E&T news weekly #56 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday June 26 2015

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
‘Overalls’ image still persists, say female engineers

Three high-profile female motorsport engineers have called for a change to the image of the industry so people don’t think of overalls when discussing engineering. If this perception changed, they also reckoned it would attract more women to a career in the industry. More amusing was their total destruction of Bernie Ecclestone’s “all-female Formula 1” idea – and rightly so, the whole concept was ridiculous.

London’s infrastructure lags behind world’s major cities

Never has a headline been more true. Barely a day goes by when “signal failure” doesn’t hold up thousands of commuters – surely a failure-proof signal isn’t too much to ask for in 2015? Of course it is, this is London after all. I love my home city but the infrastructure is woeful and with the population ever expanding something needs to be done. The idea of selling advertising to fund investment in the Tube network is a good one – if having Oxford Circus renamed as ‘Generic Multinational Company presents Oxford Circus’ means the Central Line will run on time, I doubt anyone will complain. Oh, but of course they will, again, this is London after all.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Engineering still seen as a ‘boys’ job’

One of the things that prompted lively debate in the E&T office this week was the number of press releases from companies showing their support for National Women in Engineering Day that were accompanied by photos of female staff in boiler suits and hard hats defying the gender divide. One national women’s magazine profiled a British Gas engineer who services domestic central heating, alongside an apprentice at another company who’s embarking on a job in the sector having done A levels in PE and photography. We know from the number of letters we receive that many E&T readers would frown on describing these roles as ‘engineering’, but is it really a bad thing if it helps to attract more women into related careers? Isn’t the issue more that they should be made aware that plenty of careers in the sector don’t involve going anywhere near a high-visibility jacket and workboots?

Door handle powered by UV light kills germs

How often do you wash your hands thoroughly after using a public toilet, maybe slap on some anti-bacterial gel, then become acutely aware as you leave that the person before you probably didn’t do the same before grabbing the door handle? Even if it’s just me, this self-sterilising handle invented by a pair of Hong Kong teenagers looks like an excellent idea. The motion of the door opening and closing powers a UV light that activates a germ-killing titanium dioxide coating. The flash as you grab it might come as a shock at first, but it’s keeping your clean hands pristine for just a few minutes longer.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Sound map launched for UK’s coastline

People around Britain are invited to record the sounds of the coastline so they can be preserved for posterity. The National Trust and the British Library are behind the project to create the crowd-sourced audio map. I think it’s a brilliant idea.

‘Air-traffic control’ for freight deliveries tested in Canary Wharf

Tech start-up Voyage Control has come up with a system for managing freight deliveries at busy locations. It’s being tested in London’s Canary Wharf business district and is expected to help companies manage flows at their loading bays as well as saving time for drivers and cutting road congestion. It could also work well at exhibition venues.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Top 10 tech toys predicted for Christmas 2015

Spare a thought for small children of today, dear reader. Having read Hamleys’ list of what the landmark London retailer expects to be the top ten most popular toys for next Christmas (I can’t believe it’s coming close, I’ve only just finished tidying up after the last one!) I sincerely pity them. I will try to explain why. All those intelligent toy robots and 3D makers, to say nothing of the mysterious ‘kinetic sand’, leave very little space for developing the kids’ most important asset – imagination, which, if we believe Albert Einstein, is more important than knowledge. I may be sounding like an old fogey, but I do think that the simple toys of yesteryear (rag dolls, simple toy cars, tattered and often one-eyed – yet cherished – teddy bears) did more for the kids’ budding emotional intelligence than toy robots, no matter how intelligent and ‘kinetic’, can ever hope to do. Yes, a kid can certainly interact with a robot on an intellectual level, so to speak, but I doubt very much if he or she can actually get as emotionally attached to it, as I was to a little toy yellow truck which – to me – embodied all the magic of movement and travel. I still remember it with nostalgia, just like my primitive and rusty toy petrol station (I used to cut my fingers at the toy’s sharp edges but still loved it) and a couple of other basic mechanical toys of my childhood (we didn’t have many) that first evoked my interest in technology. You know what my preferred toy from Hamleys’ 2015 Christmas top ten list would be? The Shopkins ‘Scoops’ ice cream truck playset, of course! I would be happy to start playing with it straight away, and don’t hurry to accuse me of being infantile. Like most artists and engineers (or so I reckon), I am simply one of the proverbial boys and girls refusing to grow up.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
‘Overalls’ image still persists, say female engineers / Prince Charles befriends robot at celebration for women engineers

The campaign for women in engineering, National Women in Engineering Day, has really taken off since it was launched by Women in Engineering Society a few years ago. The tag #NWED was trending fifth in the world at one point on Tuesday (excluding promoted tags) and even Prince Charles got in on the day’s events.

Sound map launched for UK’s coastline

Everyone takes pictures and videos to remember special occasions, but audio recordings of quite everyday things may well be more fascinating to future generations. Imagine a Victorian beach of a hundred years ago: children playing, bands playing perhaps, a Punch and Judy show perhaps. Now there’s a crowd-sourced project to record the soundscapes of today’s coastline: maybe fish and chip shops, seafood restaurants, amusement arcades and children building sandcastles still. Plus, an awful lot of waves lapping on beaches I suspect.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Online app-only bank gets green light in the UK

This would have been unfathomable even five years ago, a business model doomed to failure from the off: an online only bank that works entirely via apps on a smartphone. No high-street branches, no banking by mail, not even a website. When it launches later this year, Atom Bank will become the ultra-modern face of banking, a poster child for what is now possible in a digital world. As a barometer of the general public’s acceptance of the smartphone as the centre of our world, this could represent a new high-water mark.

Cows now easier to track with wearable tech collars

Wearable technology has been tagged as the Next Big Thing for the near future, but one area we’ve not heard so much about is its deployment in the farming environment. Naturally, there is no reason at all why the same technology principles that can track our health and activity via GPS on a smartwatch should not also be applied to tracking dairy herds of Friesan cows, so the announcement this week of a new neck collar for cattle seems entirely logical.

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