E&T news weekly #60 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Ooh, la la. Back from its French-style, month-long August holiday, our weekly news picks yawns, stretches and comes to life once more.

Friday September 4 2015

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Contactless payment jacket fashioned for Barclaycard

A fashion firm has come up with the idea of a jacket that you can use to contactlessly pay for things, because that’s what we all need in our lives. Lyle & Scott, based in London, has worked with Barclaycard and created a fashionable contactless payment jacket for all you busy men out there who can’t be bothered to reach into your bags or pockets to get your card out. What if you got mugged and the person demanded your jacket, because it looked good? They could use it to purchase things before you got the chance to cancel your card/jacket, whilst looking dapper. The jacket – which comes in two colours – is designed so you can tap your sleeve on a card reader when you want to pay for your bits and pieces. Barclaycard’s bPay technology is in the cuffs and the chip in the jacket can be linked to any UK registered Visa or MasterCard credit or debit card for purchases up to £30. It sells for £150 and is “ground-breaking” according to Lyle & Scott. Of course.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Silk Road investigator admits diverting $800,000 in bitcoins

One day, perhaps the full story about the Silk Road website will become known, a story populated by kingpins masquerading under pseudonyms such as the Dread Pirate Roberts in one corner and now, we learn, corrupt law-enforcement agents in the other. Investigating agent Shaun Bridges has pleaded guilty to siphoning off $800,000 worth of bitcoins from the site, diverting them in to his own bank account, while a colleague, Carl Force, has admitted charges of extortion, money laundering and obstruction of justice. As with any juicy mystery, always follow the money to uncover the truth.

Nissan invests £100m in Juke production at Sunderland

Having known people who worked at Nissan’s Sunderland manufacturing plant, I can appreciate how important the factory is to the economy and well-being of the local population. To hear that the Japanese motor company has committed a further £100m to build its next-generation Juke crossover vehicles at the plant is simply great news.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
‘See-through’ trailer tech removes blind spots

This sounds really useful for people who have to tow horse boxes or caravans. Researchers at Land Rover have been demonstrating a ‘transparent trailer’ system at this year’s Burghley Horse Trials that combines video feeds from the test vehicle’s standard reversing camera and wing-mirror cameras with an additional feed from a wireless camera on the back of the trailer, so what the driver sees in the rear-view mirror is an image of the road behind with just a faint outline of the trailer, as if it really was see-through.

Network Rail reveals new ‘workshop on wheels’

A new fleet of ‘mobile maintenance trains’ (MMTs) looks set to make life a lot easier for the people who repair our railway network, and also for everyone who uses it. The trains will carry the maintenance teams and all their equipment and materials to where they are needed and then provide a protected and sheltered area while the work is carried out, progressing slowly along the track as required. It means that there’ll be no need to close adjacent lines, greatly reducing disruption for passengers and freight operators.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Starfish-killing robot to protect Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef’s coral reef ecosystems can be saved, thanks to Australian researchers who have developed a robot to kill the venomous crown-of-thorns sea star. The COTSbot can stay in water for up to eight hours and kill more than 200 sea stars with a single shot of salt. Its performance will be trialled next month.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
NHS health records available online next year

Big public-sector IT projects don’t have a great track record, so I won’t be the only person wondering whether the government is getting ahead of itself by announcing that we’ll be able to able to access some aspects of our NHS records on mobile devices within a year, with more comprehensive information available by 2018. That’s a brave commitment, particularly when the Care Quality Commission is only just embarking of a review of data security. The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is confident that something called ‘intelligent transparency’ will ensure everything stays confidential. Privacy advocates and organisations like the BMA have already expressed reservations, particularly as users will be able to add their own information. How would you feel about someone who’d managed to hack into your NHS record being able to do that?

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Starfish-killing robot to protect Great Barrier Reef

This news story brought back memories of my Great Barrier Reef scuba diving session in July 1991, when the Melbourne Age newspaper, for which I then worked as a senior writer, dispatched me on an assignment to Queensland to report on how “banana-benders” (an affectionate Cockney-style Aussie vernacular for “Queenslanders”) spend their leisure. Scuba diving, alongside bungee jumping, white-water rafting and paragliding, was high on their holiday agenda, so after a quick training session in a swimming pool, I put on my heavy gear and – accompanied by an instructor – jumped into the emerald waters of the Great Barrier Reef. The underwater world was colourful and utterly fascinating, although I had to spend most of my energy trying to keep vertical in my gear. At some point, I noticed (from the corner of my eye) a large quickly moving shadow on my right, but had no time to explore what was behind it, for the instructor started making frantic upwards gestures with his thumb – a signal to get back to the surface immediately.
“Did you see it??” he shouted the moment we took off our diving masks.
“What??” I asked gasping for air frantically.
“The killer shark on your right!”
It gives me creeps even now to recall that incident. I was lucky of course, but reading the story about the star-fish killing robot, I couldn’t help thinking that a shark-killing one would probably be more appropriate. Well, if not “shark-killing”, then a “shark-scaring” one perhaps? Just a thought, you know.

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