A round-up of this month's engineering news from around the world with a regional focus on the United Kingdom.
Chinese plans to develop new nuclear missile submarines able to stay at sea for extended periods prompted a US Congressional report recommending that China be brought into existing and future nuclear weapons reduction discussions and agreements. Past talks and treaties such as SALT and START have been bilateral, between the USA and the USSR/Russia.
The Australian federal government dropped controversial plans for a national Internet filter. Critics had described the plans as censorship, arguing that the filter would be expensive, unaccountable, and ultimately ineffective, as it would block the innocent, yet be readily circumvented by the guilty.
Researchers from the US Department of Energy and industry partners have discovered a huge reserve of methane hydrate – ice-bound methane – and are now evaluating techniques to extract the methane without compromising the reserve’s geological stability by melting the ice. The gas could then be burnt for power or used to repressurise underground oil fields.
Nepal’s sixth fatal air crash in two years prompted the country’s Civil Aviation Authority to carry out a safety audit of all 12 Nepalese domestic airlines. The aircraft which crashed in September this year was a twin-turboprop Dornier 228 carrying trekkers and mountaineers to the Everest region.
The publication of papers from a 2009 conference revealed that engineers had been warning of the need for new flood defences for years before Hurricane Sandy slammed into the US east coast, causing at least $50bn of physical and economic damage. Their warnings had apparently been downgraded on cost grounds.
Canadian researchers carried out the world’s first flight of a civil jet powered entirely by unblended biofuel. The plane, a twin-engined Falcon 20, was powered by an industrial oilseed product which had in turn been developed with Canadian government funding. The researchers are investigating the environmental impact of biofuels.
Among the many headline-grabbing demonstrations at Electronica 2012 in Munich, US engineers turned a pocket-sized laser spectrometer into a beerometer. Originally intended for identifying the likes of drugs and explosives, the Wasatch Photonics device instead analysed and distinguished between the molecular characteristics of ten local beers.
Starting in the Philippines, Google announced plans to partner with mobile networks in developing countries to provide free access to the Internet, even on relatively basic feature-phones. The service, called Free Zone, will provide access to Google products such as Gmail and Google+, and to anything found via the Google search engine.
In an experiment to simulate orbiting astronauts landing a probe on an alien planet, the International Space Station’s commander remotely-controlled a robot at the European Space Agency’s operations centre in Germany. The experiment also tested the disruption-tolerant Bundle Protocol networking technology, developed by Nasa for use in space.
Toyota is recalling nearly three million vehicles world-wide, including some models of the popular Prius hybrid, in order to replace a steering component. There have been no accidents reported yet among the affected vehicles, but Toyota is taking no chances following a number of highly publicised crashes, at least one fatal, a few years ago.