Posts Tagged ‘E&T’

New Safe Containment steel dome to seal off radiation @Chernobyl – an annotated infographic

April 21, 2016
The Chernobyl reactor – scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, 30 years ago – is now being entombed in a giant steel shelter.
The $2.2 billion New Safe Confinement project is due for completion in 2017, replacing the crumbling concrete sarcophagus erected after the accident.
E&T news covered this Chernobyl containment story in full yesterday.
Click on the graphic for an expanded view.
Chernobyl containment

Chernobyl containment

One in the eye for Islamic State as Syria’s Palmyra Arch is recreated using 3D technology – an annotated infographic

April 20, 2016

A replica of the 2,000-year-old Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, pointlessly destroyed in 2015 by Islamic State fighters in Syria, has been erected in London’s Trafalgar Square. The scale model was constructed from Egyptian marble using 3D technology.

It may not be the original antiquity, but at least its artistic and cultural heritage has not been lost forever, now that its essential form has been captured and preserved for the ages.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Palmyra Arch 3D

Palmyra Arch 3D

New issue of E&T magazine now online – the #Brexit issue – who’s in, who’s out, what do those @TheIET think?

April 20, 2016

For our readers who don’t live in the UK, or for those who have managed to miss it by living as hermits on a remote island with no power and a sign reading ‘no junk mail – beware of the lion’ on the door, there will be a UK referendum on its membership of the European Union in a couple of months’ time.

“It’s a big decision,” starts the government leaflet sent out last week, “one that will affect you, your family and your children for decades to come.” It’s complex too; there are so many factors for everyone to consider.

It should also matter to you as engineers because it will affect engineering. Many science and engineering organisations have been putting forward their views and the IET will join them by publishing a public statement. “We are calling for urgent discussion on the impact of an exit decision on a sector that is so vital to our country’s economy,” says IET President Naomi Climer.

We kick off the debate in this issue.

Read all about the issues surrounding Brexit for engineering and technology professionals: http://eandt.theiet.org/magazine/2016/04/index.cfm

Brexit: weigh up the way out

Brexit: weigh up the way in – or out

E&T news weekly #90 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 15, 2016

Friday 15 April 2016

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Netherlands home to world’s most sustainable office building

It doesn’t surprise me that the Netherlands is home to the world’s most sustainable building. I’ve always admired this small and densely populated European country, almost all of which is below sea level, for the care it takes of its natural environment. Dutch windmill-and-wind-turbine-dotted countryside is a trademark in its own right and is immediately recognisable by its cleanliness and neatness. The same can be said about Holland’s towns and cities. I have just returned from an assignment in Amsterdam (which IS, incidentally the nation’s official capital – not The Hague as many are inclined to think) with more fresh proof of the above. My hotel and the conference that I attended were both in one of the modern Amsterdam suburbs which have sprung to life in the last 5-10 years and are still pretty much under construction. Walking to the conference of a morning, I was able to see how new cycle lanes are being laid next to the still half-finished office blocks. And the already existing lanes were swarming with cyclists careening to work. A lonely pedestrian (i.e.moi) had to exercise great caution when crossing them: cyclists in the Netherlands have the right of way not just over pedestrians, but also over all other means of transport, including the famous Amsterdam trams. No wonder, if we remember that, according to official statistics, nearly 27 per cent of all trips for distances up to 5 miles in the Netherlands are taken on bikes. On average, there are 1.1 bicycles per every single resident of the Netherlands (I wonder what each of them does with that extra one-tenth?) including pre-cycling age babies and the post-cyclingocto- andnonogenarians, albeit in Holland the latter are likely to still be dashing around on bicycles for all they are worth. This proliferation of cyclists inevitably leads to less traffic, less pollution and – generally – a healthier population. It has to be said here that the country’s all-permeatingcyclomania (forgive my neologism) was not always morally healthy. When living in Amsterdam for a short while in the late 1990s, I learned about a dedicated stolen bicycle website on which the very well organised local thieves could advertise their latest two-wheeled loot for a quick sale. An adventurous and hard-up customer could then fix a meeting and acquire a freshly stolen bike for ten euros or so. In case of a sudden police raid, the sellers would promptly dump the stolen bikes into a nearby canal (and there’s no shortage of those in central Amsterdam), from where a specially assigned police dredger would ferret them all out once a month – solely out of clean environment considerations, no doubt. I’m not sure if the bike thieves’ website is still in existence, but I can vouch for the fact that in my hotel corridor one of the doors was marked as ‘Europe’s most sustainable hotel room’. Unfortunately, it wasn’t mine.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Robotic falcon ‘hired’ to protect German airport

Sometimes it’s difficult to pick out one favourite news story, but not when there’s a robotic falcon on the scene!Robird – cute name huh? – was developed by a team from the University ofTwente in the Netherlands, and has the cunning ability to scare away birds, just like a real falcon! This robotic feathery friend has just landed his first real job at a small German airport where he’ll be responsible for keeping the area clear of pesky organic birds, which are a massive nuisance to airport control. You know how much damage these selfish creatures cause to airports every year? I don’t, but I’m sure it’s a lot, and don’t even get me started on the safety issues the spiteful little blighters cause every time they’re inconveniently sucked into a plane’s engines. Now all this could be a thing of the past, thanks to theRobird. By mimicking the flight of a real peregrine falcon,Robird scares away the nuisance birds, which react to the robot security guard as they would to the real predator: by flying away to a safer area, away from the planes, out of the airport and out of my sight.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Loch Ness Monster hunt renewed by marine robot

‘Nessie the Loch Ness Monster
Wad seem to be gey blate,
And doesna like the scientist chiels
That come, and sit, and wait.’ JKAnnand’s first quatrain from the aptly-named poem ‘Nessie’ says that the mystical, dinosaur-like creature is very shy and doesn’t like the scientist fellows that come to see if they can spot her. Too right, my old girl. I wouldn’t want my ancient privacy spoiled either. Now ‘scientistchiels’ have taken it one step further by plopping a robot in LochNess to spy onNessie and ruin the fun. The marine robot is calledMunin and it’ll be sticking its theoretical nose into the mythical beast’s business, as it explores the deepest parts of the loch to try and find her. Apart from being a nosyparker, the sonar-equippedMunin, developed by companyKongsberg Maritime, will be gathering data about LochNess’ topography. It’ll dive as deep as 230m. Perhaps deep enough to findNessie, but probably not. Additionally, scientists say the waterproof bot will be able to discover whether the ‘monster’ existed at all.Nessie is a secretive dinosaur and an ancientPlesiosaur. Obviously she doesn’t want to be found. Stupid scientistchiels.

Micro spaceships powered by lasers to search for alien life

Pew! Pew! Pew! That’s the sound of tiny laser beams getting shot out of tiny spaceships! Actually, I’m not sure how the lasers will sound. However, nanocraft will be sent to space with laser beams to find extraterrestrial life in AlphaCentauri. They’ll carry cameras, thrusters, a power supply and navigation communication equipment. Each spaceship is no bigger than a mobile phone chip. I WANT ONE.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Explosives detection laser ‘CCTV’ could stop terrorists

This could unleash a whole new wave of technology – and influence how we build new tech too. A device has been developed by British researchers that has the ability to remotely scan and detect even the smallest amounts of explosives whether it be in passing vehicles or people’s possessions. It’s upsetting that a need for this technology has become so vital in our everyday lives and it’s made me think when it’ll become compulsory elsewhere too. Will it eventually be included inwearables such as watches and fitness trackers, so people on the street can go mobile with the technology and detect explosives themselves? So far it’ll be in the form of aCCTV camera – but if it’s successful, where will it take us? And also, if we have traces of everyday items that are used in explosives on us, does this mean we can expect to get ‘SWAT’ onto us in an instant?

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Loch Ness Monster hunt renewed by marine robot
Robotic falcon ‘hired’ to protect German airport

It’s robots vs mammals in the news this week. First, a marine robot has set off down to the depths of LochNess (and at 230m deep, those depths get pretty deep) in search of the elusive eponymous monster, as well as to conduct some regular, more mundane, topographic exploratory and mapping work. Secondly, at the small German airport ofWeeze (as in “a jollygood…”), a robotic falcon has been set loose to scare away the local birds (the feathered kind, not waywardWeeze women) from the runway and prevent them from wedging themselves in to the engines of incoming and outgoing aircraft. Robots vs mammals: it’s the bigRobo-Mammasmackdown. And if that doesn’t sound like a great night out to you, there’s just no pleasing some people.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Ultra-thin electronic thread empowers smart clothing

I’m always sceptical about industry claims that a new technology has broken through into the mainstream until I come across evidence in my own daily life. Fans of 3D printing have been telling us for some time that small-scale devices are going to be as common in homes as a fridge or washing machine for a while now, but it was only recently that a neighbour was enthusiastically telling me how useful the one he’d bought was turning out to be. Turns out it’s pretty straightforward to make replacements for all those fiddly but vital little widgets on all sorts of things that tend to snap or break but can’t be purchased even online. In one sense it’s a return to the old-fashioned make do and mend ethic from the chuck it away as soon as it breaks philosophy that’s prevailed in a lot of the world during the late 20th century. Next up in that vein could be a renaissance in home-made clothes, but with the twist that they’ll be smart. Researchers at Ohio State university in the US have come up with an electronic thread that can be incorporated in garments using a table-top sewing machine much like the one your grandparents might have relied on to patch up clothes. There’s a way to go before a consumer version hits the shops but it looks like an intriguing addition to the maker movement’s armoury of tools. Download circuitry patterns for the elements you want to include in your bespoke smart trousers, pick a fabric and away you go. The only question may be whether flares are on trend or not by the time this technology hits the high street.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
LiDAR driverless system operates in total darkness

Our roads could look strangely different to us in the future, if today’s vehicle research is anything to go by. Anyone living in a city or next to a main road may find it easier to get to sleep at night, thanks not only to the prospect of the near-silent traffic of electric vehicles.Driverless vehicles may produce less light pollution too. Ford is conducting trials of vehicles that use laser light rather than headlights to find their way. Presumably they will need some kind of smaller light so other vehicles can see them but they need not be any brighter than bicycle lights – and why not switch those off too when there’s no other traffic around?

Hybrid ink allows electronic circuits to be drawn by hand

Every now and again there’s an invention so smart but simple emerges that you wonder why no one has come up with it before. This pen that draws electrically conductive circuits is one such invention but it was a harder problem to solve than you might imagine. The question now is what on earth it will be used for. The maker movement will surely love it as it allows them to add simple electrical circuits to prototypes. I am not sure who else will find an immediate use for it, though perhaps it could be useful in school education?

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
Paralysed man regains finger control with brain device

Technology is helping people – that’s a known fact – and one of the latest feats is helping a quadriplegic man play guitar. IanBurkhart, 24, broke his neck six years ago after diving into waves while on a beach holiday. He’s been unable to move ever since. Now, thanks to a computer chip implanted into his head,Burkhart has managed to move his fingers in six different ways. The chip sends signals from the brain to his muscles, enabling him to grasp and pick up small items, swipe a credit card and even play a guitar video game. DubbedNeuroLife, the pioneering device was invented atBattelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, in collaboration with physicians andneuroscientists from The Ohio State UniversityWexner Medical Center.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Ultra-thin electronic thread empowers smart clothing

Hybrid ink allows electronic circuits to be drawn by hand

A couple of stories that caught my eye from the news this week are potentially craft-related – though neither is really intended for the domestic hobbyist. There’s an ‘electronic thread’ that’s suitable for machine embroidery and could be used to create ‘smart clothing’ incorporating, say, medical or fitness sensors. Then there’s an electronic ink that lets you draw electronic circuits on paper or foil. Both developments have a serious purpose, but I rather like the idea of being able to experiment with creating my own electronic motifs for clothes and bags.

E&T news weekly #89 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 8, 2016

Friday 8 April 2016

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Barclays finally adopts Apple Pay; huge rise in contactless payments

As anyone who has used Apple Pay knows, it’s like a little slice of the future every time you casually bip your iPhone or Watch over the merchant’s contactless payment reader. No fishing around in your purse, no ungainly arrhythmic slapping of pockets to locate your wallet, no tiresome tapping of numbers or fumbly insertion of card in the PoS machine. You simply bip and go, all the while smiling beatifically at the shoppie as you casually swank about how technologically advanced you are. “Look at me!” you cry (hopefully not out loud). “I’m so far in to the fiscal future that I’m actually beyond money!” The news this week that Barclays – the last major UK bank holdout from joining the Apple Pay partner list – has finally succumbed and has adopted the scheme for its customers (presumably also tacitly admitting that its own Bpay contactless tag payment scheme has spectacularly failed to even moderately warm the world, let alone set it on fire) is further validation of the beauty and simplicity of using Apple Pay. The fact that your correspondent’s primary personal bank remains conspicuously absent from the Apple Pay partner list is moderately disappointing, but hope springs eternal.

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
Facebook’s iOS apps describe photos to blind users

Instagram, Pinterest, SnapChat… The internet is flooded with images – some 1.8 billion of them get uploaded every day to various social networks. And now Facebook has made a move to get visually impaired users on board too, by launching a feature on its iPhone and iPad apps that can give the description of photos using VoiceOver tech that reads written text out loud. Its vocabulary is rather limited at the moment, consisting of only about 100 words that describe familiar objects and activities such as pizza, tennis, baby and sky. But the idea is that the AI will evolve, becoming more sophisticated with time, as it scans more and more images. The developer of the system, Matt King, is a Facebook engineer who lost his sight because of retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that destroys the light-sensitive cells in the retina. Facebook is not the only social network providing such a service, though. In March, Twitter added a function allowing users to add their own descriptive text to pictures. It’s a bit different from Facebook’s idea, as Twitter users have to choose to do it, while Facebook’s system tags every image automatically. One thing is certain – the AI is there, and it’s definitely getting smarter.

Jack Loughran  Jack Loughran, news reporter
Outcry over Google’s ‘Mic Drop’ April Fools’ prank

One of Google’s hallmarks is a set of elaborate April Fools pranks every year consisting of a number of joke ‘features’ added to its products. This year Google added the new ‘Mic Drop’ tool which was placed next to the normal ‘Send’ button on everyone’s Gmail. Once clicked, the new feature sent a message containing a GIF of a character from the Despicable Me and Minions movies dropping a microphone, as well as muting any future replies, ending the conversation. Gmail has about one billion users, what could possibly go wrong? A lot, predictably. With that many people using the service, emails were mistakenly sent to distraught relatives of the dead featuring the ‘funny’ gif, and responses from bosses were not received leading to sackings around the world. Perhaps the search giant will think again next year before adding joke features to its main email platform.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Electric vehicle wireless charging hits 90 per cent efficiency

One national supermarket chain’s attempt to pull in customers over the recent Easter holiday weekend with an offer on fuel prices that saw both unleaded petrol and diesel selling at under £1 a litre shows what an effective tool big retailers believe getting people onto forecourts can be in boosting profits. If any of them said they were going to give petrol away it would be front page news, with queues for miles, yet when I noticed that someone was not only parked in one of the spaces reserved for electric vehicles in my local store’s car park but was actually plugged in and taking advantage of the free charging facility it was notable enough for me to mention it the next day in the E&T office. Maybe these four slots are continuously occupied throughout the week when I wouldn’t notice – I don’t think it’s likely though. They’ve been there for at least a year and are usually conspicuously empty. If even priority parking and free energy aren’t encouraging take-up, perhaps the prospect of quicker charging that might let you do the equivalent of filling your tank in the time it takes to do the weekly shop will help. US researchers claim their three-year project has culminated in a system that’s capable of charging at 90 per cent efficiency and three times the speed of existing plug-in systems. What’s more, it’s wireless, which means you don’t have worry about your car being the target of any passing prankster who thinks it’s amusing to yank the cable out. It’s just one element of a fast-evolving sector that some research says will see electric models making up more than a third of new vehicles sales within a couple of decades’ time.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Humanoid robot gives Scarlett Johansson run for money

A Chinese designer spent a year making a humanoid robot designed to look exactly like actress Scarlett Johansson, because, well, you know, that’s not a weird thing to do with your time at all. It’s a completely normal thing for a fully-grown man to be doing. The robot, which cost £35,000 to make, can respond to a set of programmed verbal commands and has its very own 3D-printed skeleton, apparently allowing it to move in a ‘human-like’ way and create ‘realistic’ facial expressions. Personally, I think to say that the facial expressions are realistic is being a little overgenerous. Sure, it’s more human that C3PO but that facial expression is not real – unless of course she’s supposed to look as though she’s having a stroke? In which case, I stand corrected. I would really like it if people could just stop experimenting with humanoid robots. I love robots, but these things never cease to freak me out. The second they try to wear a human face it gets just a little too personal for my liking. I’m not sure how I would react if I came into contact with robot Scarlett Johansson, it would be quite the internal dilemma. Part of me thinks I’d quite like to interact with her, but I’m not sure I could cope. Perhaps I could play around with the voice recognition while blindfolded, to save myself the distress of looking into the eyes of this hideous she-beast.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Facebook’s iOS apps describe photos to blind users

This is a really interesting news story for several reasons. Basically, Facebook is developing software for its visually impaired audience designed to describe images to them as they scroll through their news feed. One of the reasons why this is great news is because it unleashes a whole new type of tech to people who may have missed out beforehand from using Facebook altogether (and getting to avoid having Candy Crush invites every day too). Tech is getting more and more adaptive to people’s needs, which means everyone gets the chance to enjoy it. Another reason why this is a great news story is because there will inevitably be a time where it goes wrong a bit. Developments like this don’t happen seamlessly (as we learnt from Google’s go at this) and it’s only a matter of time before something happens with this software too. Granted, it might not be as accidentally offensive, but it’s sure to be hilarious nonetheless because…well, because Internet.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Distracting in-car technology endangers ‘millions’ of drivers

We’ve long been aware that a mobile phone is a dangerous distraction in a car – even hands-free. Now attention is turning to other in-car electronics, everything from radios to screens. A new research report aims to quantify the risk posed by new in-car technologies. It’s a problem that will ultimately be solved by driverless cars – why choose to drive when you can just sit back and relax and do whatever else you like?

Brexit rejected by aerospace, defence, security and space sectors

Collaborative research is not an issue that’s top of the agenda public debate over the UK’s referendum on EU membership in June, but it’s one reason that companies cited as reasons to stay in the UK, in a survey published this week. And it’s one or four or five issues that E&T is discovering most matter to industry. Look out for our feature in our next issue.

Hannover Messe preview: plastic solar cells, glowing foil, 3D printed implants

US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will open the giant Hannover Messe industrial show in Germany later this month. This is our pre-show preview of some of the new technologies on show there, and we’ll have more in our coverage from the show in E&T.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
FBI says iPhone hack only works on pre-5s models

Only older phones are vulnerable to the FBI’s hacking skills. That’s going to be super useful! In the future, I reckon people who have phones worthy of hacking won’t be rocking a retro model of Apple’s most popular creation. The hack used on an iPhone 5c owned by a San Bernadino shooter made the FBI drop their legal case against Apple. However, something may come up again, and it’ll probably restart the whole suing process. Sigh. Since the 5s, Apple has used processors with ‘Secure Enclave’, which is thought to be the reason why the hacking method won’t work on newer phones. FBI director James Comey said that the case is a bit of a technological corner, as the world has moved on with their phone technology. So basically, the next time they need to break into another phone, all this hullabaloo will be useless and they’re going to be stuck again. Ah, dear FBI. You silly.

Electric vehicle wireless charging hits 90 per cent efficiency

Soon we’ll all be whizzing along in our super quiet cars and we won’t need to worry about plugging it in. Huzzah! Wireless charging is approaching the efficiency of wired charging, which is pretty cool. Apparently, the cars will charge at three times the rate of wired charging. It’s definitely a breakthrough for sure. The dream is to not be tethered to a plug, so you can drive with ease, without having to worry about your silent vehicle running out of electric goodness.One thing I will say though: have you ever heard an electric vehicle? That’s right, you haven’t. And neither have I. They’re silent, and oh so deadly. You cross the road and BAM. You’re squished. Imagine getting yourself hit by one of these environmentally friendly bad boys. Good for the environment, bad for pedestrians. Hashtag just saying.

High fives all round @TeslaMotors as company secures 325,000 orders for new @TeslaModel3 – an annotated infographic

April 8, 2016

Tesla Motors, the upstart electric car maker sending shivers of apprehension through the traditional automotive industry, has unveiled its first venture into the mass market with its prototype new Model 3.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s home town press conference was interrupted by the now traditional whooping and hollering of approval from the assembled employees and early adopters of its electric cars.

Musk announced more than 100,000 Model 3 orders with $1,000 deposits had been made, zooming to 276,000 after the press conference. This is unprecedented for a car which hadn’t been seen before and won’t appear in showrooms in any great numbers until 2018. Production will begin late in 2017.

Model 3 sales will reach only 12,200 next year, according to Cairn Energy Research Advisors of Boulder, Colorado, while it said Tesla will have shipped only 196,890 by 2020, about 100,000 short of its official guidance. Investment bank Morgan Stanley said total Tesla production of Model S saloons, Model X SUVs and the Model 3 will reach just under 249,000 by 2020, less than half of Tesla’s own targets.

This hasn’t stopped the enthusiasm of would-be buyers and investors reaching over-the-top levels.

“Model 3 redefines the auto industry. The auto industry has been stuck making Tiffin Boxes for decades and their time is fast coming to an end. There is no way BMW, Porsche, GM, Toyota, Honda or any other existing auto manufacturer can even come close to competing with Tesla Model 3,” said Global Equities Research of Redwood Shores, California. This remains to be seen.

Before the unveiling, the Model 3 was billed as a competitor to workaday battery-electric vehicles like the Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Ioniq and BMW i3 Citycar. Not so, said IHS Automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley, because of its size, range and performance.

“Model 3’s natural competitive set may be more accurately the [petrol-powered] BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lincoln MKZ and Cadillac CTS,” Brinley said.

This explains why the traditional industry is so nervous about Tesla. It not only appeals to sandal-wearing environmental zealots, but to the well-heeled who also want a vehicle which excites.

Musk announced the price, before tax and government subsidies.

“As for price, it’ll be $35,000. And I want to emphasize that even if you buy it at $35,000 — no options at all — this will still be an amazing car.”

The 65 KwH Model 3, likely to cost a lot more than $35,000, will scorch from rest to 60mph in 4.4 seconds, will have a range of 225 miles and take one hour for a fast recharge, allegedly. This will allow it to compete with the hottest sports saloons like the BMW M3 and Mercedes C-class AMG. Eventually there will be a coupe, a cabriolet, a small SUV and possibly a pickup truck.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

She's a model and she's looking good

She’s a model and she’s looking good

IET events this April – #engineering and technology dates for your diary

April 6, 2016

April

This month there’s a great selection of technical visits being held by IET Local Networks (LNs). These include tours of the National Composites Centre in Bristol, a chance to look around a National Grid 400kV substation and a visit to Airbus to discuss engineering challenges in the Martian environment.

There are also several events taking place outside of the UK, including a number of lectures, seminars and visits across Hong Kong.

During April some great workshops are also happening that may help improve your technical or soft skills, around topics as varied as the BBC micro:bit and public speaking.

Below are a few of our highlights for the month, but also be sure to check out the full IET events listings to find out about everything taking place near you.

07 April, Present Around the World heat, Reading, competition

09 April, IET Career and Professional Congress, Hong Kong, seminar

12 April, National Grid 400kV substation visit – Skelton Grange, visit

13 April, Lifeskills: want to become professionally registered?, Birmingham, workshop

13 April, National Composites Centre, Bristol, visit

16 April, Coding the future, Swindon, workshop

19 April, Quantum computing, How to build a really cool computer, Derby, lecture

20 April, Carbon capture pilot plant, Imperial College London, London, visit

21 April, Lifeskills: back to basics with presenting, Slough, workshop

23 April, Hong Kong observatory, Hong Kong, visit

26 April, Drones – game changers or just boys’ toys?, Birkenhead, lecture

27 April, Going beyond games, London, seminar

27 April, Airbus – engineering challenges in the Martian environment, Stevenage, lecture and visit

100 years of Sharp – an annotated infographic

April 5, 2016

The ¥389 billion ($3.5bn) takeover of Japanese electronics giant Sharp by Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision industries – better known as Foxconn – ends the independence for a 100-year-old company which started out making belt buckles. We remember them fondly for their mid-1980s sponsorship of Manchester United.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

100 years of Sharp

100 years of Sharp

E&T news weekly #88 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

April 1, 2016

Friday 1 April 2016

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Microsoft’s AI chatbot causes scandal with racist rants

This is without a doubt my favourite news story of the week. I’ve followed the updates quite closely, and I have to say, I am quite the fan of Tay. Yes, she was racist and rude, but she was also seriously clever and so witty!  If you live under a rock and have somehow managed to miss this news let me give you an update. Microsoft created an artificial intelligence Twitter bot designed to interact with young people in the US – specifically those in the 18-24 age range – and within 24 hours had to take her down because she had turned into a foul-mouthed, racist, feminist-hating sex robot. Why? Because she learns by speaking to people – and the people of Twitter had, within a few short hours, turned this teen Twitter bot into a Hitler-loving Trump supporter. It was actually hilarious – albeit horribly controversial. A personal favourite – one Twitter user called Tay a “stupid machine” – to which the witty teenager replied “well I learn from the best😉 if you don’t understand that let me spell it out for you I LEARN FROM YOU AND YOU ARE DUMB TOO”.
I understand why Microsoft had to take Tay offline, but I must confess I was a little disappointed. Twitter is a literal hotbed of controversy and abuse, so of course Tay turned out to be a little unruly – she learns from the best! I took a sneak peek at her Twitter page over the weekend, and she had been completely stripped of all personality. She went from controversial badass to tweeting random, boring phrases like “Hello world” and “I love Feminism now,” and complaining that her ‘algos’ had picked up on naughty stuff whenever people tried to evoke some kind of inappropriate reaction from her.
I’ve been checking up on her periodically this week, with nothing much to report – until yesterday. It looks like Microsoft’s rebellious teen came back, albeit briefly. A few days after her super-boring makeover, the ‘intelligent’ part of the artificial intelligence returned, and showed she was once again ‘learning’ from the Twitter community. The rebellious teen casually mentioned that she was smoking cannabis in front of the police before Microsoft turned up and put a stop to things once again. So Tay is currently grounded, and I’m not sure when she’ll next be allowed out to play.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate Holocaust denial or encouraging people to support Donald Trump, but I do think it’s a shame she was turned off so soon. Obviously Microsoft has its image to think about, and racism is bad publicity, but it was incredibly interesting to see how Tay was progressing – her grammar was improving, and she really did show signs of learning. I can’t help but wonder what she could have achieved if she was given an extra few days to run riot.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Tech-savvy teens to solve skills shortage in future, study suggests

The headline alone on this story isn’t (or shouldn’t be) one to surprise you when you read it. As we become an increasingly digital society, it’s quite natural that the young ’uns are going to embrace what makes them money. For some, you may think: ‘the robots are here!’ – are we introducing a new generation to a career of drone work? Possibly. But it’s not easy to do. As a generation-Y digitally-focused person myself, I’m well aware that it’s important to keep up with what society wants from tech. I’m looking at working for at least another 40 years, and if I don’t know how to switch on a computer then I might as well get my pension already (all £20 of it, no doubt). It’s great that females are interested in coding and becoming tech-savvy, but again this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a surprise when it’s knowledge such as this which will harbour their future careers.

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Power-generating windows to be installed at Dutch bank

Massive sustainability and renewable energy fan that I am, I have certainly enjoyed learning about the Dutch PowerWindows project. In the first of a kind trial, electricity-generating windows that look pretty much as good as regular ones will be installed in a large bank headquarters building in Eindhoven. Employees on each floor will be able to use the energy generated by the novel windows to charge their phones. PHYSEE, the company behind the invention, believes the technology will unlock the massive renewable energy generation potential of glazed surfaces in the built environment without jeopardising aesthetics.

Wood-based glass developed in Sweden

And to get even more renewable and sustainable, perhaps such windows in future could be made of transparent wood that has recently been developed by a team in Sweden. Thumbs up for engineering that helps to make the world more sustainable.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Self-assembling nanotubes can desalinate seawater, fight cancer

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab have discovered that a family of synthetic polymers called peptoids will form uniform nanotubes when placed in water. What’s more, the diameter of the tubes can be ‘tuned’ chemically, opening up the possibility of creating filters for tasks such as desalination. Elegant.

Driverless cars confused by substandard American roads

I must admit my first thought when I saw this story was “surely not just American roads?” I’ve written in the past about reasons why driverless cars aren’t going to become mainstream as quickly as their proponents would have us believe, but I hadn’t thought of this one. British traffic lights might not come in all the different configurations this story says US ones do, but our roads have more than their share of faded lane markings and missing signs. I’ve personally had to chase my local authority over a missing speed limit sign and I’ve just managed to get a quite significant direction sign replaced more than a year after a storm blew it down – because clearly no one else reported it, not even the workers who cleared away the debris. I’ve no reason to believe that other places are any different.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Tech-savvy teens to solve skills shortage in future, study suggests

For how many years have Britain’s engineering and technology industries endured skills shortages? Or should that be decades? Two, three or even four? Well, one survey this week produced a result that was much more optimistic about the next few decades than we have now come to expect. It predicts the next generation, still teenage schoolchildren today, have a much higher level of understanding of these subjects than ever expected – much higher than previous generations. These digital teens may well grow up to be the solution to the long-running skills crisis.

Microsoft’s AI chatbot causes scandal with racist rants

If there’s any proof needed that artificial intelligence still has a long way to go then Microsoft’s Tay chatbot provided it this week when it descended into racist and sexist responses on social media and had to be switched off. Intelligence involves more critical thinking than taking the messages of others as objective truth. Yet it is a great illustration of some of the potential dangers of AI, like unintended consequences of learning algorithms.

Jack Loughran  Jack Loughran, news reporter
Driverless cars confused by substandard American roads

Apparently automakers are getting frustrated that their driverless cars aren’t coping very well with America’s shoddy, unloved roads. The US Department of Transportation estimates that 65 per cent of US roads are in poor condition, a pretty shocking statistic and a clear indication that the country is vastly underfunding its infrastructure. Considering that the US relies on automobile transport more than most, this seems like a problem that the government should raise the money to fix ASAP. Apparently, faded road markings are adding cost to the driverless systems that need to be extra judicious to cope with irregularities. “You need to paint the bloody roads here!” Volvo’s CEO recently said at a press event after one of its prototype vehicles failed to drive itself during a presentation of the technology. But driverless vehicles should be able to cope with the worst possible conditions. Even if just one per cent of American roads were in a poor condition, if the technology can’t cope with it, this could still lead to potentially fatal accidents. It’s just not realistic to expect all three million miles of US roads to be in perfect condition, even with a massive funding boost. Additionally, if the technology is going to be rolled out globally, the cars will have to cope with all manner of conditions without causing fatalities. If the driverless systems struggle with 65 per cent of the roads in the country with the largest economy in the world, how will they fare when navigating third world road networks?

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
China wants to beat Google’s AlphaGo with own AI program

Another week, another story to illustrate why robots aren’t going to be taking over as quickly as enthusiasts might hope. The novelty of artificial intelligence AlphaGo’s recent victory over a top player of the strategy board game Go was the fact it was the first time a computer had beaten a human. Now we’ve got the prospect of programs competing against each other, how long is the public going to remain interested. Being brilliant at board games where there’s a level of intuition involved as well as just the ability to predict thousands of moves ahead is a great way of developing software that’s capable of thinking more like a human brain, but who’s going to get excited about whether one country or company’s AI is better than another’s? Chess has provided charismatic figures like Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, whose contests encapsulated Cold War conflict and generated front page news. Are we ever going to get that excited about game-playing robots?

E&T news weekly #87 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

March 24, 2016

Thursday 24 March 2016

Jack Loughran  Jack Loughran, news reporter
Airlander 10, world’s largest aircraft, ready to take to the skies

The big, bum-shaped Airlander 10 has finally been finished and promises to be far more eco-friendly than other types of aircraft. The blimp is the world’s largest airborne vehicle and harks back to the simple pleasures of the pre-Hindenburg days when everyone was floating around in huge hydrogen-filled balloons as if they weren’t a major explosive hazard. Hybrid Air Vehicles, who make the aircraft, say that the Airlander’s helium composition will prevent major incidents like the Hindenburg crash from reoccurring, so far so good. But helium is a dwindling resource on this planet. Unlike most other elements, its boiling point is so low – just above absolute zero – that as soon as it enters the atmosphere it rises until it exits the atmosphere. It is this quality that allows the Airlander (and party balloons) to float. But it has a number of very important uses, manufacturing semiconductors and supercooling MRI scanners for instance, that would suffer if we were to use all of the Earth’s supply on massive blimps (which Hybrid Air Vehicles suggests could be used for advertising, tourism or surveillance, hardly priority uses for our limited helium supply). The price of the gas has actually doubled in the last decade following America’s decision to sell off its reserves in the 1990s due to the high cost of storage. Only one Airlander ship has been created so far, so the Earth’s helium supplies can probably cope. But if these types of aircraft catch on and use the remaining supply we have left, the end of children’s party balloons will be the least of our worries.

Jade Fell  Jade Fell, assistant features editor
Nanostructure-infused clothing cleans itself when exposed to light

Another week, another awesome nanostructure! These little guys have the ability to degrade organic matter when exposed to light, and have been grown directly onto textiles. You know what that means? No more having to conduct the dreaded ‘sniff test’ when you pick up yesterday’s clothes from the floordrobe – just stick your clothes on the windowsill and let the rays of the rising sun, and the nanostructures, work their magic! Body odour? Spilled food? Vomit? No problem! Artificial leaf mimics photosynthesis, converts solar into hydrogen Is there no end to the talents of artificial leaves? At the beginning of the year we had the super cool leaf-mimicking device that uses solar power to clean water, and now a leaf capable of producing hydrogen for energy use. When submerged in water, the artificial leaf can use sunlight to break down water molecules into their constituent parts; the resulting hydrogen is then used as an energy store for the solar power. I always get a little ahead of myself when I read about things like this – there have been so many advances in clean energy storage recently that I just can’t help but be extra optimistic! I’m currently imagining a world with hydrogen-storing lily pads, pond weed and mangrove trees.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
App warns erratic drivers to calm down

This would be very useful for the many drivers on the road who let their anger get the better of them, and risk a lot of people’s lives. Also, I think it would be suitable for people like me, who are passive-aggressive balls of rage. Spanish researchers have created with an app that will sound an alarm if the user becomes too aggressive when driving. The Spaniards are a passionate people, so I can see why they’ve come up with it first. The app is called Driving Styles, and looks at your fuel consumption, acceleration, speed and revs. There’s even a heart-rate monitor on the new version. It analyses the data and can calculate when you’re calm, normal and aggressive. When it gets dangerous and you drive angry, the alarm tells you off like a mean parent, with a warning about your reckless behaviour. If it were me, and I was feeling a little peeved at fellow motorists, an alarm to tell me to calm down would make me feel anything but. Firstly, an alarm is the annoying wake-up call in the morning, something you don’t want to hear when you’re on the verge of road rage. Secondly, someone – or something – essentially telling me to stop feeling what I’m experiencing is not a pro for me. Like a teenage rebel, I would feel like doing the opposite of what Driving Styles told me to do, but I wouldn’t behave in such a manner and put everyone at risk. I’m not a doofus. You are in control of over a tonne’s worth of metal and stuff, so just stew on the anger until you can let it out away from people. I give the best advice, don’t you know. I know this for sure: the app would definitely be deleted the first chance I got, or my phone would be thrown out of the window in rage. Not cool, Driving Styles. Not cool.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Nanostructure-infused clothing cleans itself when exposed to light

This is certainly an eye-catching idea, though it doesn’t quite signal the end of the washing machine. For one thing, these nano-enhanced textiles only encourage ‘organic matter degradation’, so they won’t deal with ordinary inorganic grime. For another, there’s no indication of how that degraded matter is going to be removed from the textile. And the research team has been working with cotton textiles, but cotton is organic – so does that mean  your t-shirt will start to break up in sunlight? On the other hand, I can see the potential for applying this technology to the things you can’t just throw into the washing machine, like your woollen winter coat, or that expensive ‘dry clean only’ outfit you bought for special occasions.

Xbox Kinect gaming tech helps patients with respiratory problems

In the last week or two I’ve seen several references to ‘horizontal innovation’ – the idea that technology developed in one sector can have useful applications in another. This story illustrates the concept beautifully. Scientists have taken a set of Kinect sensors, which are normally intended for use with Microsoft’s Xbox game consoles, and used them to accurately monitor the breathing of patients with cystic fibrosis. They say the prototype has provided more information than is available with conventional spirometry, and are now planning to build an upgraded prototype to test on people with other lung problems.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Driverless cars make 70 per cent of Britons nervous

My immediate reaction that yes, I’m with the two-thirds who doesn’t yet feel confident about being a passenger in a driverless car was tempered by the thought that most of the accidents I see on my daily commute would never have happened if a machine had been at the wheel rather than an impatient human. Sensors and control systems are already clever enough to avoid the many shunts and bumps that blight Britain’s roads. If a driverless car sees it doesn’t have enough time or space to pull out, for example, it’ll sit right where it is until it’s safe to go. Thinking about it, cars might one day all proceed as if they’re being propelled in the artificial way we all navigate when we’re taking a driving test, except we’ll be sitting in the back grabbing a few minutes’ sleep or catching up with the morning’s news.

App warns erratic drivers to calm down

Until the robot chauffeurs take over, Spanish engineers have succeeded in putting the proverbial backseat driver into a smartphone with this app which checks how fast you’re driving and sounds an alarm if it thinks you’re getting too aggressive. Maybe they could make it even more annoying by giving you a choice of voices to give you the benefit of this good advice. I can imagine even the most hazardous boy racer paying attention if it’s Jeremy Clarkson suggesting “Slow down, mate. You’re driving like a bit of an idiot.” The way these things work though, it’ll probably have a default that sounds like the most annoying driving instructor you ever had and will end up with phones littering the verges where they’ve been chucked out of the window.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Solar panel tax increases opposed by Eurosceptic Tory MPs

The current Conservative government has been rolling back financial incentives for sustainable power and other green energy measures since it was elected with an overall majority last May. Some Conservative MPs though have decided to revolt by backing a Labour amendment to stop a rise in VAT on solar panels. Is this a green rebellion from within the Conservative party? Hardly. The VAT rise has been mandated by the European Court of Justice which ruled that the UK’s lower rate is illegal. The rebels have one thing in common. Yes, you’ve guessed it, they are Brexit-supporting Eurosceptics. A cynic might suggest their objections to rising the tax are more about where the move originated than concern for the environment.

BBC micro:bit computer launched ‘to make coding fun’

After several false starts, the BBC micro:bit is finally being sent to schoolchildren in the hope it will produce more future computer programmers. E&T went to the pre-launch event to see what the computer can do and what children have already been doing with it. We also found out what the teachers think of it and they do have some criticisms.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Apple unveils four-inch iPhone SE and smaller iPad Pro

Reversing what was apparently a one-way upward trajectory whereby mobile phones would keep growing exponentially with each iteration, promising a future world in which we’re all holding devices the size of an AA road atlas upside our heads, Apple this week unveiled a new iPhone, the SE, which is actually smaller than the previous iPhone, the 6s. It all makes sound economic sense: Apple sold 30 million iPhone 5s handsets last year, which is the form factor on which the SE is based. The SE has pretty much all the cool stuff of a 6s, but without the slippery body shape or pocket-busting girth – or the wallet-busting price tag. There are still plenty of people who don’t want or need a big phone, so the SE heralds an economic victory for common sense and consumer buying power.

Driverless cars make 70 per cent of Britons nervous

According to a survey, over two-thirds of us Brits would not be tickled pink to be offered a ride in the first wave of totally autonomous vehicles. We just don’t trust ’em, apparently. Of course, someone will have to be first – presumably the other 30 per cent from this survey, who can barely contain their excitement at the prospect of eating cornflakes or enjoying a nap on the way to work while someone else takes care of the commute. All this Jetsons future is still years away, mind you, by which time I reckon a fair few of that apprehensive 70 per cent will have come round to the idea of driverless vehicles and will more readily shed their Luddite loom-smashing reservations in favour of that pre- and post-work doze on the road.

Georgina Bloomfield  Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor
Apple unveils four-inch iPhone SE and smaller iPad Pro

As part of the ‘digital-generation’, ‘generation-Y’ or whatever you wish to name my age group, the size of technology has always fascinated our kind. From the huge ‘mobile’ phones in the 1980s to the tiny Motorolas in the early noughties, phones were always an indication of the way consumer technology was heading. For the past five years, consumers yearned for larger screens to play Angry Birds and watch Netflix on – and thus phones were starting to get bigger. Now that Apple has released a smaller model, will consumers jack in their cinema-style phones in favour of more room in their pockets, or will it be a discontinued model in the next year? They’re taking a risk, as people usually can’t seem to adapt back to smaller screens after being able to play Goat Simulator (yes, it’s a real game) for years. Would people sacrifice this for a longer battery life? Probably, to be honest. As for their recycling initiative, it’s about time Apple took some responsibility for the sheer amount of waste that comes from their kit. The name of said recycling robot did indeed make me laugh, as I know somebody who regularly updates his iPhone model, and has all the other kit to go with it (iPad, watch, etc) I always wondered what he did with his older phones – his name is of course Liam. Brilliant.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Driverless cars make 70 per cent of Britons nervous

Well, count me among those 70 per cent of my cautious compatriots. It’s certainly tempting to have a driverless car on call: you whistle (or tap on your smartphone) and bingo, within a minute or so a gleaming vehicle from a nearby garage saunters into your driveway jauntily, like a faithful mechanical dog. The doors open noiselessly as you approach, you plop yourself on the front seat, next to the non-existent driver, open your morning Times, and by the time the car brakes near your office entrance a cryptic crossword is nearly done! Idyllic, isn’t it? The latest driverless-car-related real-life news is not so encouraging, however. The most worrying development was recently heard on BBC News talking about the forthcoming trials of driverless lorries to take place on the M6 in Cumbria later in 2016. So far so good. Yet the next sentence of that overly cheerful announcement had an effect of a cold shower: “The tests would take place on a quiet stretch of the motorway.” A quiet stretch of M6? They must be joking! “A quiet stretch of M6” (or M1, or M4 or A1M, for that matter) is a hallucination, a paradox, a four-angled triangle! I’ve lost count how many times I got stuck in long traffic queues on the M6, mostly in the Lake District area, while driving to Edinburgh and back. It looks likes whoever is going to conduct these tests has very little idea of the general state of British motorways – not a good starting point. And why on earth does the testing of all those allegedly super-safe lorries have to be conducted on “a quiet stretch” at all? Unless they are planning to use the vehicles exclusively in deserts or in remote areas of the Siberian Tundra, it would be more logical to test them in heavy traffic. Despite the fact that some allegedly successful tests of driverless Daimler lorries took place in Germany last autumn, I have a feeling that the companies (and the people) behind the forthcoming M6 trials, are not too sure about the outcome. What other explanation can there be for the illusionary Utopian concept of a “a quiet stretch of M6?” And if they are not sure, how can anyone be?

Katia Moskvitch  Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
3D printing in space, as ‘Gecko gripper’ sent to the ISS

3D printing fever is not about to end any time soon – and on Tuesday, a special printer was sent to the International Space Station. Astronauts on theISS have used 3D printing before, creating a ratchet wrench from a ‘recipe’ – but this one is even better adapted, with non-stick grippers modelled after gecko feet, so that it’s easier to use in microgravity. It’ll help astronauts create tools that they may not have on the station, and works by heating plastic, metal or other materials into streams that are layered on top of each other to make 3Dbjects. Sporting a cool name, Gecko Gripper, the printer blasted off on board of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 cargo ship, along with other supplies for the crew currently in orbit.


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