E&T news weekly #41 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday March 13 2015

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
2014 surprisingly safest year in aviation history

Yes, you read that right! Though missing aeroplanes and fatal aviation tragedies dominated headlines in 2014, the International Air Transport Association revealed the year to be a success as flying continues to improve in safety performance. Though Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was not included in the statistics, IATA’s director general Tony Tyler explained there was still a reduction in accidents compared to 2013.

Government fleet goes green with 140 plug-in cars

Government officials plan to go green, as part of a £5 million investment in low-emission technologies they say will also save the taxpayer money. The idea, which is part of the Ultra Low Emission Vehicles investment, includes 140 plug-in cars and vans to transport government officials and equipment and extend further to councils, police forces and the NHS. The automotive sector, which is worth £11 billion to the economy, sees ULEVs as a major area of development to promote economic and environmental benefits.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Apple Watch finally unveiled at special event

In science fiction, talking to a communicator looks normal. It doesn’t in the real world. Nobody is going to compose a painstakingly long and vital email by talking to their wrist for fear of looking ridiculous. It’s the Google ‘glassholes’ all over again. The Apple Watch does look great and I’m sure legions of Apple addicts, sorry consumers, will flock to buy it but personally I can’t see why you would fork out more cash for apps your phone can already do. Plus I’d live in constant fear of smashing it.

New Intercity trains arrive

As someone eternally plagued and frustrated by train delays and issues this news is music to my ears. The Intercity 125 trains the new Hitachi 800 series are designed to replace may be legendary but they are woefully outdated. The new trains are a boost to passengers who pay exorbitant ticket prices as they should increase capacity and get you to your destination faster. Finally.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Smartphone app for flatulence analysis envisioned by researchers

Did I read that right? A smartphone app for farts? Now there’s something for everything. Researchers from RMIT University and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia developed a tiny capsule you can swallow which analyses your intestinal gases, sending the data to your smartphone. To be honest, it does have great potential benefits. It could possibly diagnose cancers of the bowel, irritable bowel syndrome, and other bowel-related problems. I read last week how a young mother died due to a late-diagnosis of bowel cancer. Doctors had misdiagnosed her with irritable bowel syndrome, and it turns out after a couple of years, the symptoms weren’t manageable. After more tests, it was revealed her bowel cancer had spread to other organs, and there was no way to save her. If this capsule goes ahead, so many people could be saved from misdiagnosis, or death.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Fee-free degree apprenticeships in engineering up for grabs

Opportunities for young people to study for a degree with no fees and a guarantee of paid work in the holidays might sound too good to be true, but increasing numbers of apprenticeships are offering just that. Not in any subject though; the popular schemes are designed to address shortages in key areas like engineering. The challenge now is to convince parents and teachers that this is a viable alternative to a full-time degree.

Best engineering schools still in the US

The British ‘golden triangle’ of London, Cambridge and Oxford may have cemented its position at the top of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for engineering and technology, but America remains the dominant force. MIT, Stanford, Caltech and Princeton take the top four positions – with UK political parties’ positions on tuition fees likely to be an important factor for first-time voters in the May general election, it would be interesting to compare the cost of studying at an elite British university with one of its US counterparts, even at the current rate of £9000 a year.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Smartphone app for flatulence analysis envisioned by researchers

Swallow a capsule and your phone will tell you how your gut is. Just wondering whether the capsule would be for one use only.

2014 surprisingly safest year in aviation history

2014 certainly entered aviation history books. 2014 was the year that produced the greatest aviation mystery and the most costly search of all time – that for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. It was also the year that saw the unprecedented tragedy when a packed passenger plane was shot down over war-torn Ukraine, scattering corpses across the fields. Quite unbelievably, the plane was operated by the same operator and was the exact same type as MH370. Now we learn, to our surprise, that although aviation disasters were making headlines more often than we would wish, 2014 was also, by some measures, the safest year since mankind took to the sky…. Certainly good news for every panicky flyer.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Apple Watch finally unveiled at special event

It’s a sign of these warped times when the presentation of a new digital watch makes the national news and sets the world a-twitter. That said, Apple does have a unique knack for (a) designing and engineering beautiful things and (b) dangling them hypnotically before the world’s eyes, driving folk to a degree of distraction that can only be sated by purchase of said things. For these two reasons alone, the Apple Watch will be an enormous success.

National Apprenticeship Week promises new positions

As National Apprenticeship Week draws to a close, it is heartening to reflect that there have been many success stories about major companies such as Bentley taking on an increasing number of apprentices. In difficult economic times, it is refreshing to hear good news about young people getting in to work and forging new career paths. Look out for our podcast, available on the E&T web site next week, in which we talk to an apprentice, Charles Marshall, and his employer, GE Precision Engineering, about the mutual benefits of joining an apprenticeship scheme.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
New Intercity trains arrive

As a frequent train traveller between the South East and Edinburgh, where some of my family resides, I will be waiting for the arriving of the new British-Japanese rolling stock to the former East Coast, now Virgin, line with impatience. Yet another change of the franchise is good news, or so I would like to hope. Whatever it is going to be like, the services cannot possibly be worse than those of the outgoing East Coast where delays, cancellations and sudden changes of itineraries had become the norm, and I would get a surprise when a journey to or from Edinburgh ran more or less smoothly and I arrived at my destination with only a minor delay (trying to forget the crowded carriages, dirty toilets and chronically malfunctioning air-conditioning and/or heating). But that did not happen often. Here I have to say that East Coast were always good with reimbursements and would normally quite willingly repay the costs of a disastrous journey with vouchers for another – potentially even more disruptive – one. Even today I’ve been corresponding with East Coast (now Virgin) officials who have somehow managed to lose my 500 ‘reward points’ which simply disappeared from my East Coast (now Virgin) online account without a trace. On the other hand, a couple of weeks ago, they promptly agreed to reimburse £15 for an incorrectly (due to the problems with their website) issued electronic ticket, having probably calculated that reimbursing passengers is easier than introducing real improvements in their services. Well, enough ranting. An optimist by nature, I do hope that with the Japanese-built carriages, the train service along the east coast of Britain will acquire at least a touch of Japanese efficiency, punctuality and cleanliness. Amen!

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