E&T news weekly #48 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday May 1 2015

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Power-hungry New York shamed; Tokyo leads in sustainability

Fascinating analysis of the key differences in cities of comparable size and how each one tackles the same basic infrastructure issues, with varying degrees of ecological success. There’s really no baseline difference between the megacitiy metropolises, no major geographical or cultural issues. Success or failure is by and large simply down to sensible, selfless town planning, tackling the key issues with a long-term vision and laying down policies intended to span decades, not just one parliament term. Your principal takeaway from this story: Tokyo rules.

Combat vehicle equipped with F1 tech breaks speed record

This looks quite the larf: a 35-tonne Combat Vehicle 90 (CV90) equipped with an active-damping system derived from same the system used in Formula One racing cars and thus now capable of powering across battle terrain up to 40 per cent faster than its predecessor. Psychological gains often prove crucial in the heat of battle and it seems certain that the enemy seeing this thing tearing towards them at previously unimaginable speeds would put the wind up them something chronic.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
‘Safest bike ever’ designed by UK inventor

Son of Sir Clive Sinclair set about making a safer bicycle and he produced this recliner which looks like a C5 for the 21st century. As a city cyclist, I would be nervous about being strapped into a seat that low and near the ground.

Engineering jobs growth fastest since recession

Engineer salaries have now recovered to levels before the economic crash as the engineering job market is growing again but IT salaries still have some way to go.

Researchers propose body WiFi for the wearable technology age

How wearables could network together in the future to make a wireless network around the human body dubbed Body Fi or Wi-Bo. It needs a hub somewhere on the body, says Generator Research.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
EmoShape’s emotion engine to give gadgets personality

With the latest in the long-running Terminator movie franchise out this summer, it’s tempting to think that humans labouring under a robot tyranny in the not too distant future have found a less arduous alternative to sending a succession of people back in time to prevent the machines taking over. EmoShape’s EPU, or Emotional Processing Unit, is incorporated in hardware and is claimed to learn how you’re feeling from how you respond to the media content it picks to play for you. Could be brilliant, but if it doesn’t work would be one of the most annoying bits of tech to hit the home and prompt mass trashing of hardware before it has a chance to get the upper hand.

Automated eCall system to be mandatory in vehicles by 2018

European influence on national legislation has been a big issue in the run up to next week’s general election. Whatever you think – and however it influences your vote – regulations that require all new cars and vans to be equipped with a device that automatically alerts emergency services in the event of an accident sounds like it can only be a good thing. The EU estimates it could reduce fatalities by up to 10 per cent, a significant figure when you remember that just over 25,000 people were killed in car crashes across Europe last year.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Power-hungry New York shamed; Tokyo leads in sustainability

Megacities around the world house about 6.7 per cent of the global population, yet they consume a disproportionate 9.3 per cent of global electricity and produce 12.6 per cent of global waste. It is at least encouraging to see that if they try, some megacities can be much less power hungry than others. According to a new study by Toronto University researchers, the sustainability Oscar goes to Tokyo, which with a population about one third larger than New York consumes an equivalent of one oil supertanker less every day and a half than the American megapolis.

Audi’s water-based green diesel provides alternative to electromobility

Switching to electromobiles or fuel-cell powered cars may be costly. But what if you could go green with your existing combustion engine vehicle? German premium car-maker Audi says you could – with its new green diesel made from water, carbon dioxide, renewable energy and nothing else.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Automated eCall system to be mandatory in vehicles by 2018

Anyone following the eCall saga will know that it’s an EU system for automatically alerting emergency services when a car is involved in an accident severe enough to activate the airbags. Progress has been distinctly slow (I was reporting on the topic back in 2009), but the European Parliament’s latest vote completes the legislative process, so car and van manufacturers now have three years to incorporate emergency call devices into their new models. Member states have a shorter deadline for implementing the means to process eCalls, which will carry a defined set of data to help emergency services find the vehicle quickly even if the driver is unconscious.

Exploding Li-ion batteries analysed to identify cause

This is a fascinating piece of collaborative research with important commercial implications. Overheating has been a known problem with lithium-ion batteries for many years, sometimes leading to fires and even explosions, though the risks can be mitigated through careful physical design and sophisticated power management. Now scientists have used advanced imaging technologies to capture just what’s happening and how damage spreads within and around the battery at very high temperatures. That should be valuable information for anyone trying to develop safer designs in future.

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, news reporter
New techniques to advance ‘4D printing’

We’ve seen and heard a lot in the past couple of years about 3D printing and the way it could revolutionise our lives – printing new blood vessels, drugs etc. But is it too soon to talk about 4D printing, and what is in fact 4D printing? Australian researchers don’t think so and say that although there are no 4D printers, 4D printing is a process. “We use 3D printers to print 3D objects, which then transform into a different shape; very similar to what a child’s Transformer toy does,” they said. And that’s how they’ve started to develop techniques for 4D printing after having devised an autonomous valve.

Researchers propose body Wi-Fi for the wearable technology age

When Wi-Fi was first introduced on a large-scale more than a decade ago it triggered a mania unseen since the days of the internet boom, and maybe, just maybe, Body Fi will do that too. Wearables are arguably the next big thing – alongside IoT, 5G etc. – so a researcher suggested that a completely new wireless standard might be needed to provide connectivity in the age of wearables. Instead of connecting each of these devices separately to a wireless network, he proposed to connect them to a single controlling device that could act as an interface for the rest of the body network, most probably our smartphones.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Formula One device to help save energy in supermarkets

I must admit, as an avid Formula 1 fan, to being rather amused when the press release regarding this story landed in my inbox – and I was smiling even more when it mentioned “cold aisle syndrome”. But it’s good to see that Williams Advanced Engineering is finding ways to use their expertise and resources to generate income – something that’s very difficult to do in the current state of F1 – and it helps us stay a little warmer as we shop, that’s even better.

‘Safest bike ever’ designed by UK inventor

The headline to this story certainly pulled me in and I applaud the efforts of Crispin Sinclair to invent a safer alternative for cyclists. However, there are several reasons why I can’t see this taking off – at least not on a wide scale. Firstly, it’s not exactly good looking – a problem that will be very hard to overcome in the often po-faced society many of my fellow cyclists seem to exist in. Secondly, despite the accompanying video demonstration, I’m not sure how useful this safety cell will be in the event of a high-speed collision with a HGV. And finally, I feel that efforts need to be more focused on improving standards of all road users, better infrastructure in big cities and a calming of the war that seems to exist in the minds of many drivers and cyclists alike.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Apple Watch sensors trigger ‘tattoogate’ on inked wrists

Well, this is unfortunate. Users of the Apple Watch have started to complain because the device gets confused if the owner is heavily tattooed on the wrist. Using the hashtag #tattoogate, people have said that some functions don’t work properly with tattooed skin. Some of the issues include failures of the locking system and heart-rate readings, which are reported to differ on areas of non-tattooed and tattooed skin. Some people were also repeatedly asked for the passcode if they had decorated wrists. Weird. The website says that tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it harder to get reliable readings. Apparently, only darker tattoos are the issue here. Now that modern society tends to embrace tattoos rather than see them as a taboo, Apple had better start sorting this out; otherwise they’re probably going to lose a lot of custom.

Objects vanish with real-life invisibility cloak

An invisibility cloak exists. The magic of Harry Potter has come alive. Kind of. In Germany, researchers have come up with a portable invisibility cloak that makes small objects disappear. They’ve engineered systems to bend light around a tiny object, therefore it can’t be detected, and it won’t have a shadow. Awesome. They hope to take it to classrooms and use it for demonstrations. As it is portable, it’s easy to move around. I wish they had these sorts of things when I was a kid. It would have been the best lesson ever.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Apple Watch sensors trigger ‘tattoogate’ on inked wrists

Tattooed wrists? The Apple Watch may not be the right time piece for you. According to social media, hashtag #tattoogate has been trending as users have complained particular features on the Watch do not work when worn on a tattooed wrist. Though Apple has declined to comment, its support page has said tattoos can interfere with the heart rate monitor, but has failed to discuss any other issues.

Bullets that never miss tested by DARPA

The Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance programme has designed self-steering bullets, which now have the intelligence to never miss a target. Using a traditional sniper gun, the bullet uses optical guidance to track the target, even if the target is moving or at a distance. The aim of these smart bullets is to help military snipers operate better in difficult conditions, such as high winds and dusty terrain.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology editor
Solar fuel economy ‘imminent’, says energy expert

We may not yet have hydrogen-powered cars in our garages – but according to solar fuels experts, using sunlight to give us energy is the future. Fossil fuels deposits are finite and running out fast, so we’ll have to turn to alternative energy sources – and at a solar fuels conference currently underway in Uppsala, Sweden, the message is clear: sunlight should be the answer. Daniel Nocera, professor of energy at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the inventor of the ‘artificial leaf,’ says that we already have the technology to produce solar fuels. “If the society was willing to use hydrogen as a fuel, we’re already there. We could start building an energy infrastructure based on hydrogen today,” he said at the First International Solar Fuels conference earlier this week. It’s “the future of the next five to ten years”.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Apple Watch sensors trigger ‘tattoogate’ on inked wrists

I heard this news on the BBC TV while running on a treadmill in a gym early this morning and rejoiced at the fact that I don’t have any tattoos on my wrists, or anywhere else on my body, for that matter. Mind you, I don’t have a smartwatch either. But I do use a simple heart-rate monitor while running. Would that basic device be affected by tattoos? Who knows… But as the news story in question was sounding in my headphones, I couldn’t help noticing that my heart-rate monitor started malfunctioning. Can it be that some wearable devices are affected by certain news items? Will investigate during my next gym session!

Objects vanish with real-life invisibility cloak

Did you like my invisibility news pick? What? You can’t see anything? It is probably because I have tried to apply the above-described technology to it. On a more serious note, we have been covering this issue in E&T – in a number of perfectly visible and thoroughly readable news stories and features – for a number of years, including this article on invisibility technologies. As the German scientists behind the new invisibility technology assert, “no magic spells” whatsoever.


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