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Updated: 2 hours 21 min ago

Passenger carrying spaceship touches edge of space for first time

Fri, 2018-12-14 18:15

A crewed spaceship built to carry private passengers has reached space – and generated its first revenue – for the first time.

VSS Unity gliding home (Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity landed safely in the Mojave Desert in California after the historic flight, which also marked the aircraft’s fourth powered test flight.

The achievement has been recognised by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who will present pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings at a ceremony in Washington DC in 2019.

NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program flew four space science and technology experiments on VSS Unity, making this Virgin Galactic’s first revenue generating flight.

According to Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight saw a 60 second planned rocket motor burn which propelled VSS Unity to almost three times the speed of sound and to an apogee of 51.4 miles.

After a Mach 2.5 supersonic re-entry into the atmosphere, which utilised Unity’s “feathering” configuration, Forger and CJ guided the spaceship down to a runway landing.

Commenting from the flight line Richard Branson said: “Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space. We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos.”

George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company,added: “What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century’s defining industries. Reusable vehicles built and operated by private companies are about to transform our business and personal lives in ways which are as yet hard to imagine.”


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Shrinking scaffolding creates nanoscale 3D objects of any shape

Fri, 2018-12-14 17:20

MIT team devises method for fabricating nanoscale solid objects of any shape and building in functionality

Producing three-dimensional objects at very small scales with precision has often been a difficulty for engineers. Especially in the medical devices field, such objects could have great utility, but while two-dimensional patterns can be etched with precision by lasers, 3D nanostructures are more difficult; additive techniques are slow and challenging and also limited to specialised materials. Moreover, they can only make self-supporting structures – linked chains and hollow spheres are not possible.

According to Prof Ed Boyden, many research labs are already stocked with the equipment required for this kind of fabrication. Image: Boyden, Marblestone, Oram, Rodriques

The MIT team, led by biological engineer Edward Boyden, who is also attached to the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, turned to a technique which relies on shrinking a premade scaffold structure. While shrinking has long been a staple of science fiction films from The Incredible Shrinking Man to Fantastic Voyage and more recently Ant Man, Boyden’s technique is more prosaic and grounded in reality.

In a paper in Science, Boyden, Adam marble stone and graduate students Daniel Oran and Samuel Rodriques describe technique adapted from a method Boyden’s lab developed for high-resolution imaging of brain tissue. Known as expansion microscopy, this involves embedding tissue to hydrogel and expanding it so they can be studied with a regular bench-top optical microscope.

The new method, which the team call “implosion fabrication”, reverses this technique. The researchers used highly absorbent polyacrylate, commonly used in disposable nappies, to create a larger sized scaffold of the structure they want to fabricate. This is both the solution containing molecules of fluorescein, which attached to the scaffold when activated by a specific wavelength of laser light. Using a technique called two-photon microscopy, they precisely targeted specific locations on the surface of and deep inside the gel structure and attach fluorescein molecules to these locations. These molecules have the property of acting as anchors where other molecules and groups can be bound. “You attach the anchors where you want with light, and later you can attach whatever you want to the anchors,” Boyden said. “It could be a quantum dot, it could be a piece of DNA, it could be a gold nanoparticle.”

Daniel Oran explains further. “It’s a bit like film photography – a latent image is formed by exposing a sensitive material in a gel to light. Then, you can develop that latent image into a real image by attaching another material, silver, afterwards. In this way implosion fabrication can create all sorts of structures, including gradients, unconnected structures, and multimaterial patterns.”

Once the structure has been created and the desired functional group attached, the team soak scaffold in an acid solution. This blocks negative charges in the structure of the polyacrylate gel so they no longer repel each other, and the gel contracts by a factor of 10 in each direction: a 1000-fold reduction in volume, converting the soft gel into a dense solid. “People have been trying to invent better equipment to make smaller nanomaterials for years, but we realised that if you just use existing systems and embed your materials in this gel, you can shrink them down to the nanoscale, without distorting the patterns,” Rodriques said.

Currently, the technique can make objects around one cubic millimetre in volume, patterned with a resolution of 50nm. The team believes that one of the earliest practical applications might be to make specialised lenses, which could in future be used in commercial devices, and further into the future could be used to build nanoscale electronics or robots. “There are all kinds of things you can do with this,” Boyden said. “Democratising nanofabrication could open up frontiers we can’t yet imagine.”


The post Shrinking scaffolding creates nanoscale 3D objects of any shape appeared first on The Engineer.

Microcapsule technology could yield advance in carbon capture

Fri, 2018-12-14 16:52

Microcapsule technology could make post-combustion carbon capture cheaper, safer, and more efficient claim researchers in the US.

Microcapsules that can capture carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust (credit: John Vericella, LLNL)

Led by the University of Pittsburgh and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) the advance hopes to mitigate the USA’s CO2 output from coal and natural gas, which amounted to 1,713 million metric tons of CO2, or 98 per cent of all CO2 emissions from the electric power sector in 2017.

“Our approach is very different than the traditional method of capturing carbon dioxide at a power plant,” said Katherine Hornbostel, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “Instead of flowing a chemical solvent down a tower, we are putting the solvent into tiny microcapsules.”

Hornbostel added that in the proposed carbon capture reactor design, microcapsules would be packed into a container and power plant exhaust gas would be flown through them.

“The heat required for conventional reactors is high, which translates to higher plant operating costs,” said Hornbostel. “Our design will be a smaller structure and require less electricity to operate, thereby lowering costs.”

Conventional designs also use an amine solvent that is expensive and can be dangerous to the environment. The microcapsule design created by Hornbostel and her collaborators at LLNL uses a solution that is made from a common household item.

“We’re using baking soda dissolved in water as our solvent,” said Hornbostel. “It’s cheaper, better for the environment, and more abundant than conventional solvents. Cost and abundance are critical factors when you’re talking about 20 or more-metre-wide reactors installed at hundreds of power plants.”

Hornbostel explained that the small size of the microcapsule gives the solvent a large surface area for a given volume. This high surface area makes the solvent absorb carbon dioxide faster, which means that slower absorbing solvents can be used.

“This is good news because it gives cheaper solvents like baking soda solution a fighting chance to compete with more expensive and corrosive solvents,” said Hornbostel.

“Our proposed microcapsule technology and design are promising for post-combustion carbon capture because they help make slow-reacting solvents more efficient,” said Hornbostel. “We believe that the decreased solvent cost combined with a smaller structure and lower operating cost may help coal and natural gas power plants maintain profits long-term without harming the environment.”

Hornbostel has detailed her model in Applied Energy, “Packed and fluidized bed absorber modeling for carbon capture with micro-encapsulated sodium carbonate solution


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Smart pill from MIT monitors and medicates via Bluetooth

Fri, 2018-12-14 16:47

A multidisciplinary team from MIT has developed a smart pill that can monitor health from the stomach and release drugs on command using a smartphone app.

(Credit: Image courtesy of the researchers)

The 3D-printed pill combines the work of several previous studies that have looked at ingestible technologies to observe and treat disease. Known as a gastric resident electronic (GRE) system, the device unfolds into a Y shape once it reaches the stomach, where it can remain for roughly a month before breaking up and passing through the gut. The base of the Y contains four small compartments for storing medication that can be released over a sustained period as the polymer casing degrades. It’s envisaged that drug delivery could alternatively be controlled by a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth.

Bluetooth can also be used to communicate data from the GRE’s sensor suite, which monitors the gastric environment. The current paper, published in Advanced Materials Technologies, details how this device was used to monitor temperature, and the team has previously designed sensors that can detect vital signs such as heart rate and breathing rate. Detection range is limited to about an arm’s length, but this is a strength of the system rather than a flaw, according to the researchers.

“The limited connection range is a desirable security enhancement,” said lead author Yong Lin Kong, a former MIT postdoc who is now an assistant professor at the University of Utah. “The self-isolation of wireless signal strength within the user’s physical space could shield the device from unwanted connections, providing a physical isolation for additional security and privacy protection.”

To bring together all of the complex elements required, the researchers decided to 3D print the capsules. This approach also allowed them to build the smart pill from alternating layers of stiff and flexible polymers, which helps it to withstand the acidic environment of the stomach.

“Multimaterials 3D printing is a highly versatile manufacturing technology that can create unique multicomponent architectures and functional devices, which cannot be fabricated with conventional manufacturing techniques,” said Kong. “We can potentially create customised ingestible electronics where the gastric residence period can be tailored based on a specific medical application, which could lead to a personalised diagnostic and treatment that is widely accessible.”

Currently powered by a small silver oxide battery, the MIT team is exploring the possibility of using alternative power sources such as an external antenna or stomach acid. It’s believed the smart pill could be used to diagnose early signs of disease and then respond with the appropriate medication. For example, it could be used to monitor certain people at high risk for infection, such as patients who are receiving chemotherapy or immunosuppressive drugs. If infection is detected, the capsule could begin releasing antibiotics. Or, the device could be designed to release antihistamines when it detects an allergic reaction.


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The Future Powertrain Conference

Fri, 2018-12-14 15:00

The Future Powertrain Conference (FPC2019) is a two day UK event created to bring together industry and academic experts within the powertrain development field. It will open up presentations and discussions on the solutions to the challenges faced by the engineering industry in the UK and internationally over the next ten years.

Click here to register: https://futurepowertrains.co.uk/registration/

The post The Future Powertrain Conference appeared first on The Engineer.

Interview: delivering on Aston Martin’s bold vision for the future

Fri, 2018-12-14 14:30

Aston Martin’s ambitious expansion plans have grabbed the headlines in recent months. Chris Pickering talks to two members of the team charged with turning the company’s dreams into reality

New milestones have come thick and fast in the last 12 months or so of Aston Martin’s 105-year history. The British brand has returned to profit, its core range of GT and sports cars has been completely refreshed and the gates are about to open at a second major manufacturing site. The new factory at St Athan in South Wales will be home to Aston Martin’s first electric vehicle, its first SUV and the recently-revived Lagonda sub-brand.

Aston Martin’s new factory at St Athan in South Wales – the base for its EV activities. Photo: Aston Martin

These are big plans for a comparatively small company, but so far Aston Martin has made good on every single one of its promises. The process started in 2015 when new CEO Andy Palmer unveiled a three-stage plan to stabilise the loss-making company, strengthen its core product portfolio and expand into new sectors.

The success of this scheme – now entering its third phase – will hinge on the ability to identify market trends and translate those into engineering requirements. To do this, local knowledge will be vital, explained Phil Eaglesfield, Aston Martin’s regional president for the UK & South Africa: “Previously we were trying to run our business globally from Gaydon, but we now recognise that if we want to succeed in markets like China we need product expertise and corporate presence in that region.”

Aston Martin now has five regional offices, based in Singapore, Shanghai, California, Frankfurt and the UK. The information fed back from these branches helps to shape the company’s product planning strategy. It then falls to a group of vehicle attribute managers to set out specific, quantifiable targets for the new models. In the case of Aston Martin’s sports and GT cars, that role is handled by Ruari Coles, who recently joined the company from Jaguar Land Rover.

Left: Ruari Coles, Aston Martin Senior Vehicle Engineering Manager. Right: Philip Eaglesfield, President of Aston Martin Lagonda UK. Photo: Aston Martin

“It’s our job to understand through benchmarking what that vision actually means in terms of targets and product definition,” he explained. “For instance, we might say we want the most dynamically engaging car in its class, but what does that mean in terms of numbers that we can actually quantify and define?”

A lot of this mechanical DNA comes down to relatively straightforward attributes, such as roll rates, ride rates and moments of inertia. Even the outwardly subjective topic of engine sound can be broken down into frequency content.

“What we’re trying to do now, particularly as we grow the product portfolio, is to give each car a very clear, distinct definition,” commented Coles. “If you look through the current sports and GT range of the DB11, DBS and Vantage, you can pretty much see the progression if you plot the ride frequencies and roll gradients.”

New horizons

The new factory at St Athan is based on the site of a former RAF airfield, with the main facility constructed inside the shell of its three giant hangers; the first a body-in-white plant, the second a paint shop and the third a final assembly hall. Careful attention has been paid to the site’s efficiency, with a Takt time set at 20 minutes (down from 39 minutes per station at Gaydon). This will give the Welsh plant’s single production line a capacity of 7,000 cars per year; the same as the two lines at Gaydon combined.

Inside Aston Martin Lagonda’s new St Athan plant. Image: Aston Martin

Setting up the new factory has been a mammoth logistical challenge, Eaglesfied explains: “We had the fortune to find an existing structure that we could take on, but turning it into a factory is still a huge undertaking. We’ve also had to put together a new team with some 750 new jobs. Some of those people have been doing the advanced work at Gaydon to get into the Aston Martin culture and they will be going back into the facility as it goes online.”

The brand’s sports cars will continue to come from Gaydon, while St Athan will be home to the DBX SUV, as well becoming a hub for various electric and hybrid projects. In fact, the first car to roll out of the new factory’s gates will be the Rapide E grand tourer, due in Q4 2019. Designed as a joint project with Williams Advanced Engineering, this all-electric version of the Rapide will feature a 65 kWh lithium ion battery pack where the 6-litre V12 would normally sit, feeding two rear-mounted motors with a combined output of just over 600 bhp (610 PS) and 950 Nm of torque. This should be enough for a sub-4 second 0 to 60 mph time, not to mention a WLTP range of more than 200 miles.

Aston Martin’s DBX prototype. Photo: Drew Gibson

“The Rapide E is the first Aston Martin EV, so a lot of that programme is about gaining understanding that we can apply to future electric and hybrid models,” notes Coles.

Part of the appeal of St Athan was that it would allow Aston Martin to incorporate comprehensive test facilities on-site. That’s particularly crucial since the firm lost access to the Gaydon test track, which is owned by Jaguar Land Rover. Elsewhere, the company has also announced a new permanent test centre at Silverstone. This will be based around the Stowe circuit, which sits inside the famous grand prix track and it will include on-site engineering facilities to speed up turnaround times.

Aston Martin’s Gaydon Manufacturing plant. Photo: Drew Gibson.

In total, the company hopes to have seven core models in its portfolio by 2022. That includes the 1,130 bhp Valkyrie hypercar that’s being co-developed with Adrian Newey and Red Bull, an ultra-luxurious Lagonda saloon and a mid-engined supercar with which it hopes to take on the likes of the Ferrari 488 GTB and the McLaren 720S. Alongside these, there will be an increased number of special projects, such as more from the longstanding partnership with Italian coachbuilders Zagato. There will also be further continuation models, along the lines of the 25 ‘new’ DB4 GTs that Aston Martin commenced building at its Newport Pagnell facility last year. Whatever else the future holds at Aston Martin, it certainly won’t be dull.


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

Thu, 2018-12-13 17:29

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

Thu, 2018-12-13 16:56

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 in 2019

Thu, 2018-12-13 16:54
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 https://www.subconshow.co.uk/

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Electrolysis catalyst could produce fuel from waste CO2

Thu, 2018-12-13 16:50

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

Thu, 2018-12-13 14:30

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, 2018-12-12 22:45

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, 2018-12-12 18:10

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, 2018-12-12 17:33

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, 2018-12-12 17:15

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, 2018-12-12 16:13

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, 2018-12-12 14:39
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 www.industrysouth.co.uk

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

Tue, 2018-12-11 22:19

 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, 2018-12-11 21:02

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, 2018-12-11 16:54

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.id=j;pd.src='https://www.theengineer.co.uk/content/plugins/polldaddy/js/polldaddy-shortcode.js';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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