E&T news weekly #61 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

Friday September 11 2015

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Smartphone obsession on the rise for Brits, study reveals

According to the Deloitte Mobile Consumer report, more and more Britons reach for their smartphone when they wake up and check it up to 50 times a day. I hate to admit this, but I think I am one of those people. My smartphone is ingrained into my life and it just has to be within reach, otherwise I feel I’d be missing out on something. If I’m in the living room and my phone is upstairs, I feel a wee bit uneasy. The survey of 4000 people found that one in ten reach for their smartphones as soon as they wake up. It’s been pointed out on multiple occasions that I check my phone too much. Not that I’m defending myself, or all of the people surveyed who turned out to be smartphone fiends, but these modern devices have so much technology in them, it’s impossible to not be addicted. I’m sure that if my grandparents knew how to work my phone, they would be checking it quite a bit. If I have a random thought, or I want to know something, it’s great that I can just check the web so easily and get the answers I need. Also, for someone who doesn’t see my buddies during the week, it feels like I have a connection to the outside world when I have my iPhone on me. Sad, but true. I can check Facebook, text or message my friends efficiently and easily. Games are also good, too. And apps. Apps are fun.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Surveillance system lets families monitor care of loved ones

Cases of negligence and even abuse in care homes have been making headlines recently, as families of residents have hidden cameras in rooms to secretly film incidents. This monitoring system is designed to protect vulnerable people with the use of microphones to detect sound and discreet cameras to detect motion. The equipment enables families to watch live feeds via a smart device and flag up unusual activity.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Scottish Borders Railway opens Midlothian route after 47-year hiatus

Two contrasting tales from the UK’s railways. North of the border, in Scotchland, the inhabitants of Midlothian are no doubt dancing a merry highland jig and reel at the reopening of the Borders Railway, part of a line that fell victim to the infamous Beeching cuts 47 years ago, which severed the rail connections running on many of the country’s useful branch lines connecting remote rural communities with the larger towns and cities. Now the 30-mile journey from Edinburgh to Tweedbank can be enjoyed once more – an event that was just cause for a celebratory steam engine ride, VIP treatment for locals living near the line and a landmark visit from our favourite long-reigning, hand-waving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

Euston station revamp completion date pushed to 2033

Meanwhile, in smoggy central London – as far away from the purple heather and clean mountain air of the Scottish Borders as it’s possible to get – comes the announcement that the revamp of Euston station could remain a work in progress until the year 2033. That’s 18 years from now. By then, as far in the future as this date is, I fully expect/hope that we’ll have flying cars and food in pill form, so we’ll have no use for either the high-speed rail platforms that are the cause of the works delay or the unappealingly curling, bafflingly expensive sandwiches no doubt still being served in the buffet cars on board trains departing for points north.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Stretchable metal film breakthrough expands possibilities

US researchers have found that a thin film of indium can be bonded onto a plastic substrate and stretched to twice its original length, at which point the plastic failed. That discovery could lead to new progress in printing electronics onto flexible surfaces, because indium is a good deal cheaper than gold, which is the preferred material at present.

Paddington station air pollution worse than roads outside

When I was a small child, most London buildings were black from coal smoke, and the glass canopies over the major railway stations were equally grimy. By then the Clean Air Act of 1956 was already forcing a change in how people heated their homes, and in parallel steam locomotives were being replaced by diesel-powered trains. Nowadays those original diesels are largely confined to heritage railways, but their successors are still running and some of them are contributing to the extremely poor air quality that researchers have found at Paddington station. It probably isn’t an isolated example. Unfortunately, plans to electrify more of our main lines have run into trouble – possibly because a reluctance by previous governments to authorise the investment means that the country lost the skills, equipment and supply chain needed to do the job. The industry recognises the problem and is trying to address it, but capability can’t be produced overnight. In the meantime, electrification of the Midland Main Line and the Leeds-Manchester route have been ‘paused’ so that more effort can go into getting Great Western electrification back on timetable. That one really matters, because the Department for Transport is committed to paying for the new trains to be available regardless of whether or not it’s possible to run them. And of course the longer any project runs on, the longer its staff have to be paid, so the costs rack up relentlessly.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
£5m greener buses competition to curb air pollution

The last time I travelled by bus on a regular basis was way back in the 1970s, so on the rare occasions when I find myself upstairs on a London double-decker these days, I always notice the lack of an all-encompassing fug of cigarette smoke. The welcome speed with which we’ve got used to most places being smoke-free in the UK means my own children find it almost bizarre that it was once socially acceptable to light up on public transport. (No less that this was on a school service.) Now the government’s putting money into encouraing local authorities to find ways of equipping bus fleets with green technology, maybe it won’t be that long before the idea of vehicles belching out fumes of their own will seem just as strange.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
Kaspersky Lab chips humans at IFA 2015

I went to Europe’s largest consumer electronics show – IFA 2015 – in Berlin last week, and one of the most surprising events was by security company Kaspersky Lab, talking about chipping humans. One person even had a chip inserted into him in front of the audience. While chipping live creatures is not entirely new – people have been putting RFID chips into their pets for years – the first human adopters of bio-chips (approximately the size of a rice grain) began to emerge more recently. The smart implants allow users to control door locks, make bank payments and access gadgets such as a laptop with just the wave of a hand.

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