E&T news weekly #52 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday May 29 2015

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, online news reporter
Snoopers’ charter is here to stay after Queen’s Speech

When Teresa May announced the draft communications data bill in 2012, labelled as a snoopers’ charter, it was subjected to widespread criticism and then blocked by the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives resurrected the snoopers’ charter in the Queen’s Speech this week and with a majority in parliament the bill will pass with flying colours despite mounting criticism. We’re yet to find out the detailed plans for the new laws, but internet providers and mobile operators will be expected to log more data about customers and hand it over when requested.

Chip to analyse blood and send data to your phone

The days when chip implants used to be limited to futuristic sci-fi movies are over. I’d still feel squeamish about having one, but for medical purposes, like the tiny chip developed at the EPFL Laboratory, I’d almost turn a blind eye. The chip would be implanted just under the first layer of the skin, which is not that intrusive, and would measure cholesterol or sugar levels in my blood, sending the data straight to my phone. I wouldn’t recommend it to hypochondriacs though.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Chip to analyse blood and send data to your phone

I’m a little bit of a hypochondriac so this is nothing less than a good thing. I often worry about my aches and pains, but I am more concerned about what goes on under my skin. I’m not a full-blown bundle of anxiety, but I can get a little fretful sometimes. This is why I like this biosensor chip. It’s only one centimetre square and has a circuit with six sensors which measure your pH, temperature, glucose levels, lactate, and cholesterol and drug level. It’s a hypochondriac’s dream! The chip is placed under your skin and results are sent to your mobile phone. If all goes according to plan, it will be nice and easy to access your body’s vital bits and pieces. I think it’s a great idea, not just for people like me, but for people who need to monitor their blood, like diabetics, who must check their sugar levels throughout the day. It’ll save a lot of hassle and pain.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Drone technology keeps BMX riders on track for gold

The London 2012 Olympics showed how far BMX has moved on from scabby-kneed 1980s kids bombing around shopping precincts. In the run-up to the Brazil games next year we’ve got the Great Britain squad aiming to shave milliseconds off race times with the unlikely help of optical sensor technology originally developed to help unmanned aerial drones avoid mid-air collisions. Investing in state of the art engineering hasn’t done the more conventional arm of the team any harm; let’s hope it can do the same for the BMXers.

Twitter and mobile phone data to gauge how big crowds are

Reports of huge public gatherings have always relied on estimates of numbers from the police and organisers that can be vastly different. Now scientists from Warwick University have tested a more reliable way of estimating crowd size based on data from mobile phones and social media traffic. It’s worked at the San Siro Stadium where the number of people is known; now they’re going to develop it with the aim of doing more useful things like quickly assessing the size of crowds on the move when natural disasters strike.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Floor energy the next big thing in renewables

Floors converting energy from motion into electricity are a brilliant idea. Imagine how much power a class of hyperactive school kids could produce during a PE lesson or how much money your own lively children could help cut from your energy bill. The technology, pioneered by British firm Pavegen, has already been installed at many places including London’s Heathrow Airport, the White House and a football pitch in Brazil. The first experimental urban installation was unveiled this week at Canary Wharf.

Sleep-monitoring bed-sheets invented

Sleep-monitoring bed-sheets are a new devious invention that could help shrinks in the future better understand how much quality sleep their patients are getting. But do we really want shrinks to know exactly what we’re doing in the bedroom at all times?

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Corruption talks take centre stage at the Engineering Symposium for Africa

A conference in Morocco highlighted education and corruption as the top two problems for development in Africa. The shortage of engineers across the continent certainly puts Britain’s situation into perspective, but perhaps some of the solutions are the same: promote engineering as a high-status profession like medicine and the law, and invest in training promising workers to move up the skills ladder. Better education might also encourage people to see that corruption doesn’t have to be a normal part of life (and that applies to more high-profile spheres than engineering, too).

Communication system to improve cerebral palsy in children

Researchers in Spain have been working on a new communication system to help children with cerebral palsy who cannot speak. This is one area where modern technology can make a huge difference to people compared with what was available a couple of generations ago.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Trial and error advances artificial intelligence in robots

A research robot has used deep learning for the first time to achieve some simple household tasks without specific programming.

Internet users to reach 3.2bn in 2015

This result is surprising not for the proportion of people who are now online but for the number who don’t yet have Internet access.

Snoopers’ charter is here to stay after Queen’s Speech
Government to press ahead with HS2 Bill
Government to cut onshore wind farm support

What will the Conservative election win mean for engineering? This week’s Queen’s Speech provided some early answers.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Apple names new chief design officer

The fact that Apple appointed a new chief design officer was always going to make the news, given the company’s reputation for immaculate, innovative industrial design. The fact that Apple’s new chief design officer is Sir Jonathan “Jony” Ive was much less surprising and more than a little confusing. Hang on a minute, presumably this is the same Jony Ive who has worked at Apple for over two decades? The London-born designer behind such Apple legends as the Bondi Blue iMac, the G4 Cube, the Power Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch? Wasn’t he already Apple’s chief design officer? As it turns out, no. Up until this week, Ive was labouring under the title of senior vice president of design. What’s in a name? Read our news story to find out.

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