Electric vehicles and recognition for women engineers: the pick of the E&T inbox.
Andrew Porter makes an important observation about pedestrians, cyclists and the near-silent operation of some electric and hybrid vehicles (Letters, Vol 5 #18).
As an engineer I am deeply troubled by his proposed solution, which also happens to be favoured by organisations such as the RNIB and Guide Dogs for the Blind. In fact, Lotus Engineering have developed a rather inelegant ‘sound synthesis’ system that mimics the sound of an internal combustion engine.
It is easy to stick with the status quo, but an opportunity will be missed if ‘sound synthesis’ technology is fitted as standard to near-silent vehicles. The inventors of the first internal combustion engines never intended for them to be noisy; the sound energy produced was merely a side effect of their inefficiency (along with heat).
Engineering is largely about compromise, but as engineers we should all be developing holistic solutions that maximise the benefits. Imagine if Brunel and Telford had instead of bridging the Avon Gorge chosen to go for the apparently less risky solution and concrete over the River Avon!
So instead of developing ‘dumb’ vehicles that generate constant artificial noise, I would like to challenge every reader of E&T to come up with elegant solutions to this problem that maintain a vehicle’s silence while reducing the risk of collisions; here are my three to start things off.
1) Dynamic vehicle collision avoidance and alert systems that make use of radar, ultrasound, behaviour prediction algorithms etc. The ultimate aim would be a vehicle that is almost impossible to hit another vehicle or pedestrian and also alerts a pedestrian or other road user to their presence (similar to a cyclist’s bell perhaps).
2) Alert systems built into and standard on devices such as smart phones etc that vibrate when a [near silent] vehicle is moving and in close proximity.
3) Mass public education programme moving away from the outdated ‘Stop, Look and Listen’ to educate both pedestrians and drivers on this new phenomena and emphasise the importance of awareness.
Andrew Kelly CEng MIET, by email
Electric cars hit the road
All the electric vehicles coming onto the market require re-energising by plugging into the mains. As explained by Mark Venables in 'Plug-in power', this puts pressure on the grid system.
EVs certainly, on the face of it, start to save the continuing depletion of fossil fuels. However, what energy input is being increased to provide the energy required to provide the charging requirements? The prime mover of the biggest proportion of power stations is fossil fuel with an increasing proportion being provided by nuclear or renewable energy. So we save fuel going towards keeping vehicles running and increase the fuel going to power stations to provide the energy to recharge the EV vehicles.
If we are all to encompass the ethos of saving energy, the mindset of users must change from the 'use and abuse' vehicles that we have today to the energy-economical vehicles of the future where saving energy is everything, including reducing speed and the 'get there yesterday' mentality.
Of course, this is not going to happen overnight, nor in the next 10 years. But it seems very likely that energy conservation must take precedence over all other aspect of vehicle usage. Yes, vehicles will still be under the influence of designers and stylists to give them the 'edge' on aesthetics from competitors. However, this must be tempered with the ability of the engineers and the planet to meet their requirements.
Another aspect is the manufacture of the vehicles themselves. What resources are used and what is the energy consumed to produce the final vehicle? We often hear today of a product's 'carbon footprint' but what about its 'energy footprint'? How much energy does a product consume to make? Extraction of the minerals and ore, transportation, smelting, fabrication into the end product, fabrication of tooling and presses, energy to drive the manufacturing, all have an energy cost, including the manufacture of batteries for the EVs and the charging thereof.
I am all for saving energy as the more we use now the less there is for our future generations. However, all areas need to be thought through thoroughly and completely before being implemented. Are we in line for a Government Department of Frugal Energy? Or is it common sense? Just step back and look at what we want to do rather than go headlong into something that, on the face of it, looks exceedingly good.
Andrew Lavey MIET, Nuneaton, Warwickshire
Andrew Kelly (Letters, Feb 2011) seeks solutions to the problem of silent vehicles. Being hard of hearing I can't hear approaching vehicles anyway, so I have to look for them when crossing roads. I appreciate that silent cars are a bigger issue for blind people, but the approach that deaf people have to society suggests a solution.
Whether it is because there are few outwards signs to identify a deaf person I don't know, but in my experience people do not make allowances for this disability. It is always up to me to adapt to the hearing world and not the other way round. If I want to guarantee to be able to hear at a lecture or a meeting, I have to bring and wear my own loop system.
All silent cars could be fitted with a low-powered radio transmitter as standard and either a neck loop or earpiece be made available for anybody to wear that emits a noise/T-coil output as a vehicle approaches.
My hearing aids already use low-powered radio to communicate with each other and T-Coil technology has been around for years. Why not put the technology on the pedestrian rather than in the car, and place the responsibility and risk with the pedestrian rather than the driver? It's what most disabled people have to do anyway.
David Himsley MIET, by email
As a frequent visitor to the Netherlands I have learned that it is easy to avoid the trams (the clanging bells help) and the cars are a known hazard but those silent assassins ' the bicycles ' will get you every time. It doesn't take long to become more observant, and the consequences of getting it wrong are minor compared with stepping into the path of a car but it does demonstrate how quickly human behaviour can adapt.
Colin Astin C Eng FIET, Bourne End
Beating the snow
Having just read 'Snowbound Britain highlights need for resilience' and already being aware of the government's sudden antipathy to third rail-supplied electric traction on the railways in southern England, I feel it is time to air a few salient points.
Throughout the very hard winters of 1940, 1952, 1958 and 1963 electric trains in the south east and south of England continued to run, albeit with extreme difficulty in the snow drifts up to 10m deep experienced in 1963. Third-rail traction was fine and has served commuters very well indeed.
Suddenly we don't love it any more. Why not? Because of overcomplication of electronic safety and interlocking devices, not because of severe weather. Modern third-rail trains have complex interlocking devices that lock out the traction system in severe weather conditions. At the same time, the large fleet of de-icing stock has been largely disbanded.
The very best engineering will always be simple and avoiding extreme embellishment will always pay dividends in high reliability. For the government to interfere at this late stage and throw third rail away when it has given such good and reliable service over more than 70 years must surely rank high in instances of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
John Cupis IEng MIET, by email
Resilience comes out of good robust design, good risk analysis and substantial funding. The issue here is we don't seem able to convince the government that spending the extra money at the start will save us in the long run. Remember its vision is only five years long.
We, as taxpayers, will foot the eventual bill. We either put up with events like this winter or do something about it.
AP Rivans CEng MIET, by email
Not Just for women
John Wallace makes some interesting points about awards for achievement in engineering that are open only to women (Letters, Feb 2011), but I wanted to provide some insight that may help readers understand the impact this type of award has.
I won the IIE Mary George Memorial Prize in 2004 and was the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year in 2006. These awards allowed me the opportunity to promote engineering to a diverse range of audiences and become a role model for engineering. For me, it is not about targeting only women to become engineers. It is about promoting engineering to young people and breaking down the 'engineer' stereotype.
When engineers are successful in awards such as the YWEY, their employer has agreed to allow them to promote engineering as part of the application process. This allows the winner to travel across the country and be a resource for schools, colleges and conferences. It gave me the opportunity to speak with many young people, change their perception of engineering and open their eyes to the range of opportunities that a career as an engineer could provide.
Although I cannot categorically say that one young person has entered an engineering career because of my influence, I can say that the Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award and others like it benefit the recipient, the young people they speak with and the wider engineering community by raising the profile of engineers across all sectors.
Katy Deacon CEng MIET, Senior energy engineer, Kirklees Council
I agree wholeheartedly with John Wallace's letter questioning the benefits of awards for women which, among other things, imply that women are unable to compete with men on a level playing field. As a female engineer I never want to be hired to fulfil some quota which could engender a perception of discrimination and allow people to question my abilities. I expect every job I have to be achieved on merit alone ' how can I hold my head up high otherwise?
Justine Tordoff CEng MIET, by email
To catch up on our debate about women engineers, and to vote in our poll about the issue, go to http://bit.ly/womanengineer
Tony Routledge (Letters, Dec 2010) is correct in highlighting the fact that, in the English language, the meaning of the word 'engineer' has evolved to become associated with those who work on engines, despite being derived from the same Latin word (ingenuitas) as the European 'Ingénieur'. However, his assumption that greater protection of title is enjoyed in many other parts of the world is incorrect.
In the USA, 'engineer' is more commonly associated with the person manning the footplate on a steam locomotive. The term professional engineer (PEng) is protected in the US, much as our own 'chartered engineer' is in the UK. The US does reserve some areas of work for those who are registered with the relevant state as PEng, however this does not lead to greater public recognition, potentially explaining why only 20 per cent of those who can become PEng do so.
Professional recognition in continental Europe has focused since Napoleonic times on academic attainment, currently requiring a five-year degree course. Professional status can be achieved with little or no practical experience beyond this. In the UK we generally prefer a system that assesses outcome, recognising the importance of both knowledge and experience. It generally takes a minimum of seven years' commitment to achieve the competence levels required for a chartered qualification. In addition, the value of professional registration with the Engineering Council is increasingly being seen by employers as a means of assuring ethical behaviour. It would therefore be disingenuous to suggest that 'CEng means nothing to anybody'.
If you are a chartered engineer, then you may also choose to register with the Fédération Européenne d'Associations Nationales d'Ing'nieurs through the Engineering Council and be granted the right to adopt the pre-nominal title Eue Ing.
Jon Prichard, CEO, Engineering Council
Thank you for the fascinating interview with Greg Carr about his foundation's work in Gorongosa National Park. I worked from 1977 to 1982 for Telecommunicacoes de Mocambique training technicians and maintaining the tropospheric scatter, VHF/UHF/microwave systems that carried the national telephony traffic.
One of the links ran from a mountain near the Gorongosa Park into the park itself. It was frequently interrupted by lightning or terrorist activity during the civil war, but the subsequent repair work provided an opportunity to see the then plentiful wildlife. Since that experience no other employment has provided comparable challenges or opportunities.
It is heartening to see that there are now real prospects of recovery in this region.
Alan Taylor CEng MIET, by email
Now I realise that the cabins are a veneer on the tail superstructure of Oasis of the Sea ('Full speed ahead', February 2011). They simply screen the vast fuel tanks needed to supply her six Wartsila diesel generators with their combined output of 97GW.
JG Taylor MIET, Lingfield, Surrey
Thank you to everyone who spotted that the output of generators on Oasis of the Sea and Queen Mary 2 given in MW should have been in kW. Similarly in 'Big ideas for small hydro', the potential contribution of small-hydro schemes to UK electrical generation capacity should have been up to 248MW, not 248GW.