E&T news weekly #59 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday July 17 2015

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Contracts for UK to Norway subsea power link awarded

The world’s longest undersea electricity interconnector has been given the go ahead to be built between the UK and Norway. Firms from both countries and Italy and France will join forces in a bid to deliver low carbon electricity and bring down electricity prices in the UK and Norway.

Thousands of Londoners killed by air pollution every year

Pollution is a killer, according to researchers from King’s College London. The study reveals toxic nitrogen dioxide emissions and nano-scale particles have affected mortality rates in London than expected. Despite the figures, Boris Johnson said the data was five years old and since then measures have been put in place to clean up the air in the capital.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Technology ideas to improve life of elderly

A barcode scanner that lets your neighbours know what’s in your fridge might sound like something out of Nineteen Eighty Four, but it’s a serious proposal as a way of helping elderly people to stay in their own homes by using technology to keep an eye on them. We probably all know at least one person who has to regularly pop round to visit an ageing relative; this, and other ideas in an IET-backed report, won’t replace valuable human contact, but might make life less stressful. Not sure that when I’m a grumpy old man I’ll be keen on a ‘cuddle cushion’ that gives the sensation of being wrapped in someone’s arms though.

‘Vital signs’ wearable tech monitor trialled in UK

Another way of tackling a surge in the number of elderly people that threatens to overwhelm health services is this device that sends an alarm out if a patient’s condition suddenly deteriorates. It won’t keep anyone out of hospital who needs to be there, but will help staff responsible for keeping an eye on lots of patients to use their time more efficiently.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Solar Impulse stuck in Hawaii due to irreparable battery damage

Very sad news that the Solar Impulse 2 solar-powered plane, which had been attempting to circumnavigate the globe in stages without any fuel, has been forced to postpone the next leg of its journey after irreparable damage to its batteries. The damage, caused by the batteries overheating, was discovered after the plane completed the record breaking five days and nights flight from Nagoya in Japan and Hawaii. The team behind the plane have estimated they won’t be able to carry on with the record attempt until April 2016 and hopefully they’ll have found a way to keep the batteries cool by then.

Battle for the skies over English Channel in electric plane race

It’s been 75 years since the Battle of Britain but now there’s another aerial duel taking place in the skies above Kent and the English Channel. Didier Esteyne, flying Airbus’s E-Fan plane, and Hugues Duval, piloting his own home-built Cri-Cri plane, both crossed the channel in electric aircraft – with Hugues flying first from France to England. Airbus were suitably unimpressed Hugues had stolen their thunder and immediately questioned the legitimacy of his achievement as he’d launched from a carrier plane – poor sports indeed!

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Technology ideas to improve life of elderly

Although this is conceptual, rather than reality, I think these ideas are a good starting point to help the ever-growing elderly population. I worry about my elderly relatives all the time and check up on them on a regular basis. I’m sure I’m not alone on this. I’m thankful that my grandparents live down the road from me and it’s easy to contact them by phone if I’m not able to see them. However, that’s not the case for everyone. Technological possibilities could help the ageing population with blood pressure, loneliness, dehydration – there are endless opportunities to improve the lives of many people, it’s just up to society whether they want to invest in the future. Things like this will probably happen after my grandparents’ time, but it would put my mind at ease if it was available to my parents’ generation. Bring on old wrinklies with wearable technologies!

Thousands of Londoners killed by air pollution every year

Like we didn’t know this already. I have been warned by my Londoner parents to never walk in the tunnels wearing any form of white clothing. You come out covered in muck and grime. Also, blowing your nose after a day out in The Old Smoke makes you feel like a sooty chimney. A friend from South East London visited me once and said he’d never seen such bright stars in the evening, and his breathing greatly improved – he has asthma and the London smog irritates his lungs. The study was conducted for Transport for London and the economic loss caused by the pollution is at £3.7bn. Mayor of London Boris Johnson said the priority for him is to protect the wellbeing of his residents. Let’s hope it continues and deaths by air pollution end in our capital city.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Landmine detector spots plastic-based mines underground

“The UN estimates that it would take more than 1,100 years to clear the estimated 110 million landmines situated in 70 countries.” That truly shocking figure was quoted by Sir Bobby Charlton, whose Find A Better Way charity is partnering with the University of Bath to develop an improved mine detector that’s affordable in the countries most affected. Anything that stops civilians (including children) being maimed or killed by the weapons of long-past conflicts deserves our full support.

RFID tagged bees offer insight into insect disease

We need bees. Much of the world’s plant life relies on them for pollination. Now, with the help of tiny RFID tags, Australian researchers are studying how bees are affected by low-level infections that don’t kill them. It’s interesting, and important for agriculture. The picture’s great, too.

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, news reporter
CERN’s Large Hadron Collider finds pentaquarks particles

Well it didn’t take long for the Large Hadron Collider to be on to something. About a month ago the atom-smasher, which discovered the much-hailed Higgs boson in 2012, was gearing up for re-start after a two-year pause. This week the engineers announced they have discovered a new kind of particle called pentaquarks. Even though the existence of pentaquarks was first proposed in the 1960s, earlier experiments that have searched for the particles proved inconclusive – until now.

Technology ideas to improve life of elderly

Cuddle cushions with sensors to give the sensation of being wrapped in someone’s arms was just one of the ingenious tech ideas to help the elderly, included in a report this week. There’s more: water bottles that can tell if drinkers are dehydrated and a kettle that could take a pensioner’s blood pressure. All great and noble if innovation isn’t treated as a gap in the market, which more or less turns UK’s aging population into a commercial opportunity.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
UK’s first ‘carbon-positive’ house built in Wales

This is all very good of course. I am only somewhat worried about the location. What was the reason behind building this amazing house, with all its photovoltaic elements and solar panels, in Central Wales which, according to the latest Met Office data [http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/rain/how-much-does-it-rain-in-the-uk], is one of the three wettest (and hence most ‘sunny-less’) places in the UK? I remember interviewing the travel writer Jan Morris in her Welsh home, not far from the town of Pyle where the new carbon-positive house is located. “I love everything about Wales,” she said, adding.” But only wish we had less rain and more sunlight…” Here, hear. With all due respect to the Cardiff University scientists, I have to confess that the logic of building that innovative house in Wales is the same as trying to cultivate palm trees in Greenland. The latter, as far as I know, has not been tried yet.

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