E&T news weekly #54 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday June 12 2015

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Magna Carta ‘digital rights’ open to public vote

Safety on the internet, freedom of speech and protecting privacy are the top three recommendations of young people around the world for a mooted ‘digital rights’ Magna Carta. Long championed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the idea of an internet Magna Carta goes to the heart of the original ethos of the internet, making the worldwide web a safer and more democratic place for all. We, the public, can vote now on the 500-strong list of digital rights candidates and the top 10 choices will be revealed on Monday June 15.

Finland could abandon fossil fuels entirely by 2050

Trust one of Europe’s smallest, darkest and coldest countries to lead the way in a permanent move away from fossil fuels. It may still be 35 years away, but the idea that all of Finland’s domestic energy needs could be supplied by solar and wind power could become a reality within the lifetime of many of us.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Finland could abandon fossil fuels entirely by 2050

One brilliant proposal by researchers from the Scandinavian country known for its progressive attitude towards sustainability. Please, go ahead Finland and show the world that it indeed can be done. If Finland can get enough solar power to wean its energy system off fossil fuels, it must be simple for others in more favourable climates.

Royal Navy to use drones to inspect warships

Everyone’s into drones these days.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Ofcom to make it easier to quit slow broadband providers

Am I the only person in Britain who’s perfectly happy with their broadband provider? I won’t name them, but the only trouble they’ve given me in the past year was when I was putting up a new fence in the front garden and had to do a bit of extra digging to get around the tube that brings the cable from the pavement junction box to the house. For those of you who aren’t so fortunate, Ofcom is going to make it easier to bail out of a contract that doesn’t deliver what was promised. If you’re not familiar with MGALS, or minimum guaranteed access line speed, check it out now in the small print and see how it compares with the service you’re getting.

Origami-inspired paper battery for developing world

Reading this story I had to check that my childhood memory of a 1970s TV programme which simply involved ten minutes of expert paper folding wasn’t something I’d imagined. Turns out it really happened, and it’s hard to mock when I spent a similar amount of time recently watching a YouTube tutorial on how to clean vinyl records by applying a thin layer of wood glue. (Check it out – there are several and they’re all compelling.) A lot more practical is this technique for generating power from bacteria using a cunningly folded piece of card. About the size of a matchbook and costing only a few pence to manufacture, the batteries could power diagnostic devices in developing countries with limited access to sophisticated tools.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology editor
Black box technology shines light on shark behaviour

Better not to swim at dusk if you know that sharks might be around. Scientists at the University of St Andrews in Scotland have used ‘black box’ technology similar to that used on planes to shed light on when sharks are most likely to forage – and why. Turns out that they prefer to feed in the early evening, thanks to their good night vision. This way, hunting at night may allow them not to be harmed too much by their prey fighting back. So how did ‘black box’ tech help? Simple – like many of us nowadays wear fitness bracelets, several reef sharks at a remote Pacific atoll were fitted with tags that measured activity, swim speed, depth, body temperature and digestion. The researchers then just had to get the tags back and study the data.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Formula E battery tech delayed by high R&D costs

There had been rumours circulating that Formula E was going to postpone opening up its battery regulations, which were previously set to allow teams to design their own systems from 2016, and Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag confirmed to E&T that this would indeed be the case. He said the high R&D costs were the primary reason for the decision but also that the technology had not quite developed far enough to justify the teams spending so much cash when the sport is still in its infancy. Formula E has done lots to promote electric vehicles and it’s important that it focuses on surviving long enough to continue that good work – after all, plenty of other ‘new’ motorsport series have died off after a few seasons, let alone ones that are trying to change the way we use our cars and promote sustainable living.

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project granted planning permission

When it’s not under a constant deluge of freezing rain, Swansea Bay is a beautiful place – I lived there for three years so I’m qualified to make a sweeping generalisation or two… Therefore, the idea of building a 6km seawall designed to harness the power of the waves that will also allow people to walk out into the bay and bask in the (rare) sunshine is great idea in my book. Six more of these lagoon power plants are being planned for elsewhere in Wales and England but why stop there? We are an island nation after all; let’s make as much use of our renewable natural resources as we can.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Andy Murray enters crowdfunding arena in Seedrs deal

World tennis star Andy Murray has joined crowdfunding site Seedrs to advise and invest in new business ideas in the areas of health, sport and wearables technologies?

Finland could abandon fossil fuels entirely by 2050

Renewables are usually seen as part of a future energy mix but Norway reckons it could all be done with solar, wind, biofuels and hydropower.

G7 leaders vow to abandon fossil fuels by mid century

And G7 leaders commit to moving away from fossil fuels entirely by the middle of this century.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, general features editor
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo replaced by co-founder Jack Dorsey

For a number of reasons, I don’t do Twitter (or any other types of private social networking, for that matter), but am nevertheless familiar with the rules. I took time to count the letters in “Twitter CEO Dick Costolo replaced by co-founder Jack Dorsey” and discovered that it is 88 characters short of Twitter’s limit of 140. So, if I were to tweet that headline, I would probably add the following: “As the firm counts its losses of $162 million and sees a 30 percent decline in its share price, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is replaced by co-founder Jack Dorsey”. 129 characters – still not enough. Here are 11 more to end it all on an optimistic note: “As the firm counts its losses of $162 million and sees a 30 percent decline in its share price, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is replaced by co-founder Jack Dorsey. Happy tweets” Sorry, one character short of an exclamation mark…

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