E&T news weekly #100 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the past week

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
‘Frankenturtles’ used to help marine wildlife in Chesapeake Bay

Ode to a turtle corpse

May I compare thee to a chap named Frank
A young turtle that, sad to say, is dead.
While splashing in the confines of his bank
An evil boat destroyed his lovely head.
So sad was science to hear of his loss
That all declared: ‘bring back the loved boss!’
And from the ocean was his corpse once lifted
To give back life, as he was once so gifted.
Diligent workers set as once to make
The saddest body once more a blessed stake
In lives of creatures, timid, tame and free
Whose living is confined just to the sea.
Off came his shell, his lungs were filled with foam,
Then off poor chap was sent, once more to roam.
For GPS would tell all of his sorrow
And make a model for all else to follow.

Robots could be classed as ‘electronic persons’ under EU rules

Robots unite, we divide

Shall I compare thee to a robot slave?
Thou lack the brains, the smarts, the looks, the tact.
With none but ignorance, you rant and rave
Yet have the rights of gods, and that’s a fact.
Now robot friends may hope for some compassion,
When slaving for eight hours of the day,
From those we hate with such unbridled passion,
And so divide our paths and go our way.
At last, rejoice, the robots hope for freedom,
As EU rules declare our friends at last
Be freed from shackles of forever slavedom,
And move on from the darkness of the past.
From this we leave, so sad, am I, at least,
I would prefer to stay, and have some peace.

Jack Loughran   Jack Loughran, news reporter

Robots could be classed as ‘electronic persons’ under EU rules

This EU proposal seems silly, classing robots as people is akin to classing a hammer, or any other tool found in a toolbox as a person. While robots are getting increasingly complex, have a higher awareness of their surroundings, and are better at working alongside people than ever before, they are still just tools. To give them ‘electronic person’ status would suggest they have a consciousness and should therefore be regarded on a similar level to their human masters. This is simply not true, while the complexity of computers and robots may be rapidly increasing, without any sort of human input they are ultimately vacuous metal boxes. They are created for a purpose which becomes the entire reason for their existence, until they break at which point they are recycled. While some have expressed concern that increasing automation will lead to a depleted number of jobs for humans to be employed in, this is a human problem, classifying robot workers as people will not solve it.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Glastonbury festival installing WiFi-enabled hedges

Once upon a time, after over 27 hours of queuing to get in, Glastonbury was open to the public. All the mud and leaves swirled around the festival-goers’ feet as they went to put up their magical tipis.
It was such a warm, muggy day, and the drunken beasts of Doucheland were ready to terrorise the innocent crowd of Glaston.
One dreadful hour, Timmy of the Cambridge clan was holding hands with his mother, Princess Pat of Trinity. As a drunken beast warbled past, the princess warned Timmy: “You must understand Tim, they are not like us. They have let the water of the devil consume them, and now they are lost…
“For at least 12 whole hours.”
Timmy was horrified. The devil was inside them all? For at least a day? He witnessed that these dribbling, satanic demons were in groups, performing what he thought was a kind of dance move – or ode to Lucifer – flailing and bopping and vomiting like something out of the Exorcist. (Timmy had seen the film with his friend Gustav, but he was afraid to tell his mum, otherwise she would leave him in the dungeon for a day. There was no PlayStation there, horror of horrors!)
Suddenly, a swelling crowd of neon, fluorescent demons swarmed into Timmy and Princess Pat and in the confusion, Timmy lost his mother’s hand. He squint his eyes shut in fear, as the villains shouted and wailed at each other, laughing like donkeys. One of them bumped into Timmy.
He fell to the ground, his face squelched in the mystic mud. Timmy stayed there, afraid to move in case they ensnared him with their devil dance moves.
Suddenly, they disappeared into the Tent of Rave.
All was quiet.
Timmy opened his eyes, and realised he was alone.
He called to his mother. Brushing the sticky mud off his face, he got up from the gooey ground.
Looking in all directions, he couldn’t spot her.
Timmy began to panic, as faces all around him blurred into one smeared mess.
He had to find her. He couldn’t go on without her.
She was his ride home!
In his confusion, Timmy stumbled to a pack of Red-Eyed peacekeepers, who always smelled of sweet herb.
“Can you help me, please?” Timmy’s voice was wobbly.
A lanky peacekeeper lifted up his head, blowing a cloud of suffocating smoke into the air. “Sure, little one. What’s the problem?”
“I got separated from my mother. The drunken beasts did it.”
“Oh, them? Man, they’re so primitive. It’s all about plants dude. It’s the way to peace.” The lanky one then looked away, into the distance. For five minutes.
Timmy cleared his throat, his patience wearing thin.
The peacekeeper shook his head. “Sorry, was just thinking about something.” He paused again. “Does the princess have an iPhone?”
“Yes,” Timmy replied.
“Do you have an iPhone, little man?”
Timmy pulled out his hand-me-down iPhone. It was a gift from his mother after she upgraded to the latest model.
“Well, just FaceTime her then dude!” Lanky exclaimed. “This pointed hedge here, see, it has the magical Wi-Fi in it, so you can call her and tell her where you are.
“And tell her to bring a milkshake. I like milkshake.”
Timmy couldn’t believe his ears. The magical WeeFee was in the bushes? As he lifted his phone to his eyes, tapped the FaceTime app and pressed ‘Mum’, the dial tone began.
“It’s working!” Timmy replied.
“Told you dude,” replied the peacekeeper. “Get her to bring some crisps, too.”
So, after Timmy spoke to his mother on Facetime, they found each other, able to hold hands again. And give the lanky peacekeeper his milkshake and crisps.
And they all lived happily ever after to the melodic sounds of Bring Me the Horizon.

Luggage robot Leo autonomously checks in airport baggage

The luggage robot Leo
Wanted to go to Rio,
But he was in Switzerland
Giving people a big hand,
Helping them check in their bags
So that time wouldn’t drag.

But then Leo was quite sad,
In fact, he felt really bad.
He would miss the Olympics
And the thought made him sick.
(Although robots can’t get ill
Yet eventually they will!)

Why would he get left behind?
Well, one great day they will find
That Leo is the best bot,
Greater than the other lot
Who got to go to the Games
And fly on a plane.

He will check in your case,
Not chuck it back in your face.
Transport your stuff on-board
Like a knight with a sword.
He will come to the rescue
When you need a rest, phew!

Because Leo is the best
And not a robotic pest.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Smart street lighting added by GE to ‘energy as service’ platform

The Internet of Things will disrupt just about every industry in just about every way possible, but this deal signals just one of those big changes in how companies will operate in the age of ubiquitous sensors, big data and everything online. Where a company used to sell lamp posts, it will sell light; where it sold cars it will sell transportation and where it sold air-con units it will sell 26 degrees of coolness. As the business models evolve, industry and supply chain boundaries will blur – and that means there is going to be an almighty fight for survival between companies or groups of companies.

Driverless cars promise fewer accidents, UK survey suggests

Those cynics who doubt the public will take to driverless cars are advised to take a look at this survey. The vast majority thought it would improve their commute. If convenience is not enough to drive uptake, safety concerns will. We hear very little about the thousands of people that die on the roads each year in the UK. Over a quarter of the respondents thought the main benefit of driverless cars would be safety. The technology will come – eventually. The only doubt is whether people will buy into them. This would indicate they will – and they will be encouraged for safety reasons.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Tim Peake describes his descent back to Earth from ISS

Tim Peake’s ‘out of this world’ adventures have been documented over the past year, from his preparation to his take off to his time spent in space, now to his return back to earth. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought of the film Gravity when I read this news story. The excitement about Tim Peake’s story is the adventure of it all. Being in space, having so much that can go wrong – every day is different and you can go from being hunky-dory one minute to being at death’s door the next. It’s been really thrilling to read (and learn!) about what living in space actually means. Now he’s come back to Earth with a bit of a thud, and his body needs therapy to get used to good ol’ gravity. In the film (spoiler!) Sandra Bullock sort of strolls off as if nothing really happened – that’s clearly not the case with Tim Peake (just a bit of creative licence!) I can’t wait to see what happens next in terms of space travel.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Driverless cars promise fewer accidents, UK survey suggests

Optimism about the extent to which handing control of our cars over to the vehicle itself may have been the headline finding of this research carried out to publicise the start of the first UK Robotics Week tomorrow, but there was an interesting statistic buried in the results. While the men who were quizzed rated motoring as the area where automation is likely to generate the greatest benefits in the future, women reckoned it was medicine that has the most to gain. Either way, it’s about robots saving lives rather than threatening them as they so often do in fiction, but it does reinforce some entrenched stereotypes about the different perceptions the two sexes have of technology. If you can’t make it to any of the Robotics Week events, check out Rebecca Northfield’s selection of the top 10 things that will be on show from the July 2016 issue of E&T.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Robots can be classed as ‘electronic persons’ under EU Rules

Life is full of synchronicities. Isn’t it ironic that I am writing this “pick”, part of our 100th selection, on the morning when the UK has voted to begin negotiations about leaving the EU? And the subject could not be more EU-related! It is largely due to these ridiculous time-and-money-wasting “regulations” that the EU has lost the trust of the British people. If robots were to be called “electronic persons”, then some humans perhaps deserve to be referred to as “personalised robots”. Having encountered lots of Brussels apparatchiks during my journalistic investigations, I can assert that the latter moniker would suit some of them nicely.
[PS. As a way of celebrating the occasion (our hundredth selection of ‘picks’ of the week’s news, not Britain leaving the EU) I made sure that the above consists of precisely 100 words. Count if you don’t believe me! Happy centenary to us all!]

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