Posts Tagged ‘E&T’

E&T news weekly #57 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

July 3, 2015

Friday July 3 2015

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
Electric double decker bus to be trialled in London

Two stories about London buses this week point to how engineering and technology will change city living for the better over coming decades. I’m not alone in finding it a little disconcerting when the hybrid buses appear to cut out at bus stops. They’re just switching to electric power but this sudden silence used to mean ‘everyone off’ as the bus is terminated early and you all decant on the pavement to wait for another. It’s taking Londoners a while to get used to it but maybe the new all-electric buses will help as they are totally silent all the time. I’m looking forward to that across all vehicles, across London. Please don’t put ‘artificial noise’ into silent electric vehicles.

Automatic speed-limit technology tested on London buses

Driver resistance to automatic safety measures is slowly crumbling as they become harder to resist. I wouldn’t be surprised if this trial made the buses run faster rather than slower as a bus driver can put their foot down safe in the knowledge they will drive at the limit not beyond it. Car drivers will be harder to convince but the safety arguments will become irresistible. I think future generations will look back with disbelief at how we have learned to live with a daily death toll on the roads in the days before automated transport.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Mobile roaming charges to be scrapped across EU by 2017

I was at Dover Castle a couple of weekends ago; a bit pricey if you’re not already an English Heritage member but an excellent family day out if you have a look at everything including the terrific tour of wartime tunnels. Ending the day with a stroll on the iconic white cliffs just up the road though, I was surprised to receive an incoming text message from my mobile network operator welcoming me to France and telling me how much roaming charge would be now I was outside the UK. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been unexpected. The castle tour includes a striking wall-sized copy of a photo of German officers on a French beach looking across at the British coast clearly visible in the distance. What was unnerving was the instinctive thought that I might be incurring crippling fees for using my phone just because the network thought I’d ventured onto the Continent. That should become less of a worry when roaming charges are eventually abolished in a couple of years’ time, but it’s disappointing how long it’s taken to conclude negotiations, a process that one British MEP described this week as “Taking cat herding to extremes”.

HMRC tackles fuel fraud with measurement technology

Attempts to prevent misuse of the tax-rebated ‘red diesel’ fuel intended for agricultural vehicles are a staple of TV shows where camera crews accompany police patrols around Britain’s roads. The potential profits to be made mean criminals have set up sophisticated techniques for removing the distinctive colour markers that give the fuel its name. Now authorities have come up with a new marker and will be carrying out roadside checks over the summer months using special equipment. It’s tempting to think of this as a victimless crime, but in the current economic climate an estimated £400 million in lost tax revenue sounds like it’s worth clamping down on.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Evolution not revolution, say F1 fans

So 80 per cent of Formula One fans want in-race refuelling brought back, 60 per cent want another tyre war and thousands voted the 2000s as the era that produced the best looking cars, according to a survey produced for the Grand Prix Drivers Association. They want to turn back the clock 10-15 years to when Michael Schumacher and Ferrari dominated the sport and nobody overtook anyone on-track ever do they? Why? No one loved that era of F1 more than I did as a Ferrari obsessed child fanatic, but now in 2015 we’ve moved on. Ok, the sport has serious issues and needs to urgently address its escalating spending to secure the future of several F1 teams, but the on-track action is simply better than it was ten years ago. Surveys like this are ok, but pretty pointless in reality. The sport needs dynamic and urgent leadership to solve its problems, not pandering to impossible-to-please, rose-tinted-spectacle-wearing obsessives who romantically look back on their younger fan days and vent their anger on Twitter every time Lewis Hamilton wins – it’s really not his fault.

Heathrow backed over Gatwick by Airports Commission

The long awaited UK airports commission report has recommended a third runway be built at Heathrow. But it still needs government approval and with David Cameron already having promised not to expand the UK’s largest airport even further back in 2009 and Tory heavyweights like Boris Johnson refusing to accept the commission’s recommendations, plus the inevitable protests, I reckon it will be some time before another runway is built in the south of England.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
BP to settle Deepwater Horizon case

As comedian WC Fields put it, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.” So it goes for BP, which has spent the last five years determinedly – some might say bloody-mindedly – refusing to accept responsibility for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and the resultant devastating oil spill. This week, after its desperate – some might say baffling – appeal was rejected by the US Supreme Court, BP finally agreed to settle the $12bn legal dispute.

Cuadrilla’s second Lancashire fracking application rejected

Fracking zealot Cuadrilla, on the other hand, is not taking lying down Lancashire County Council’s multiple dismissals of its applications to gleefully ravage large areas of the county. Strictly in a begrudging, the-brassneck-on-that, have-to-admire-their-moxy kind of way, Cuadrilla’s determination in the face of rejection has its place, but surely at some point it has to accept that no means no. Take note of Mr Fields’ maxim, Cuadrilla: no use being damn fools about it. The government’s own once-redacted, now-unredacted report on fracking has highlighted the myriad dangers the gas-extraction technique poses and the Great British public is now considerably better informed about fracking and becoming angrier at the aggressively proposed grotesque and greedy rape of this sceptred isle.

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Black couple tagged as gorillas by Google’s smart app

Oh dear. This just makes me cringe. Reading the headline was enough for me. I wince at the thought that anything would do that, let alone a piece of advanced technology. Google’s new Photos app seems to be undeniably racist. The AI system scans photos and automatically detects objects. Unfortunately, a black couple who used the system were tagged as gorillas… eesh. Jacky Alcine, a software developer who is one half of the couple, brought the racist app to the world’s attention. I wouldn’t just bring it to the world’s attention. I would sue Google big time. Google said the mistake was ‘100 per cent not okay.’ Obviously not. Apparently, the app has been criticised before, as it repeatedly got labels on images wrong, like tagging dogs as horses. It went massively wrong this time around. They’re working to fix the misinformed app so it doesn’t make this ridiculous mistake in future. I hope Google compensates the couple, maybe with a horse-sized dog. Or a dog-sized horse. Google, you failure.

Japan’s Robot Hotel: “Welcome Human, how may I serve you?” – an annotated infographic

July 3, 2015

Have you ever had a problem with your hotel service? Unclean sheets? Lost your room key? Unaccommodating hotel staff? The Henn-na Hotel in Japan, set to open in July, wants you to have a comfortable and relaxing stay with the help of friendly service robots, who are there to serve you.

The owners of the one-of-a-kind Henn-na Hotel – aka the ‘Strange Hotel’ –  hope that this will be a breakthrough in the hospitality industry, with low costs and ‘world-class’ productivity, all at a reasonable price for the client.

The first building will be opening on 17 July in Huis Ten Bosch, a theme park in Sasebo, Japan. It has 72 rooms and will be managed by Kawazoe Lab, the Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo and Kajima Corporation.

E&T magazine has the full story of the Robot Hotel in our online photo gallery.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Big in Japan

Big in Japan

.@Terminator is back with #TerminatorGenisys – an annotated infographic

July 2, 2015

If there’s one concept that’s tricky to master, it’s time travel. Monkeying around with the past and the future sure can play havoc with your average cinema-goers grasp of plot.

The Terminator series of films is no stranger to confusing strands, what with robots being sent from the future to get rid of someone in the past so they can’t grow up and affect that future, only for other robots to follow the first robot back from the future and melt his shiny ass in the present, thus protecting the natural lineage of events in the future. We think that about covers it.

Never one to shy away from further film fan discombobulation, the Terminator franchise is at it again with Terminator Genisys, which is apparently the real third film in the series. Not like that old fake third film, no sirree bob. What that film now becomes, Arnie only knows. Seems like it’s high time we had a helpful infographic to explain the convoluted plot twists of the Terminator series. Hey, whaddya know?

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Terminator plot lines: snaky

Terminator plot lines: snaky

#AppleMusic goes live ‘worldwide’ – internet goes ‘bananas’ – an annotated infographic

July 1, 2015

Apple… Music… Apple Music… All the ways you love music. All in one place… empty statements… Beats 1… Zane Lowe… Pharrell exclusives… blah blah blah… social media meltdown… waffle waffle… overbearing sense of smug self-congratulation… it’s only an (expensive) streaming music service… yada yada yada… it’s about money, not music… Taylor Swift… incandescent rage… and relax.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Apple Music: sounds expensive

Apple Music: sounds expensive

#SolarImpulse flies again, from Japan to Hawaii – an annotated infographic

June 30, 2015

As Great Britain basks in glorious sunshine, our summer having finally got its act together for a few consecutive days at least, it seems an apposite time to hear once again about the solar-powered plane attempting to circumnavigate the globe, powered by nothing more than the warming, energising rays of our distant but radiant star friend, the Sun.

After waiting for two months in Japan for a break in the weather, for that meteorological metaphorical window of opportunity to slide open, Solar Impulse 2 has begun its journey from Japan to Hawaii – a scorching, high-altitude trip that will take an estimated five days.

If successful, it will be the longest-duration solo flight in aviation history and the furthest distance flown by a plane powered solely by the sun.

E&T news reported on Solar Impulse 2‘s latest adventures yesterday.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Hello, sunshine

Hello, sunshine

Tennis court playing surfaces vs. playing styles, ahead of #Wimbledon2015 – an annotated infographic

June 26, 2015

As the champagne is chilled, the strawberries de-punneted and the cream lightly whipped, so the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon prepares for its annual fortnight of ball-bashing, net-thwacking and patriotic flag-waving.

Most professional tennis players favour one of the three surfaces – grass, clay or hardcourt – and their success has much to do with individual playing style and how the ball reacts to the surface. Wimbledon is, naturally, all grass, so it’s a fast and low fortnight ahead of the assembled athletes.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Tennis court infographic

Tennis court infographic

E&T news weekly #56 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

June 26, 2015

Friday June 26 2015

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
‘Overalls’ image still persists, say female engineers

Three high-profile female motorsport engineers have called for a change to the image of the industry so people don’t think of overalls when discussing engineering. If this perception changed, they also reckoned it would attract more women to a career in the industry. More amusing was their total destruction of Bernie Ecclestone’s “all-female Formula 1” idea – and rightly so, the whole concept was ridiculous.

London’s infrastructure lags behind world’s major cities

Never has a headline been more true. Barely a day goes by when “signal failure” doesn’t hold up thousands of commuters – surely a failure-proof signal isn’t too much to ask for in 2015? Of course it is, this is London after all. I love my home city but the infrastructure is woeful and with the population ever expanding something needs to be done. The idea of selling advertising to fund investment in the Tube network is a good one – if having Oxford Circus renamed as ‘Generic Multinational Company presents Oxford Circus’ means the Central Line will run on time, I doubt anyone will complain. Oh, but of course they will, again, this is London after all.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Engineering still seen as a ‘boys’ job’

One of the things that prompted lively debate in the E&T office this week was the number of press releases from companies showing their support for National Women in Engineering Day that were accompanied by photos of female staff in boiler suits and hard hats defying the gender divide. One national women’s magazine profiled a British Gas engineer who services domestic central heating, alongside an apprentice at another company who’s embarking on a job in the sector having done A levels in PE and photography. We know from the number of letters we receive that many E&T readers would frown on describing these roles as ‘engineering’, but is it really a bad thing if it helps to attract more women into related careers? Isn’t the issue more that they should be made aware that plenty of careers in the sector don’t involve going anywhere near a high-visibility jacket and workboots?

Door handle powered by UV light kills germs

How often do you wash your hands thoroughly after using a public toilet, maybe slap on some anti-bacterial gel, then become acutely aware as you leave that the person before you probably didn’t do the same before grabbing the door handle? Even if it’s just me, this self-sterilising handle invented by a pair of Hong Kong teenagers looks like an excellent idea. The motion of the door opening and closing powers a UV light that activates a germ-killing titanium dioxide coating. The flash as you grab it might come as a shock at first, but it’s keeping your clean hands pristine for just a few minutes longer.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Sound map launched for UK’s coastline

People around Britain are invited to record the sounds of the coastline so they can be preserved for posterity. The National Trust and the British Library are behind the project to create the crowd-sourced audio map. I think it’s a brilliant idea.

‘Air-traffic control’ for freight deliveries tested in Canary Wharf

Tech start-up Voyage Control has come up with a system for managing freight deliveries at busy locations. It’s being tested in London’s Canary Wharf business district and is expected to help companies manage flows at their loading bays as well as saving time for drivers and cutting road congestion. It could also work well at exhibition venues.

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Top 10 tech toys predicted for Christmas 2015

Spare a thought for small children of today, dear reader. Having read Hamleys’ list of what the landmark London retailer expects to be the top ten most popular toys for next Christmas (I can’t believe it’s coming close, I’ve only just finished tidying up after the last one!) I sincerely pity them. I will try to explain why. All those intelligent toy robots and 3D makers, to say nothing of the mysterious ‘kinetic sand’, leave very little space for developing the kids’ most important asset – imagination, which, if we believe Albert Einstein, is more important than knowledge. I may be sounding like an old fogey, but I do think that the simple toys of yesteryear (rag dolls, simple toy cars, tattered and often one-eyed – yet cherished – teddy bears) did more for the kids’ budding emotional intelligence than toy robots, no matter how intelligent and ‘kinetic’, can ever hope to do. Yes, a kid can certainly interact with a robot on an intellectual level, so to speak, but I doubt very much if he or she can actually get as emotionally attached to it, as I was to a little toy yellow truck which – to me – embodied all the magic of movement and travel. I still remember it with nostalgia, just like my primitive and rusty toy petrol station (I used to cut my fingers at the toy’s sharp edges but still loved it) and a couple of other basic mechanical toys of my childhood (we didn’t have many) that first evoked my interest in technology. You know what my preferred toy from Hamleys’ 2015 Christmas top ten list would be? The Shopkins ‘Scoops’ ice cream truck playset, of course! I would be happy to start playing with it straight away, and don’t hurry to accuse me of being infantile. Like most artists and engineers (or so I reckon), I am simply one of the proverbial boys and girls refusing to grow up.

Dickon Ross  Dickon Ross, editor in chief
‘Overalls’ image still persists, say female engineers / Prince Charles befriends robot at celebration for women engineers

The campaign for women in engineering, National Women in Engineering Day, has really taken off since it was launched by Women in Engineering Society a few years ago. The tag #NWED was trending fifth in the world at one point on Tuesday (excluding promoted tags) and even Prince Charles got in on the day’s events.

Sound map launched for UK’s coastline

Everyone takes pictures and videos to remember special occasions, but audio recordings of quite everyday things may well be more fascinating to future generations. Imagine a Victorian beach of a hundred years ago: children playing, bands playing perhaps, a Punch and Judy show perhaps. Now there’s a crowd-sourced project to record the soundscapes of today’s coastline: maybe fish and chip shops, seafood restaurants, amusement arcades and children building sandcastles still. Plus, an awful lot of waves lapping on beaches I suspect.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Online app-only bank gets green light in the UK

This would have been unfathomable even five years ago, a business model doomed to failure from the off: an online only bank that works entirely via apps on a smartphone. No high-street branches, no banking by mail, not even a website. When it launches later this year, Atom Bank will become the ultra-modern face of banking, a poster child for what is now possible in a digital world. As a barometer of the general public’s acceptance of the smartphone as the centre of our world, this could represent a new high-water mark.

Cows now easier to track with wearable tech collars

Wearable technology has been tagged as the Next Big Thing for the near future, but one area we’ve not heard so much about is its deployment in the farming environment. Naturally, there is no reason at all why the same technology principles that can track our health and activity via GPS on a smartwatch should not also be applied to tracking dairy herds of Friesan cows, so the announcement this week of a new neck collar for cattle seems entirely logical.

#BTPT #Bizarre theories and pointless #technologies: #smart #bikini, kettle, bottle and #plate

June 24, 2015

By Rebecca Northfield

Have you been planning your latest getaway this year to escape from the unpredictable British weather and embrace the sun, sun and more sun of exotic locations?

Well, the brains of the world have come up with some ‘smart’ technologies that will help you through the torture of your summer vacay.

Spinali Design bikini

You’re half naked on the beach and the sun is beaming down onto your skin. Your bikini is covering your modesty whilst you sunbathe, swim and generally frolic around. I’m assuming you are a woman – or a man, I’m very open – and you can’t remember the last time you put your sun lotion on. This is where the Spinali Design bikini comes in. What a miracle to beachgoers.

Check out these bikini's from the 1900s, hardly any sun cream needed!

Check out these bikini’s from the 1900s, hardly any sun cream needed!

A smart UV sensor registers when you need to slap on some more sun lotion or when to move out of the harmful rays depending on your skin type. The information is sent to an app on your phone so you’re alerted. Not that you’d know that applying sun lotion regularly in sunny conditions is recommended by pretty much everyone.

I really need this useful invention, otherwise I’m just going to lie in the midday sun with no protection whatsoever and let the rays burn me to a crisp.

Have a look if you want to invest around £110 on a piece of material: www.spinali-design.com

HidrateMe water bottle

Another thing to keep in mind when exposed to the sun: hydration. When it gets warmer, you need to drink more fluids. Simple. You listen to your body. When you’re thirsty, have a drink. Plus, we’ve been told so many times that two and a half to three litres of water a day is recommended for the average adult. We’re made of 50 to 75 per cent water anyway, so it makes sense to drink quite a bit to give us that dewy glow.

HidrateMe is smart water bottle funded by the Kickstarter campaign. It tracks how much you drink and glows when you need to drink more. There’s also an app that tracks your location and adjusts the water consumption according to conditions. Great, thank you for the glowing, annoying reminder.

I think I need to lie down.

The classic disposable water bottle

The classic disposable water bottle

It’s all about being a sensible human being. You don’t need me to tell you that.

If you want to introduce more fluids into your lifestyle, you make a conscientious effort. You don’t start giving into gimmicks and spending money on something you can do for free.

Visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/582920317/hidrateme-smart-water-bottle if you want to donate to this worthy cause. Please help the hopeless.

iKettle

More on hydration, the iKettle is pretty much what it says on the tin. You use an app on your phone to turn the smart kettle on. It’s WiFi enabled and allows you to get on with other things, rather than switching on the kettle when you fancy a cuppa.

You know, because it takes such an effort to walk to the kitchen and use your finger to turn the kettle on. So. Much. Effort.

A nice cuppa! Not from a smart kettle

A nice cuppa! Not from a smart kettle

Wait! What if you’re in the garden and want to spend those few precious moments basking in the sun in your Spinali bikini? What if you’ve just got home, but you’re not out of your car, so you need to get your phone and activate the app and tell it to turn the kettle on for a brew. It’s so timesaving; I don’t know why it wasn’t thought of earlier. Probably because people weren’t so bone idle.

Check out the £100 kettle here: www.johnlewis.com/ikettle-wi-fi-kettle-silver/p1725746

SmartPlate

As you buy your lazy-boy kettle, you should invest in a SmartPlate while you’re at it. I bet you can guess what it’s about.

That’s right. It analyses your food for you so you don’t have to.

The plate uses weight sensors and cameras and utilises the companion app on your phone to study your food. The plate breaks down the items by calories, carbohydrates, proteins, fats and sodium.

Right, okay. I’d rather not be nagged by my crockery.

If you’re making an effort to be healthier, then you’d work out your intakes by yourself, like you traditionally do.

It’s just a gimmick and a lazy way to be healthier.

It's all about moderation.

It’s all about moderation.

If someone needs a SmartPlate to control their food intake, then they would probably find a way to cheat it. Like having plates on the side.

It’s another thing that will make money because people are always ‘trying’ to be healthier. I expect a boom in sales in the New Year.

Buy your own ridiculous kitchen item: http://getsmartplate.com/

 

 

 

E&T news weekly #55 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

June 19, 2015

Friday June 19 2015

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
Elderly to get screening technology to block nuisance calls

Older people aren’t idiots, but even if they’re canny enough to hang up on phone calls trying to sell them things they don’t want or need the sheer persistence of some callers can be distressing in itself. Many won’t take the fact that their victim can’t even afford what they’re offering as an excuse, so it’s helpful that the government is looking at providing the most vulnerable households with free devices that block unwanted calls. Yes, a lot of modern phones come with this feature built-in, but how easy is it to set up? One addition that would make them even better – the ability to log the caller’s number even if they’ve hidden it, then ring them back at regular intervals throughout the day and night to see how they like it.

Mobile phone usage shows when people are unemployed

One the face of it, the results of research by MIT data scientists are hardly surprising: the number and destination of phone calls a person makes changes significantly when they’re made redundant. Among other patterns, months after being laid off from a factory in Europe, ex-staff were making half as many calls as former colleagues. That looks self-evident, but where it could be useful is in reversing the process to identify from phone records areas that are hardest hit by unemployment rather than waiting weeks for official figures to be recorded. Is the inevitable next step an app that warns you based on your mobile use just before you’re about to get fired?

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Whale tail-powered ships harness wave energy

Ships may soon be joining the eco-friendly movement, and it’s all thanks to the biggest mammals on earth – the whale. Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science looked into the tail of the whale and how it propels them through the water. The researchers then designed their own and this artificial tail was attached to the front of a 1:16.57 scale model ship to see how effective it was. The waves moved the fins up and down, and the shape exploited the energy from the waves to help the ship move. If all goes according to plan, this product would reduce fuel consumption as ships would use the power of the sea. For the team, the long-term goal at the moment is for small boats to embrace wave power without using motors, which would be awesome. I’m always happy to see nature inspiring good things for our planet. And if this helps the whales in the long-run by helping our planet, I’m happy. I love whales. They’re so big and cuddly.

Squid-inspired ‘skin’ to make camouflage materials smart

Researchers from Bristol University have come up with a smart materials system to mimic the mighty squid’s skin. The prototype artificial skin means the advancing of smart materials. The ‘skin’ system is similar to natural chromatophores, the cells which change the colours of squid skin, which help them to hide from predators. The researchers hope that one day the skin can ‘mimic fast-acting active camouflage’, which would be very useful for search and rescue operations, or hiding from people at work that you really don’t want to talk to. I joke.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Smelly maps reveal odour footprint of cities

Nothing like as unpleasant as it sounds, these are actually maps designed to show you around a city via more enjoyable routes. It’s all about getting off the well-trodden, traffic-choked path and enjoying a more scenic, occasionally fragrant, route from A to B. Such diverting diversions typically add only a couple of minutes to a journey, so there’s little reason not to explore more.

Digital Magna Carta Top 10 rights revealed

As you might expect, the current number one clause – as voted for by 30,000 members of the public – is: “Not let companies pay to control it [the web] and not let governments restrict our right to information”, which was written by students aged 12. Hard to argue with that, even as it happens ever more each day.

Alex Kalinaukas  Alex Kalinauckas, assistant features editor
Digital Magna Carta Top 10 rights revealed

It was a great idea to mark the 800th anniversary of King John signing the Magna Carta and the 25th anniversary of the world wide web with a list of the top 10 clauses the public would like to see online in the digital age. 10 might be a stretch, though, as three of the clauses have been repeated at least three times with slightly different wording. Still, they got the first one “The Web we want will not let companies pay to control it, and not let governments restrict our right to information” as the most important and that’s what counts – let’s see if the politicians will listen.

Whale tail-powered ships harness wave energy

How ironic: the Norwegians gaining inspiration from whale fins to create device that can harness the power of the waves to reduce fuel consumption. Perhaps it’s the many whale fins they’ve got piled up after the hunting season – who knows?

Tereza Pultarova  Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
Virtual reality floor unleashes Oculus Rift in Milton Keynes

Trying the Oculus Rift headset on Omnifinity’s Omnideck virtual reality floor was almost like stepping into the Matrix movie. In a few seconds I completely forgot there was another – real world – around. The floor enables you to move in the virtual environment as if you were completely unconstrained. It is certainly a powerful tool but I found it also a bit frightening. Just imagine the future where everyone is locked up in his own virtual world. What will that do with our ability to enjoy real life?

Thousands of apps leave data exposed to hackers

Oops … that doesn’t sound like good news, does it? Maybe it’s time either for developers to start taking this seriously of for user to say NO to apps that ask for too many permissions and don’t even know how to protect the data.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Toy car powered by evaporating water engine

Scientists at New York’s Columbia University have hit on the idea of exploiting humidity-driven changes in the size of bacterial spores to extract useful amounts of energy – and they have built two different machines to demonstrate the point. Talk of producing devices comparable in output to wind turbines is probably a bit premature, but it sounds like an interesting idea and worth exploring further.

Whale tail-powered ships harness wave energy

Norwegian researchers have also taken inspiration from the world of biology in a bid to find new sources of energy, but the NTNU team members are working on a larger scale. They have fitted a device resembling a whale’s tail to a model ship and used it to exploit wave energy for propulsion, reducing fuel costs. As a bonus, the structure has reduced heaving and pitching.

Laura Onita  Laura Onita, news reporter
Toy car powered by evaporating water engine

A powerful yet invisible force pulls water from the earth to the top of the tallest trees and beyond, but water evaporation’s potential to propel self-sufficient devices or produce electricity has remained largely untapped – until now. A group of scientists from Columbia University have created machines that harness the power of evaporating water: a floating, piston-driven engine that generates electricity to make a light flash and a rotary engine that drives a toy car. The miniature car rolls on its own powered just by evaporation, and researchers hope that in the future engines will use the process to propel a real car, which would require neither fuel nor electricity to work.

Smelly maps reveal odour footprint of cities

I was on a night stroll the other week and as we were walking my friend kept identifying different smells: lamorna in the air, from the trees in bloom, and petrichor, the smell of wet tarmac that comes with the first rain after a long period of warm. I was pleased to read this week that researchers created smell maps of European cities to help city dwellers choose their paths or places based on odours they would enjoy or prefer to avoid. Now I’m just waiting for the app!

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Pepper the robot with a ‘heart’ goes on sale in Japan

Well, here we go – a robot with emotions. Ave, Ava! And while I personally have nothing against a robot having a heart (as long as that heart is healthy), I was saddened to learn that he (she? It? I mean the robot) will be prone to fits of depression, too. Now, this is cruel and brings back memories of the poor Vogons from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. I was always of the opinion that depression is a purely human condition and although one can sometimes hear about the seemingly depressed pets (dogs, pigs, goldfish and cats, in particular), there’s nothing sadder than a machine, which (who?) feels down, even if it (she? he?) is cheerfully called Pepper. Isn’t it time to introduce the Fourth Law of Robotics (see our robotics special issue of E&T magazine) that would read approximately like this: “A robot may not feel depressed, fed up or cheesed off, leaving these questionable prerogatives to humans”?

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Pepper the robot with a ‘heart’ goes on sale in Japan

Channel 4’s new TV series, Humans, which explores the emotional impact between humans and robots, with the latter looking like real-life humans, could possibly be a prediction of what is to come. Softbank, a technology company in Japan, is half way there as it has created a robot, Pepper, with a heart. Despite having no legs, it is designed to identify human emotions, such as anger and joy. Would you have Pepper in your home?

Digital road signs get mobile phone real-time updates in Denmark

Denmark, renown for being a smart city, has taken it a step further by digitising its road signs. The plan is to cut down delays in traffic and alert drivers of any accidents and advise them to use alternative routes. The road signs receive traffic data from 125 sensors places on roads which are typically known for congestions, these sensors are connected to the driver’s headsets and mobile, via a Bluetooth connection.

#Robots get some love in the new issue of E&T magazine – now available online

June 17, 2015

Robots are the stars of the new issue of E&T magazine.

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics; how to persuade humans to love our new robot overlords; how to program robots to understand human emotions; the robot hotel where the staff are genuinely happy to help; Australia’s field robotics research; and a nice photo gallery of all the latest robots.

Yeah, we really went big on robots this time around.

Check out the robots special issue online now.

Robots'R'Us

Robots’R’Us


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