hit the mainstream when Ikea brings out a collection of tables and desks that will top your device up. Forget having cables lying around and remembering to plug your phone in. The idea is that you’ll just have to get in the habit of leaving it in the same place at the end of the day – which most of us probably do anyway – and let the furniture take care of the rest.

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, news reporter
Darwinian evolution to help develop human-like brains

Over the past decades engineers have tried to achieve machine intelligence that rivals human performance, but without quite getting there. A new team of researchers in the US are working on evolving robots whose brains develop at the same speed as people’s and begin their life as naïve as infants. All of a sudden, robots – but humanised – seem less of a threat as they make their way into our lives.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
People fail to see robots as alternative to care for the old

Well, what can I say? As someone who had to care for my dying mother for nearly five years, most of which she spent in a very good care home in Australia (of the kind we don’t have here in the UK), I can assert with certainty that robots would never be able to replace the outstanding nurses and carers who had made my mother’s last years less painful. Robotics has progressed enormously, no doubt, but in palliative care nothing works better than a warm human touch.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology editor
People fail to see robots as alternative to care for the old

Robots are becoming more and more present in our lives, but are we willing to live side by side with them? A recent survey has shown that many elderly people are simply not ready yet to accept assistance from a robot, even as cute-looking as recently developed Robear. But it looks like there’s no choice, really – technology keeps moving at fast pace, robots are becoming more and more useful in the industry and healthcare, and there are simply more and more of them, pervading nearly every area of our lives. So sooner or later, humans will have to adapt. And then, it will be the matter of making sure that robots comply with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, or at the very least with the first one: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”

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