E&T news weekly #58 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday July 10 2015

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, news reporter
Technology disruption causes headaches for US businesses

Technology makes life easier and the economy more efficient. Until it fails. It was a rough day for technology in the US on Wednesday: its biggest airline, its oldest stock exchange and its most prominent business newspaper all suffered technology problems that upended service for parts of the day. It seems technology glitches that temporarily knock out vital services and conveniences of modern life are likely to become more common as computers and other electronic devices increasingly connect together over the Internet.

Update 999 services for smartphone generation, says report

Can you imagine texting 999 in an emergency, rather than calling the number? A new report by the IET is calling for radical changes to the emergency service to reflect the digital age, where more people, especially those younger, are communicating via text and social media. And as one of our readers suggested on Twitter, maybe this should be rolled out across all emergency numbers, including 911 and 112. This way calls and messages would be filtered to receive faster responses.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
National Trust invests £30m in renewable energy

Kudos to the National Trust for applying the latest green energy thinking to its historic buildings as part of a Trust-wide drive to introduce renewable energy solutions at its managed properties. At Blickling Estate in Norfolk, for example, pipes will be run in to the lake in order to extract heat from the water to warm the house, replacing two oil tanks and their attendant reliance on fossil fuel. Over 40 similar projects are due to be rolled out across the Trust’s portfolio of properties, including stately homes and castles. Ancient buildings: cutting-edge thinking.

70 years of computing captured in musical composition

You wouldn’t necessarily know that elderly computers were providing the rumbling, abstracted, ambient bed for this composition – it could have just as easily been done using any modern music software program on a laptop – but that’s not the point. This is both a preservation and artistic reimagining of the industrial sounds of those early computing behemoths, capturing them for current future generations, for whom the most noise a computer is likely to make is the soft whirring of a hard drive or the occasional heavy breathing of a CPU fan.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Uber launches commuter boat service in Istanbul

Despite local taxi drivers protesting against its services and a recent ban in France, Uber shows no signs of stopping. The taxi-firm app has launched Uber Boat in Istanbul to provide commuters an alternative option to avoid congested bridges. The boats have a capacity of six to eight people and can reach Atakoy for 425 lira; however it will face tough competition from local boatmen who are open to haggling.

Lego to invest millions in use of sustainable materials

Last year alone, Lego produced 60 million plastic blocks of Lego, but its new ambition is to create sustainable materials by 2030. The company is investing a whooping one billion Danish Krone to become environmentally friendly and provide children with a unique play experience, as well as inspire them to build a better tomorrow.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Solar Impulse breaks record for solo flying

Congratulations to the team behind the Solar Impulse plane that has broken the world record for the longest non-stop solo flight during its journey from Japan to Hawaii. Particular credit has to go to the pilot, Andre Borschberg, who was only able to take naps of 20 minute durations during the 76 hour flight while the plane was on autopilot – that sounds exhausting!

Porous li-ion battery design less likely to overheat or explode

Let’s face it, anything that can improve a design by making it “less likely to overheat or explode” is a winner in my book. With lithium-ion batteries powering the majority of the devices we own, this new approach from researchers in Korea uses a porous solid material that makes the cells less likely to overheat – a known problem with lithium-ion batteries.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Swapping faces in photos could protect privacy online

How would a generation of selfie stickers and Instagram over-sharers react to an algorithm that automatically turns their faces in pictures they share online into fictional, although realistic ones? The only thing that would stay would be the beautiful smile. A Hertfordshire University researcher believes that that’s exactly what should be happening with every picture online to protect privacy of those involved. And they can even turn you into some cool characters, like Shrek or the Queen.

Italian surveillance firm left exposed after hack-attack

That certainly must have been embarrassing ….

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Engineering uptake on the rise at UK universities

One aspect of this week’s Budget that didn’t get as much attention as it warranted was to do with how the government will boost the UK economy in the long term, at the same time as the short-term needed to address the deficit and national debt. Replacing maintenance grants for students from low-income backgrounds with loans might deter some from studying for a degree, but giving universities more freedom to set their own fees will probably make this irrelevant. Few students will ever pay off their loans anyway, making the system effectively a tax on graduates. At the same time though there was news of a levy on industry to fund more apprenticeships, which don’t usually involve borrowing to study. How will all this affect applications to university engineering courses? New UCAS figures show a welcome nine per cent rise in UK applicants, something the country’s going to need if it’s going to address the current skills shortage. And it could be argued that making young people think more about the value of their degree will focus attention on subjects that lead to potentially more lucrative careers in sectors like technology, as well as alternatives to higher education. At the end of the day, we need engineers, and should listen to what the companies that employ them say they need from new recruits.

National Trust invests £30m in renewable energy

Nice to read on the same day that a letter arrived inviting me to renew my National Trust membership that some of the money will go towards a £30m in installing renewable energy technology at historical sites. I’ll be in Norfolk later this year and look forward to seeing one of the first projects to go ahead, a scheme at Blickling Estate that will use heat from the property’s lake water to warm the house, removing two oil tanks and more than 25,000 litres of oil consumption a year. Proof that heritage doesn’t have to be about looking back to the past.

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