E&T news weekly #51 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday May 22 2015

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Human attention span lags behind that of goldfish

Are you reading this, humans? Are you? Hello? Are you paying attention to me? I guessed not. If only the goldfish could read… Our attention span has decreased by four seconds in the last 15 years to only eight seconds, meaning a goldfish beats us by managing nine seconds. We have three types of human attention which are sustained, selective and alternating. And we are failing at all of them. This is because of modern technology. By adapting to it, our focus is dwindling. At least there’s a bright side…our ability to multitask has improved. But the goldfish still kicks our butts.

Google cars win permit to drive on public roads

Driverless cars, invented by Google, will be able to drive in California on public roads. They drive pretty slow, only 40km/h, but have been involved in 11 accidents over the years. It’s like an old blind man driving the car. I think it’s a bit lazy in my opinion to get a car to drive for you. But then again, if it reduces road traffic accidents like it said it would, it’s a pretty good idea. I wonder if they will develop minds of their own, as they are self-learning, and start racing each other like lunatics. What a drive that would be! Pass me the sick bag.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Watching 3D films ‘response to slow brain decline’

The idea that watching films in three rather than two dimensions gives your brain a workout sounds like it should come from the marketing arm of a cinema chain looking to justify higher prices for 3D screenings. It actually comes from neuroscientists who got test subjects to carry out cognitive tests before and after watching the same movie in different formats. They reckon they found 3D was associated with responses that were more than 20 per cent better. So next time you turn up and find they’re not showing the film you want to see in boring old 2D and have to shell out for an extra dimension, just think of it as an investment in brain power.

Cyber-security to be part of GCSEs

A bit surprising that the idea of cybersecurity being added to the GCSE computer science syllabus is a novel thing. I’d have hoped that all teenagers would have some element of the importance of online security in their education, even if they don’t opt for a formal qualification. The aim is to address the growing demand for digital skills, but everybody’s going to need those whatever job they’re working in, and criminals don’t respect what you did at school.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Ship management firm trials GPS back-up system

London-based EuroShip Services is equipping its fleet with eLoran technology based on long-wave radio signals as a backup positioning system for when GPS is unavailable. The UK is the first country in the world to have rolled out the technology for use by commercial cargo and passenger vessels, after installing eLoran stations at the country’s busiest ports last year.

Lights beam ads to phones in supermarkets

This is location technology on a rather different scale from the eLoran system described above. Philips Lighting has teamed up with French supermarket chain Carrefour to beam signals from the LED lights to customers’ smartphones, delivering ‘contextual adverts’ and discount coupons based on which section or aisle they are walking through. Clever – but a bit spooky, all the same.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Cyber-security to be part of GCSEs

The ICT curriculum is continuing with its shake-up and is now introducing modules covering cyber-security issues, such as malware, firewalls and the legal side to computer technology. With advancements in technology facing cyber threats, the OCR examination board say students must have these skills to help with the growing demand of digital skills.

Spotify is turning Starbucks baristas into DJs in new deal

Starbucks is transforming its customers into DJs! Teaming up with Spotify, customers in the US who have a premium account with the music streaming company can suggest songs for the Starbucks playlist. In return, customers will earn stars for currency which will go towards the Starbucks’ loyalty program. A win-win all round.

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