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Updated: 29 min 38 sec ago

Aston Martin’s Valkyrie V12 engine lets rip at 11,100 RPM

11 hours 59 min ago

Aston Martin has released technical details for the 6.5-litre V12 engine that will sit at the heart of its Valkyrie hypercar, due to hit the streets in 2019.

Developed in partnership with Cosworth, the naturally aspirated engine will produce 1,000 bhp and deliver a maximum rpm of 11,100. Despite these heady figures, the powerplant weighs in at just 206kg and complies with all relevant emissions standards, according to Aston. Peak torque from the combustion engine will be 740Nm at 7,000 rpm, but overall performance figures will be boosted by a battery hybrid system, details of which are yet to be released. The Valkyrie, designed by Adrian Newey, is being pitched by its developers as the fastest street-legal car in the world.

“Being asked to create a naturally aspirated V12 engine fit for what will surely be one of the most iconic cars of all time is an immense source of pride for Cosworth,” said Bruce Wood, Cosworth managing director.

(Credit: Aston Martin)

“Decades in F1 taught us to expect a pretty demanding specification from someone with Adrian Newey’s unsurpassed track record, but when we started talking about specifics of power, weight, emissions compliance and durability combined with ever harder and sometimes conflicting targets, we knew this would be a challenge like no other.”

Aside from the major castings – block, cylinder heads, sump and structural cam covers – the majority of the engine’s internal components are machined from solid material. These include Titanium conrods and F1-spec pistons. Aston claims the ultra-fine machining process means greater consistency and components optimised for minimum mass and maximum strength, while the overall engine specs echo the huge V12 engines from F1’s 90s glory days.

(Credit: Aston Martin)

“To anyone with a drop of petrol in their blood, a high-revving naturally aspirated V12 is the absolute pinnacle,” said Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer. “Nothing sounds better or encapsulates the emotion and excitement of the internal combustion engine more completely.

“From the outset the team at Cosworth were unflinching in their commitment to achieving benchmarks which pushed the boundaries of the possible. The result is a quite extraordinary engine. One which I doubt will ever be surpassed.”


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UK researchers hope to bring rotary friction welding to the manufacturing mainstream

12 hours 33 min ago

Engineers at The University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) are exploring the use of rotary friction welding to help reduce materials wastage and production time.

One of AFRC’s two rotary friction welding machines. Image: AFRC

Rotary Friction Welding is a solid-state technique that works by rotating one part at high speed whilst pressing it against another stationary part. The resulting friction heats the parts and “welds” them together.

As well as being faster and more energy efficient than alternative welding techniques, the process is also claimed to produce higher integrity welds.

Though it is currently used across a number of niche manufacturing areas within the aerospace and oil and gas sectors, the AFRC team hopes that its work will help open up wider applications for the process.

Working with two rotary friction welding machines, the biggest of their kind in any UK research centre, AFRC engineers and technicians are looking at how the capability could be integrated with other advanced manufacturing techniques used at the centre.

One of the initial projects using the new equipment will see rotary friction welding used alongside other capabilities at the centre to develop a high performance, high integrity component for aerospace applications.

Dr Laurie da Silva, Research Associate at the AFRC, who is leading the development of this new capability, explained: “Welding is often regarded in the manufacturing industry as an easy place for a material to fail. This, however, isn’t the case for rotary friction welding, instead it generates a very strong, high integrity joint for metallic materials.

We’re working with our members and partners on an industrial research programme that will demonstrate the considerable potential of this technology. Combining it with manufacturing techniques, such as flow forming, rotary forging and radial forging, we’re aiming to create new hybrid near net shape manufacturing processes for similar and dissimilar alloys.”

The centre – which is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult network – said that it has already received significant interest in its new rotary friction welding capability.

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Subcon co-locates with The Engineer Expo and Advanced Manufacturing Show for the first time

12 hours 34 min ago
Photo: Aidan Synnott PhotographySubcon – the UK’s premier manufacturing supply chain show returns 4-6 June at the NEC 2019 set to feature expanded exhibition space as Subcon co-locates with Advanced Manufacturing Show and The Engineer Expo for the first time

Subcon, the UK’s premier subcontract manufacturing supply chain show, has confirmed it will return to the NEC for Subcon 2019, spanning 4-6 June.  Now in its 43rd year, Subcon is the must-attend event for subcontract manufacturing professionals looking to source new products and partners. 

In a first for the show, Subcon will be co-located with Advanced Manufacturing Show and The Engineer Expo. Over three days, the three events will showcase the complete manufacturing solution, covering design, prototyping and development, contract and subcontract products and services through to machine tools, systems and equipment.

The Engineer Expo is dedicated to the advanced engineering that drives UK manufacturing and design. Building on the calibre of the 2018 programme, 36 free-to-attend sessions will lift the lid on the latest industry developments and the most interesting engineering projects.

Advanced Manufacturing Show is the global platform for next-generation technologies, showcasing innovative solutions that enhance advanced manufacturing performance. Together the three shows will provide a compelling, value-packed event that will enable visitors to not only save time sourcing new partners but also get ahead of the competition with new technologies and services.

“The expo was great to meet suppliers and manufacturers and see what new technologies they had to offer,” said Michael Wilkinson, aerospace engineer, Airbus Operations Ltd, speaking of the 2018 event.  “I found it extremely useful and hope to make use of the contacts I have made.”

“Across all industry sectors, businesses looking to source suppliers and secure the right partners to keep them competitive, head to Subcon,” said Gordon Kirk, event director, Subcon. “We are incredibly excited to return to the NEC.  We have already decided to expand the exhibition space for 2019 as we co-locate with Advanced Manufacturing Show and The Engineer Expo for the first time.”

Find the latest news here and for more details or to register your interest, please visit

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Electrolysis catalyst could produce fuel from waste CO2

12 hours 39 min ago

Water electrolysis catalyst is cheaper than platinum compounds and operates under pH-neutral conditions

The so-called hydrogen economy – based around storage and usage of hydrogen rather than oil products as an energy carrier – has always stumbled because of lack of availability of hydrogen. Currently, its major sources all use fossil fuels as their source, which is counter-productive. Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen uses electricity, which must be carbon neutral if the goal of reducing carbon emissions is to be met, and depends on the use of catalysts to reduce the energy needed to split the stable water molecule. The most efficient catalysts are based on costly platinum and only work under acidic conditions. Many researchers have been trying to solve this problem, and a team from the University of Toronto believes it may have found a solution.

The researchers show off a wafer coated in their low-cost catalyst. Image: Tyler Irving/U of T Engineering

In a paper in Nature Energy, engineers working with Prof Ted Sargent describe how the electrolysis catalyst is based on copper, nickel and chromium, all of which are more abundant and less costly than platinum. “But what’s most exciting is that it performs well under pH-neutral conditions, which opens up a number of possibilities,” said Cao-Thang Dinh, a postdoctoral student and co-lead author with Prof Sargent.

Because of the need for low pH, platinum catalysts cannot be used to electrolyse seawater, which is the most abundant source of water on earth but is pH neutral. It needs to go through a desalination process first, which raises the costs further. Using the new copper-nickel-chromium catalyst would enable seawater to be used without so much prior treatment.

But that’s not all, explained team member Garcia de Arquer.  “There are bacteria that can combine hydrogen and CO2 to make hydrocarbon fuels,” he said.  “They could grow in the same water and take up the hydrogen as it’s being made, but they cannot survive under acidic conditions.”

This possibility makes discovery eligible for the NRG COSIA Carbon X-Prize, which is aimed at developing ways of using renewable energy to convert waste CO2 into fuels or other value-added products. A team from Prof Sargent’s lab is among the five finalists in the international competition for the $7.5 million grand prize.


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Why we should all be concerned by Bloodhound’s demise

14 hours 59 min ago

The demise of Bloodhound SSC is a worrying sign that we no longer dare to dream writes our anonymous blogger. 

Everything was going fine for the run up to Christmas in the Secret Engineer household; at least until I received the news that Bloodhound SSC had, after a few rocky years, finally come to an end as a project.

Final checks before Bloodhound’s first public run in October 2017. Image: Bloodhound

Breaking records has always been difficult so the odds were stacked against them (just look at all those who have started with grand schemes and failed since Thrust 2 took the honours) but to have got the car 90% there and running, then to fall at this late stage is such a shame. Although hardly on the same level as plague or famine, I do think it is yet another sign that humanity is losing its way.

Most items that we design and produce have a finite life due to fashion, entropy or progress driven obsolescence. This is the way of things and why we no longer live in caves or commute by steam powered train. It is what has brought humanity to our current position and it’s fine so long as the replacement at any given time is markedly better.

Of course there will always be false starts, dead ends and stuff that is just too advanced for current technology to support: but this is still a fundamental part of how we move forward as a species. We try, we sometimes fail but we always move on.

With the the loss of Concorde and the Space Shuttle without conspicuously better replacements, and now Bloodhound seemingly forever to be denied its place in history, I believe we are stepping back from our destiny rather than moving towards it.

The Shuttle and Concorde do not represent perfection, and in fact had notable problems but they were projects that were ground breaking and seemed like science fiction come to life when they first flew. They inspired me and, I’m sure, many others with regard to what we did with our lives. What is more they represented a game changing move forwards. The problem isn’t that their time has gone but rather that they were not replaced with something equally inspirational.

Whether you think that the achievement of superlatives is a distraction or not the fact remains that they fire the imagination and expand the concept of what is possible

Of course this need not be purely about speed and flames, but it does need to be something that captures the imagination. For example, electric cars may be seen as the way forward but where are the pioneers and heroes to bring interest and glamour to them? Do you know what the current electric car speed record is or who set it without recourse to the interweb?

There are, I think two problems illustrated by all this. The first is the need for grand projects – community and commercial organisations leading the way with conspicuous agendas for advancement. The second is to create or drive a public interest that means those who work away in their sheds all over the world, and who are excelling in their chosen area of expertise, have their exploits covered and promoted.

Whether you think that the achievement of superlatives is a distraction or not the fact remains that they fire the imagination and expand the concept of what is possible. Humanity as a whole survives and prospers through following where the pioneers lead. Bloodhound is significant because of the ephemeral as well as physical. It gives a real life demonstration of the finer aspects of humanity and life – it sets a focus on our most admirable traits. It is the application of knowledge, skill and courage in the pursuit of a goal purely for the sake of attainment.

Bloodhound SSC was in fact primarily an educational venture that sought to inspire children to follow careers in engineering and science, i.e. those who may eventually unlock the door to “clean energy” or higher efficiency in the use of our raw materials. For the sake of the future I hope that the times we are living in are merely a blip and once more the world wakes up to the need to encourage following generations in the pursuit of excellence. Either way we should be concerned about Bloodhound’s stillbirth because the subsequent thwarting of potential isn’t just limited to the car itself.

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Southampton sub team works with Igus for gearbox gains

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 17:15

A team of young engineers from Southampton University is working with Igus to improve the gearbox of its underwater sub.

The Southampton University Human Powered Submarine Society (SUHPS) was founded in 2014 to compete in the International Submarine Races (ISR), created to encourage young people to fill the shortfall in marine engineers. Each team designs and builds a unique flooded submarine from scratch to compete in the races every year. The pilot (a single scuba diver) pedals and steers the sub around an obstacle course in a timed race. SUHPS competed in its first year at the 2015 ISR in Washington DC with the University Of Southampton Ship (UoSS) Orca. The team returned two years later with the UoSS Kaiju.

The team consists of around 20 undergraduate students studying a range of disciplines including Mechanical Engineering, Mathematics, Oceanography and many more. Five sub-teams each specialise in one area of design/manufacture: Hull & Life Support, Transmission, Propulsion, Control and Diving.

As the ISR event is held once every two years, to fill the year gap, SUHPS entered the European International Submarine Races (eISR) with UoSS Nauti Buoy, which took place earlier this year in Gosport. During the qualification sessions, a few teething problems were discovered. The initial gear ratio (4:1) selected was too high, making it difficult for the pilot to pedal. There was also unwanted sliding of the gears, which was caused by the supporting frame bending under the high loads caused by the pilot’s pedalling. This meant that the loading path through the gears was suboptimal, reducing the efficiency of the overall system.

“The contra-rotating gearbox developed over the past year was successful as a proof of concept of the design,” said Caroline Layzell, who co-leads with Transmission Team alongside Gareth Caine.

“This academic year, we are using vastly different gear ratios and dimensions and more precise manufacturing methods such as water jet cutting for the mounting plates. We have reduced the initial gear ratio to 2:1, which will make the pedals easier to push for the pilot, and redesigned an entirely new frame to house the gears.”

Within the transmission system, Igus xiros bearings are used to ensure smooth rotation of the propeller and crankshafts where they pass through the outer walls of the gearbox. “The beauty of the xiros bearings from Igus is that they are plastic, and a plastic bearing does not corrode underwater,” explained Caroline. “This is really useful for extending the life of the systems we make.”

There are also tight restrictions on the lubricants and oils that can be used on the submarine during the race to remove the risk of contaminating the water in the competition tank. “The fact that the xiros bearings are lubrication-free makes them even more applicable for our submarine application and is what sets them apart from other bearings on the market,” said Caroline.

As for the other parts of the submarine – the new submarine shell is designed by Hull Team Leader, Euan French. Over the last few months, he has been running CFD calculations on potential hull designs to ensure that the new shape optimises the trade-off between drag and space for the pilot. It is currently undergoing fibreglass lay-up and, once ready, work on installing the control surfaces and the transmission system will commence.


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What to expect from the budding quantum industries

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 12:40

Dr Rhys Lewis, director of the Quantum Metrology Institute (QMI), outlines the various quantum industries expected to benefit from this new technological frontier.

For many, quantum technologies are synonymous with quantum computing. But quantum technologies are much more than this, and many are much closer to becoming commercial products.

Quantum technologies harness the surprising properties of single atoms, electrons and photons, and how they interact. The behaviour of quantum systems gives rise to many extraordinary properties which don’t appear at a larger scale. Our growing ability to detect, measure and manipulate these properties is about to create a new wave of innovations which will have an important impact on many industries, from electronics, to oil and gas, to civil engineering. And yes, also on computing.

Timing and navigation

Let’s start with a well-established quantum technology – atomic clocks. These use the frequency of a stable laser to create ‘ticks’, and the properties of atoms to tune this laser and ensure it never drifts.

Long confined to sophisticated timing labs, recent advances have created atomic clocks for industrial environments, such as the MINAC Miniature Atomic Clock, developed by NPL and now being commercialised by Teledyne-e2v.

These compact clocks will be important as technology gets smaller, faster and more precise. Electronic messages can be fired off billions of times per second divided up into separate packages. Accurately recording when they were sent is vital to putting them back together when they are received. The more accurate the timing, the more information you can send per second. Practical atomic clocks also provide an important alternative to GPS timing signals which are vulnerable to interruptions.


The quantum state of particles can be affected by very small changes in magnetism or gravity. Using clouds of highly controlled atoms, we can detect the ‘fingerprints’ left by these changes.

A promising application is detecting corrosion, with applications in oil & gas and civil engineering. The disruption to a metal surface, or the presence of small pits due to corrosion can be detected through the altered pattern of the magnetic signature. This can be detected through paint or insulation which makes it a powerful new technique.

This same technology could be used to measure magnetic fields produced by the heart and brain to look for signs of neurodegenerative pathologies or heart disease. This could replace the SQUID systems used in hospitals for Magnetoencephalography brain scans which are large, expensive and require cryogenic liquids to operate.

Communications and computing

Some of the most exciting applications of quantum relate to transferring information encoded in particles.

Quantum key distribution (QKD) is one of the most commercially-advanced quantum technologies. It enables a secret key to be encoded into a series of photons, which can be used to encrypt and decrypt messages.

A fundamental aspect of quantum mechanics is that observing a quantum system changes its state. In QKD, any third party intercepting the photons, will change them. If the key arrives unchanged, parties can start sending encrypted messages, making transmission of information 100 per cent secure.

Quantum key distribution (Credit: Sat-Electric via CC share alike license)

The Quantum Communications Hub has set up a fibre link between BT Labs in Ipswich and The University of Cambridge to test these and other quantum communications technologies in live environments –helping innovators develop smaller QKD devices and demonstrate practical applications to industry.

And finally, quantum computing. This takes advantage of quantum superposition – whereby particles can exist in two states simultaneously. This allows the creation of ‘qubits’, the quantum equivalent of bits which represent the 1s and 0s in digital communications but in the case of a quantum computer the qubit can also be a mixture of 1 and 0. For instance, a photon can be created in two different states which can represent either a 1 or a 0 or a mixture of those two states. This allows orders of magnitude more information to be stored than in ordinary computers, which in turn enables the creation of computers with unprecedented data processing speeds.

Who benefits?

The goal of The UK National Quantum Technologies Programme is to make the UK the centre of the emerging quantum industries, so the first beneficiaries will be the many quantum startups that this industry will spawn.

As for the end-users, they are many and varied. Oil and gas may use quantum sensors to find new reserves. Civil engineers can monitor the state of a site below ground level or the spread of corrosion through bridges. Hospitals will have access to more accurate and easy-to-use diagnostic tools for brain and heart conditions. R&D in pharma and chemical industries will be able to use quantum computers to model new drugs. Everyone will benefit from faster and safer communications and electronics. There is even a quantum wine quality analyser in development.

The pharma industry is set to bet benefit from quantum technologies

Where are we now?

Some of these technologies are still a decade away, others such as QKD are nearly here. Capability is advancing rapidly in a number of countries, and there is considerable academic, business and government resources behind making the quantum a success in the UK.

A remaining barrier to commercialisation is trust. These are complex technologies harnessing advanced physics. To realise their potential, buyers need to see them working and have independent validation of their capabilities.

Initiatives like the BT-Cambridge fibre link play an important role, as does our own work at the Quantum Metrology Centre, validating the claims of new quantum technologies. Since quantum technologies all hinge on being able to detect quantum states, the role of measurement cannot be overstated, both in developing the technologies – and providing end-users with assurance.

We have a way to go before quantum becomes mainstream, but there is undoubtedly momentum. The first Quantum Technologies Showcase in November 2015 had 200 delegates and a handful of exhibitors. This year’s had 900 delegates and over 80 exhibitors, many with close to market technologies. The government’s quantum fund is oversubscribed.

The technology is advancing apace. But perhaps more than any technology before it, success of quantum depends on working together. Innovators need to harness the expertise in research organisations to advance their technologies. End-users need to engage with innovators and national laboratories to ensure that emerging technologies meet their needs, and that they understand them well enough to deploy them in their organisations. Many are already doing so through the National Quantum Technologies Programme, but there are still vast opportunities for those ready to engage early in quantum’s development.

Rhys Lewis is Director of the Quantum Metrology Institute at The National Physical Laboratory, the UK’s national measurement institute. He is responsible for NPL’s strategic direction in quantum and for NPL involvement in the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme. He joined NPL in 2007 following a career in industry, including roles at SMEs and start-ups. He holds a degree in Physics and a DPhil in atomic and laser physics from Oxford University.


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Passive solar heat device could be hygiene boon in remote regions

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 12:03

Using solar heat to turn water into superheated steam without optics, MIT discovery hopes to enable sterilisation and provide clean drinking water

Hygiene is a persistent problem in remote regions of poorer countries. Medical facilities require sterilisation, and clean drinking water is often in short supply. A device developed by MIT engineers has the potential to provide both, using only the sun as a power source.

The suspended heating device being tested at MIT, where it generated steam at 146°C and conveted seawater into pure drinking water. Image: Thomas Cooper et al

Led by mechanical engineer Thomas Cooper, the researchers report their results in Nature Communications. Their device is a development of previous research which resulted in a foamed graphite material that could turn water it absorbed into steam. Concerns over degradation of material caused by impurities in the water led Cooper to develop the system further, and he and his colleagues have now incorporated it into a device that can be suspended over a container of water, left in sunshine, and will generate superheated steam above 100°C. “It’s a completely passive system – you just leave it outside to absorb sunlight,” Cooper said.

The device is a flat tile about the size of a small tablet computer. It consists of three layers. The top layer is a metal-ceramic composite that is highly efficient at absorbing solar radiation. The bottom layer is perforated aluminium, painted with a coating that efficiently emits infrared energy. Sandwiched between these is a layer of reticulated carbon foam, a form of graphite riddled with a network of winding tunnels and pores. This is suspended above a container of water so that the lower layer is not in contact with the liquid.

Sunlight hitting the top layer is converted into heat, which warms up the reticulated carbon and is transmitted to the layer of aluminium. The coating on the metal radiates infrared onto the surface of the water, which absorbs the radiation far more readily than absorbs heat from sunlight and evaporates.

The vapour rises through the perforations in the base layer and is absorbed into the carbon foam, where stored energy heats it further, taking it to superheated temperatures. The steam escapes through a small tube fixed into the side of the foam, allowing it to be either used directly or condensed into purified water.

“It’s this clever engineering of different materials and how they’re arranged that allows us to achieve reasonably high efficiencies with this non-contact arrangement,” Cooper said.

The team tested the device on the roof of one of MIT’s laboratories, adding a simple curved mirror to concentrate sunlight onto the top layer. Over a three hour test, the device produced steam at 146°C, and when used on a container of seawater, was not contaminated with salt crystals. According to Cooper and laboratory director Prof Gang Chen, a device of this size would be sufficient to produce clean drinking water for a single family or sterilise one operating theatre and its equipment with no need for any additional infrastructure or connection to external services.


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Bionic bumblebee backpacks to collect data for IoT smart farms

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 11:45

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed tiny sensor-loaded bumblebee backpacks to collect data as the insects go about their day on farms.

(Credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington)

The bionic backpacks weigh just 102 milligrams, with rechargeable batteries making up the bulk and around 30 milligrams left over for sensors and memory storage. Temperature, humidity and light intensity readings can all be made, but onboard data is severely limited to around 30 kilobytes. The battery, however, is good for approximately seven hours of operation. When the bees return to their hive at the end of each day, the batteries are recharged wirelessly while stored data is uploaded via a technique known as ambient backscatter that makes use of residual radio waves. It’s envisaged the system could replace the use of drones on smart farms, which are currently used for environmental monitoring but are limited in endurance.

“Drones can fly for maybe 10 or 20 minutes before they need to charge again, whereas our bees can collect data for hours,” said senior author Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in the UW’s Paul G Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. “We showed for the first time that it’s possible to actually do all this computation and sensing using insects in lieu of drones.”

Bees can fly carrying roughly their own bodyweight, but this still restricts the backpacks to lightweight, low-power sensors. GPS is too bulky and power-hungry, so the team developed a geolocation system that uses a base station and multiple antennas to triangulate bee position with radio signals.

“To test the localisation system, we did an experiment on a soccer field,” said co-author Anran Wang, a doctoral student in the Allen School. “We set up our base station with four antennas on one side of the field, and then we had a bee with a backpack flying around in a jar that we moved away from the antennas. We were able to detect the bee’s position as long as it was within 80 meters, about three-quarters the length of a football field, of the antennas.”

(Credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington)

According to the team, a swarm of bees fitted with the backpacks would form a type of ‘living IoT’, superior in many ways to environmental monitoring performed by drones. As technology evolves, the researchers hope to eventually fit the devices with cameras capable of live-streaming images, informing farmers about plant health or irrigation issues, while also providing fresh insight into the daily life of the bees themselves.

“Having insects carry these sensor systems could be beneficial for farms because bees can sense things that electronic objects, like drones, cannot,” said Gollakota. “With a drone, you’re just flying around randomly, while a bee is going to be drawn to specific things, like the plants it prefers to pollinate. And on top of learning about the environment, you can also learn a lot about how the bees behave.”


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Folding drone holds promise for search and rescue applications

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 10:43

An experimental folding drone, able to retract its arms during flight and make itself small enough to fit through narrow gaps and holes, could have great potential for search and rescue operations it is claimed.

When faced with a narrow passage, the drone can switch to a “H” shape, with all arms lined up along one axis. (Image: UZH)

Developed by a team from the Robotics and Perception Group at the University of Zurich and the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) the drone takes its inspiration from the way in which birds are able to fold their wings in mid-air, and is able to squeeze itself to pass through gaps during flight.

The group claims that the folding drone could enter buildings through gaps which are too narrow for conventional drones be used to look for people trapped inside and guide the rescue team towards them.

“Our solution is quite simple from a mechanical point of view, but it is very versatile and very autonomous, with onboard perception and control systems,” explained Davide Falanga, researcher at the University of Zurich and author of a paper on the project published in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters 

The Zurich and Lausanne teams worked in collaboration and designed a quadrotor with four propellers that rotate independently, mounted on mobile arms that can fold around the main frame thanks to servo-motors. The control system adapts in real time to any new position of the arms, adjusting the thrust of the propellers as the centre of gravity shifts.

“The morphing drone can adopt different configurations according to what is needed in the field,” said co-author Stefano Mintchev. The standard configuration is X-shaped, with the four arms stretched out and the propellers at the widest possible distance from each other. When faced with a narrow passage, the drone can switch to an “H” shape, with all arms lined up along one axis or to an “O” shape, with all arms folded as close as possible to the body. A “T” shape can be used to bring the onboard camera mounted on the central frame as close as possible to objects that the drone needs to inspect.

The researchers are now looking at further improving the folding drone structure so that it can morph in all three dimensions. They also plan to develop algorithms that will make the drone truly autonomous, allowing it to look for passages in a real disaster scenario and automatically choose the best way to pass through them. “The final goal is to give the drone a high-level instruction such as ‘enter that building, inspect every room and come back’ and let it figure out by itself how to do it,” said Falanga.


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Southern Manufacturing & Electronics 2019

Wed, 12/12/2018 - 09:09
February 5th to 7th 2019 | Farnborough International Exhibition & Conference Centre | Farnborough, Hants

Southern Manufacturing & Electronics returns to Hall 1 at Farnborough International, Hampshire from February 5th to 7th 2019. Over 800 exhibitors from around the world will participate, making it the UK’s largest annual engineering show. Entry is free, there’s free on-site parking and a free technical seminar programme running continuously over the three days of the show.

For free tickets visit

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Bath’s EV aces fly high at Formula Student Electric China

Tue, 11/12/2018 - 16:49

 Despite being tested to the limits by technical misfortune, Team Bath Racing Electric pulled out all the stops to make its trip to Formula Student Electric China a success. Elizabeth Maclennan, Team Bath Racing Electric Project Manager, provides the inside track. 

(Credit: TBRE)

Formula Student Electric China finished on 1st December and the team from the University of Bath are now safely back in the UK. The trip was a whirlwind of action, a rollercoaster of emotions and a true once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Upon arrival at the event, the team was reunited with their car, equipment and tools.  Fortunately at a glance everything appeared to have survived the long sea voyage intact. The team was ready to go: bring on the pre-race technical inspections!

However, on closer look, it was found that the team’s high voltage battery, a bespoke system, designed and built by the team themselves, had not crossed the ocean unscathed. Vibration of the battery whilst inside the shipping container had caused significant wear to the electrical insulation on the printed circuit boards which facilitate safe monitoring of the battery pack’s individual lithium-ion cells. The damage inflicted in transit presented a significant safety risk and the car was deemed too dangerous to run as a result.

(Credit: TBRE)

This news was heart-breaking. The team had come so far, and it looked like it was all over. But we’re talking about Team Bath Racing Electric, not a team to give up without a fight.

The team pulled together to brainstorm solutions. Within hours of the problem being detected, the battery was disassembled, new printed circuit boards had been designed and were being manufactured on a quick turnaround in Shenzhen. The team headed to the local electronics market to pick up some spare PCB mount components, mainly connectors and fuses. Within 24 hours the HV battery had been reassembled and was being switched on for the first time with the new components installed. The whole process involved a complete strip-down, redesign and manufacture, rebuild and test of the most complicated and dangerous sub-system of the vehicle in a foreign country, on a budget and in record time.

Team Bath Racing Electric at Formula Student China

After that high-intensity problem solving, the team was delighted when the high voltage battery worked first perfectly time, was deemed safe and had suffered no loss of performance from the changes.

It was at this point that the team received a second crushing blow: the delay caused by the battery rebuild, although tackled at lightning speed, had cost the team the opportunity to race. Scrutineering had closed for good and racing on Saturday was out of the question.  Although disappointed, the team stood firm in their conviction that they’d made the right call: safety first. As we’d come so far and so close to racing, the judges decided to make an exception for the team. Although the car was not cleared to race competitively, the team were permitted to drive three formation laps of the endurance circuit but for no points benefit. The three laps went by in a flash, the car performed well, and the team were ecstatic to finally see the car on track.

(Credit: TBRE)

While the racing was not as successful as had been hoped, other aspects of the trip to China made up for it. The welcome the team received in China was amazing, all the other teams were very interested in the team and the car, asking questions and taking lots of photos. All the Chinese teams were very happy to help when we needed to borrow things that we were unable to import, such as bearing grease. The team formed a special relationship with HKPolyURacing, the team from Hong Kong Polytechnic, one that we hope will last a while.

Team Bath Racing Electric scored highly in the static events, the events designed to test the team’s design, manufacturing and business decisions through presentations showing the results of the hard work undertaken throughout the year. The team achieved second place in the Business Event and eighth in the Design Event. This left the team at 21st overall out of 53 cars. Not too shabby considering the circumstances!

So, although the team didn’t achieve their anticipated score at Formula Student Electric China, no one could argue that they didn’t achieve their utmost in terms of overcoming technical challenges, persevering in the face of adversity and demonstrating integrity by prioritising safety over racing. The team showed incredible strength of character and of that, they should be very proud. The trip was hugely enjoyable, despite the disappointments, and we all had an amazing time at Formula Student Electric China.

The 2019 team at Team Bath Racing Electric are in the process of planning their racing season and Formula Student UK (held at Silverstone Circuit in July) is the only firm event in the calendar so far. The team are keen to return to China, having learnt a huge amount from the experience this year, and I am sure they will approach the challenge with the same attitude as the 2018 team showed at this year’s event. They have an excellent chance of being very successful, now they know what they’re up against, and I for one can’t wait to see how they get on!


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Crossrail racks up £1.4bn bailout as overuns delay opening of Elizabeth line

Tue, 11/12/2018 - 15:32

Plans to open Crossrail’s Elizabeth Line in 2019 have been dealt a blow with project overruns adding an extra £1.4bn to the project.

Image: Bryden Wood

Stretching over 60 miles from Reading in the west to Shenfield in the east, the Elizabeth Line was scheduled to open in December 2018 but was put back in August this year to autumn 2019.

“Since I joined Crossrail Ltd in November I have been reviewing the work still required to complete the core stations and rail infrastructure and begin the critical safety testing,” said Mark Wild, chief executive of Crossrail Ltd. “It is evident that there is a huge amount still to do. Stations are in varying stages of completion and we need time to test the complex railway systems. This means that I cannot at this stage commit to an autumn 2019 opening date. My team and I are working to establish a robust and deliverable schedule in order to give Londoners a credible plan to open the railway.”

A finance package has been agreed between the government and the Mayor of London, the Greater London Authority (GLA), and Transport for London (TfL) to deliver the final stages of the Crossrail project.

Initial findings of a KPMG review into Crossrail Ltd’s finances indicate the likely cost of the delay announced in August to be between £1.6bn and £2bn, including £300m contributed by the Department for Transport (DfT) and TfL in July 2018, leaving an estimated £1.3bn to £1.7bn to complete the project.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) will borrow up to £1.3bn from the DfT and repay the loan from an existing Business Rate Supplement (BRS) and Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy. The GLA will also provide a £100m cash contribution, taking its total contribution to £1.4bn which it will provide as a grant to TfL for the Crossrail project.

London mayor Sadiq Khan, said: “I haven’t hidden my anger and frustration about the Crossrail project being delayed. This has a knock-on consequence of significant additional cost to the project.  It has been increasingly clear that the previous Crossrail Ltd leadership painted a far too optimistic picture of the project’s status.

“With London’s population continuing to grow, our priority must be getting this monumental project completed as soon as possible.”

When fully open, the Elizabeth line will increase central London’s rail capacity by 10 per cent, carrying over half a million passengers per day.


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This week’s poll: Brexit endgame

Tue, 11/12/2018 - 11:24

What is the most likely outcome of the current situation regarding Brexit?

Take Our Poll (function(d,c,j){if(!d.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;;pd.src='';s=d.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);} else if(typeof jQuery !=='undefined')jQuery(d.body).trigger('pd-script-load');}(document,'script','pd-polldaddy-loader')); We honestly don’t envy her

Today should have marked the beginning of the end of the ongoing saga of Brexit with parliament’s “meaningful vote” on the exit agreement negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May. However, as readers will no doubt have heard, the vote has been delayed to an unspecified date (although probably before 21st January) while May returns to Brussels for “clarification” over some aspects of the agreement. At Engineer Towers, we feel like we are in need of clarification as well.

Despite the continuing, if not agonising, uncertainty, we feel that the time is right for another poll of our readers on the Brexit situation. This time, we are not asking you what you would like to happen, but what you think will be the most likely outcome of where we are at the moment.

In our options, we have tried to summarise all the likely end games from the current situation. We think that the UK could either remain within the EU; leave without a deal, leave with a renegotiated deal under the current government (that is to say, with Theresa May at its head); leave with a renegotiated deal under a new government but without a general election (that is to say, Theresa May leaves as PM but the Tory party selects a new leader who renegotiates); or leave with a renegotiated deal following a general election.

We have, as usual, left a none of the above option but we would ask readers to pick this option to please tell us what they think is going to happen. We welcome discussion but ask readers to keep it on topic and to refrain from ad hominem attacks on any parties. Please familiarise yourself with our guidelines for comments content before submitting. We will publish the results of this poll on 18th December.

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Three teams shortlisted for new Type 31e frigate contact

Tue, 11/12/2018 - 11:18

BAE Systems, Babcock and Atlas Elektronik UK have each been awarded £5 million to develop their plans for the new Type 31e frigate, with the winner of the contract to be decided by the end of 2019.

BAE Systems’ Type 31e ‘Leander’ design (Credit: BAE Systems)

Five new Type 31e warships are due to be built under the first part of the contract, worth a total of £1.25 billion. The Ministry of Defence says it wants the first ship to be delivered to the Royal Navy by 2023, just three years after the official commencement of the programme.

This shorter development cycle marks a departure from previous naval programmes and comes on the back of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, which was launched in September 2017 following an independent report written by Sir John Parker. Strategic aims outlined in the plan include enhancing the Royal Navy fleet by the 2030s, exporting British ships overseas, and boosting innovation, skills, jobs and productivity across the UK.

National Shipbuilding Strategy calls for Type 31e frigates

“This is the first frigate competition the UK has run in a generation, and today we are funding three shipbuilding teams with extremely exciting concepts to continue developing their plans,” said Defence Minister Stuart Andrew.

“Next year we will announce the winning bidder, and one of these designs will go on to bolster our future fleet with five new ships, creating UK jobs and ensuring our Royal Navy maintains a truly global presence in an increasingly uncertain world.”

The Type 31e frigate will form a key part of the next generation of the Royal Navy fleet, alongside the two new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and eight Type 26 warships due to be delivered from the mid-2020s. The names of all eight Type 26 frigates have now been announced and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has indicated that they will be homed in Devonport. A home port for the Type 31e frigates has yet to be decided.


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Georgia Tech team demonstrates tuneable origami inspired antennae

Tue, 11/12/2018 - 09:49

A team at the Georgia Institute of Technology has devised a method for using an origami-based structure to create radio frequency filters with adjustable dimensions, able to change which signals they block throughout a large range of frequencies.

Silver dipoles are arranged across the folds of a Miuri-Ori pattern to enable frequency blocking. Image: Rob Felt

The group claims the method could be used for a number of applications, from antenna systems capable of adapting in real-time to ambient conditions to electromagnetic cloaking systems that could be reconfigured on the fly to reflect or absorb different frequencies.

The technology is based on an origami pattern called Miura-Ori, which has the ability to expand and contract like an accordion. “The Miura-Ori pattern has an infinite number of possible positions along its range of extension from fully compressed to fully expanded,” explained Professor Glaucio Paulino. “A spatial filter made in this fashion can achieve similar versatility, changing which frequency it blocks as the filter is compressed or expanded.”

The researchers used a special printer that scored paper to allow a sheet to be folded in the origami pattern. An inkjet-type printer was then used to apply lines of silver ink across those perforations, forming the dipole elements that gave the object its radio frequency filtering ability.

“The dipoles were placed along the fold lines so that when the origami was compressed, the dipoles bend and become closer together, which causes their resonant frequency to shift higher along the spectrum,” said Professor Manos Tentzeris.

To prevent the dipoles from breaking along the fold line, the perforations were suspended at the location of each silver element and then continued on the other side. Additionally, along each of the dipoles, a separate cut was made to form a “bridge” that allowed the silver to bend more gradually.

The group claims that because the Miura-Ori formation is flat when fully extended and quite compact when fully compressed, the structures could be used by antenna systems that need to stay in compact spaces until deployed, such as those used in space applications.

Additionally, the single plane along which the objects expand could provide advantages, such as using less energy, over antenna systems that require multiple physical steps to deploy.

“A device based on Miura-Ori could both deploy and be re-tuned to a broad range of frequencies as compared to traditional frequency selective surfaces, which typically use electronic components to adjust the frequency rather than a physical change,” said Abdullah Nauroze, a Georgia Tech graduate student who worked on the project. “Such devices could be good candidates to be used as reflectarrays for the next generation of cubesats or other space communications devices.”

Results from the study, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, the US Department of Defence, and the Semiconductor Research Corporation, were reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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How collaborative robots will usher in the era of Industry 5.0

Mon, 10/12/2018 - 15:38

No sooner than the concept of Industry 4.0 becomes established in common parlance along comes its bigger and better sibling, writes Lee Hibbert

There’s a contradiction at the heart of manufacturing.

On the one hand we are told that increasing automation will lead to higher production rates and improved efficiencies.

And yet, at the same time, there’s supposed to be a trend towards mass personalisation, with consumers expecting greater variety of products without a corresponding increase in cost.

ABB’s YuMi collaborative robot, one of a number of “co-bots” to recently hit the market. Image: ABB

How do manufacturers square the need for speed with the desire for something different?

The answer, it seems, comes in the form of Industry 5.0. That’s right. No sooner than the concept of Industry 4.0 becomes established in common parlance along comes its bigger and better sibling.

Industry 5.0 seizes the benefits of increased automation delivered as a result of the fourth industrial revolution and re-introduces humans back into the loop. Whereas Industry 4.0 setups are largely about consistency of quality and flow – replacing functions in which lesser-skilled people had to carry out repetitive, burdensome tasks – Industry 5.0 is about highly skilled people and robots working side-by-side to create individualised products, services and experiences.

That could mean workers giving their personal care to items like car interiors, high-spec watches and jewellery, craft beers and foods, designer clothing and even software. It’s only through man and machine working seamlessly together that manufacturers will be able to meet the rising expectation of an increasingly discerning customer base.

But hang on a minute. Isn’t there a good reason why robots and workers are separated on the factory floor? Powerful robotic arms have, traditionally, been housed behind safety cages to protect humans. But the latest generation of collaborative robots (cobots) feature a suite of positional sensors that enable them to react to the presence of a worker in a split second. It’s the development of these cobots that, in certain applications, will allow human beings to be re-introduced back at the centre of industrial production – encouraging new levels of product personalisation and giving consumers what they actually want.

According to Per Kloster Poulsen, a director at Universal Robots, one of the world’s leading developers of intelligent automation, cobots are versatile, easily programmable and safe. As a result, their capabilities become a personal tool that members of any work force can use to apply their creative skills more effectively, to provide greater human value.

At a Future Robotics conference at Warwick University at the end of November, Poulson told delegates how the relocatable nature of cobots, encouraging frequent interactions with humans in shared spaces, would lead to more flexible production lines and a quicker return on investment.

The potential of cobots is clear for all to see. Global organisations such as ABB, Kuka and Festo have joined Universal in producing their own models in what has quickly become a highly competitive sector. Indeed, the market for cobots will be worth $3 billion by 2022, predicts Poulsen.

The overall message from the Warwick event came across in a resounding manner. The robots are coming – and in the future world of Industry 5.0, it seems that humans will be marching with them too.

Lee Hibbert is a director of content at technical marketing agency Publitek

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Bone implant production process combines 3D printing and plasma coating

Mon, 10/12/2018 - 11:32

Researchers in Germany have developed an advanced 3D printing technique that could be used to make bone implants that are more precisely fitting and stable than those produced using conventional techniques.

Plasma-jet coating of medical implant scaffolds. Image: © Fraunhofer IST, Falko Oldenburg

According to the group from the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering the secret lies in the printing process, where the individual layers are treated with a cold plasma in order to improve the bonding of bone-forming cells.

Whereas conventional surface treatments using low-pressure or atmospheric pressure techniques have a limited penetration into the interior of bone implants, the new method makes it possible to apply a cell-growth-promoting coating to the interior of the implants.

The team’s technique works by blowing a cold jet of plasma containing reactive groups directly onto the printed layers. The amino groups bond with the surface and ensure that bone cells find a convenient substrate to which they readily adhere.

A unique feature of the technique is that the 3D printing and coating processes go hand in hand and are combined in one device. Because no chemical pre-treatment with solvents is required for the coating, it is not only cost-effective, but environmentally friendly also. The scaffold around which the implant is built is made from a special copolymer that is modelled on the natural bone.

The 3D printing technique permits very individual, precisely fitting design and stability. “Our goal is for the bone cells to grow into the synthetic structure as quickly as possible and finally replacing the implant which is broken down gradually by the body’s own enzymes,” explained Dr. Jochen Borris, who heads up the Life Science and Ecology business unit at Fraunhofer IST.

The mechanical stability of the implant can be controlled not only via the density of the printed scaffold structure, but also via special fillers that are added to the copolymer: the higher the filler concentration, the greater the stability. Moreover, active drug ingredients such as antibiotics can be incorporated in the filler to reduce the risk of infection.

The project team is now working on simplifying the process and looking for industrial partners who may be able to help bring the technique to market.


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Strain-sensing polymer skin gives robots clever touch

Mon, 10/12/2018 - 11:19

Researchers at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have created an artificial skin for robots that combines strain-sensing with conductivity.

(Reproduced with permission from reference 1 © 2018 Wiley-VCH)

The material, which also has potential applications in wearable electronics, could provide robots with sensory feedback to assist them with navigation and handling tasks. Its key innovation is embedding both electrical conductivity and strain-sensing into a single stretchy polymer, using meshed silver nanowires for both purposes. Up until now, researchers have used different materials for the sensing and conductive wiring components.

Each individual nanowire is conductive, but high resistance at the junctions between them limits overall conductivity through the material. Resistance increases significantly when the material is flexed and the nanowires are pulled apart such that the nanowire network acts as a strain sensor. Applying a DC voltage made the nanowire network very hot at the points of high resistance, where the nanowires meet. This localised heating acts to weld neighbouring nanowires together, forming a highly conductive firmly bonded network that the researchers claim is impervious to stretching and flexing. The work is described in the journal Advanced Electronic Materials.

Electrical welding forms strong welded joints between the mesh of nanowires (Reproduced with permission from reference 1 © 2018 Wiley-VCH)

“Electrical welding joins thousands of junctions in the network within 30 seconds,” explained Ragesh Chellattoan, a KAUST PhD student working in the lab of Gilles Lubineau, who led the research.

To demonstrate their material, the KAUST team created a stretchy skin for a toy action figure. They coated one of the figure’s legs with the artificial skin and then applied DC voltage to the limb’s left side before flexing the leg at the knee and observing the results. On the right side, the nanowire network acted as a strain sensor that could detect leg position as the figure’s knee was bent and straightened. The left side showed high conductivity regardless of leg position.

According to Chellattoan, the next step is to gain greater control over where the nanowire welds form, giving the researchers the ability to draw precise conductive patterns into the artificial skin.


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GKN’s Global Technology Centre aims for accelerated adoption of digital technologies

Mon, 10/12/2018 - 10:34

GKN Aerospace has announced plans for a £32m Global Technology Centre (GTC), a facility aimed at accelerating the adoption of new digital technologies in aerospace manufacturing.

Artist’s impression of GKN’s new GTC, set to open in 2020

Located in Bristol and scheduled to open in 2020, the GTC represents a £17m commitment from GKN Aerospace and a £15m commitment by government through the Aerospace Technology Institute.

According to GKN, the 10,000 square metre facility will host 300 engineers, and will include collaborative space for research and development with universities, the UK’s CATAPULT network and GKN Aerospace’s UK supply chain.

Once open, the centre will focus on additive manufacturing (AM), advanced composites, assembly and industry 4.0 processes to enable the high rate production of aircraft structures. The facility will serve also as a base for GKN Aerospace’s technology partnership in the Airbus’ Wing of Tomorrow technology programme.

GTC’s collaborative partners include ANSYS UK, KUKA, the Manufacturing Technology Centre, Thales, and the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Sheffield.

“We look forward to deepening our partnership with GKN Aerospace and helping them develop new digital and additive manufacturing technologies for the aerospace sector,” said Prof Iain Todd, GKN/Royal Academy of Engineering Research chair in Additive Manufacturing and Advanced Structural Metallics at Sheffield University. “This agreement cements our long-term working relationships in this industry and will create many opportunities for students and graduates wanting to gain experience in the aerospace sector, as well as drive research within the Faculty of Engineering.”

Hans Büthker, chief executive of GKN Aerospace, added: “The GTC is a great example of the UK’s industrial strategy at its best: with industry and the government coming together to invest in the technology of the future. The GTC will continue to foster such collaboration across the entire UK Aerospace ecosystem and we look forward to working with the British government in the years to come.’’


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