E&T news weekly #43 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday March 27 2015

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Amazon in talks with UK government over drone trials

Amazon’s idea of using drones to deliver goods to customers certainly takes up plenty of column inches in the press and this appeared to take a step closer to reality as the UK transport minister welcomed Amazon’s approach to test their delivery drones in the UK. One problem with all this though, how are the drones supposed to get the package through me letterbox? Let alone try and leave it with a neighbour when I’m inevitably not in.

Hijack-preventing locks allowed derailed pilot to crash Germanwings flight

The latest tragic aircraft disaster had a sinister and terrible twist when analysis of the cockpit voice recorder suggested one of the pilots had crashed the plane on purpose after locking his colleague out of the flight deck. Airlines around the world are responding but implementing rules that require two people to remain in the cockpit at all times in an attempt to avoid such a scenario happening again.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Funding to save Queen Victoria’s high-tech ship

This story caught my eye because I visited HMS Warrior last year. Berthed in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, it/she is an important piece of Britain’s maritime history and her preservation and restoration are important for the education of future generations. Launched in 1860, she was the Royal Navy’s first iron-hulled armoured warship and represented the state of the art at the time – though, in just a few years she was obsolete, her innovative technology rapidly overtaken by further advances. That’s a story we can recognise today.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Air-purification unit for cities cuts pollution by 40 per cent

I do want to see those in London, please – everywhere if possible!

£20m to get UK rid of polluting cabs

Oh yes, I really do dream about the time when taking a deep breath in the middle of London wouldn’t mean inhaling myriad of those tiny particles known as PM10 and PM2.5 which are small enough to penetrate your lungs, accumulate there and cause problems. Thumbs up for the ultra-low-emission taxis and for the ultra-low-emission zone to be established in London by 2018.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Amazon in talks with UK government over drone trials

As an Amazon Prime customer, I do fancy a cute UAV dropping my latest order straight in the middle of my backyard. On the other hand, as someone who (just like a number of my E&T colleagues) lives between London’s two major air hubs – Stansted and Luton – and hence under the flight path of hundreds of planes, I can testify to the fact that, unlike US airspace, the UK’s skies are not simply ‘overregulated’, but massively overcrowded too. Adding hundreds if not thousands of low-flying delivery drones to that already intense air traffic is bound to lead to some serious security problems. All things considered, I would rather wait for a friendly delivery van, or even hike to the nearest post office, than risk being hit on the head not just by my very own parcel, but by the fragments of a drone. So if you ask me, Amazon would be better off testing their delivery UAVs somewhere in the desert around Las Vegasthan around Cambridge as they plan, a mere 30-minute drive from where I live.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Stricter immigration policy ‘could harm the UK in the long run’

As the UK election campaigning shifts up a gear with only six weeks to go, immigration keeps floating to the top of agenda and it’s often the background to many other issues. What does it mean for engineering? Read our exclusive investigation that finds parties rightly keen to promote initiatives to encourage young people into engineering but reluctant to talk about measures to encourage more emigrant engineers into the UK skills gap.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Sunbathers to avoid sunburns with colour-changing bracelet

Being red of hair and concomitantly fair of skin, the idea of wearing a strip of plastic as a wristband which changes colour just before exposure to too much UV light seems like a summer holiday godsend to me. Now all I need is a body sensor that warns me when my ice-cream/Flake levels are getting low and it’s time for another 99.

Yahoo could put more emotion into emails with personal sensors

Yahoo Mail, one of the world’s most popular email services, could use the sensors in smartphones to convey the feelings of the sender and specific details about the world around them. Smartwatches might constrict to indicate stress or smartphones could go cold if someone emails from a chilly place. So, no more telling the wife that you’re working late, when in actual fact you’re sinking a few at The Red Lion and chatting up the barmaid.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Government has ‘no convincing case’ for HS2 rail

The HS2 rail link between London and the North is a classic example of how engineering aspects of big infrastructure projects – and at £50bn this will be one of the UK’s most expensive – are so often outweighed by political considerations. A House of Lords committee has poured cold water on government plans with a report claiming that the capital is likely to be the main beneficiary and that a proper assessment of whether alternative ways of increasing capacity could be a better option. Of course, everything’s now up in the air until after the general election, but the wisdom of spending so much on a single project of debatable value is a good point for voters to raise with candidates even if they won’t be directly affected.

Yahoo could put more emotion into emails with personal sensors

You won’t have to worry about expressing your feelings clearly by thinking carefully about what you’re writing in the future, the head of Yahoo’s mail service has said, the device you’re sending a message to will do it for you. A phone could get hotter or colder, a smartwatch could tighten its grip, all to help messaging “get more intimate”. The sentiment behind email and text messages can be misunderstood, but investing in a dictionary or thesaurus would be a cheaper way of saying what you mean.

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