A round-up of this month's engineering news from around the world with a regional focus on Australasia.
German logistics company DHL launched trials of its ‘parcelcopter’, the first service in Europe authorised to use drones for delivery of goods. The 5kg automated quadcopters will deliver small packages to the German island of Juist in the southern North Sea, carrying parcels weighing up to 1.2kg and reaching a maximum speed of 65km/h.
The UK Met Office has launched a space weather forecast centre to provide early warnings to satellite and electrical network operators in case of major solar storms. A joint project between the Met Office and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Exeter-based centre will monitor near-Earth effects of solar flares, geomagnetic storms and coronal mass ejections that could threaten both the Earth-based and space-based infrastructure.
A group of 30cm-tall cheerleading robots was revealed by Japanese electronics company Murata, which previously gained attention with its bike-riding Murata Boy and Murata Girl robots. The electronic dancers are fitted with four infrared sensors and five ultrasonic microphones to detect surrounding objects, and feature the latest advances in group control technology.
A trial into allegations of insider trading in the shares of Airbus Group got under way in Paris, with seven current and former managers of Europe’s largest aerospace group and two former industrial shareholders in the dock. They are accused of trying to profit from inside knowledge of problems with two jet development programmes and a deteriorating financial outlook when they sold shares in what was then EADS in 2006.
South Korean electronics giant Samsung announced plans to build a large-scale chip factory in a bid to boost its semiconductor business to make up for declining smartphone sales. The $14.7bn plant, to be built in Pyeongtaek, about 75km south of Seoul, is Samsung’s biggest investment ever in a single plant.
Taiwan revealed it is investigating Chinese low-cost smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi following allegations its devices can send user data to China without permission. Taiwan’s government launched the investigation after accusations emerged in Hong Kong media claiming that Xiaomi phones can send copies of text messages to servers on mainland China. Taiwan said it would announce results of the investigation in three months but didn’t specify what action it expects to take.
South Africa signed a $10bn (£6.1bn) deal to procure technology from Russia to build new nuclear power stations. Up to eight units are expected to start operating by 2030, producing 9.6GW of power, which, South Africa hopes, could help alleviate the country’s ongoing energy crisis. Despite being Africa’s strongest economy, South Africa struggles with frequent electricity outages due to an earlier lack of investment.
New York’s financial regulator said he fears growing cyber-security threats. Speaking at a Bloomberg Markets event at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan, Benjamin Lawsky, the superintendent of New York State’s Department of Financial Services, said “it is impossible to take it seriously enough,” and vowed that cyber-security will be the major focus of the department over the coming year.
An environmentally friendly precise fertiliser applicator, technology to produce clear banana juice, systems to improve hygiene in urban sanitation and a service that allows mobile phone users to switch between multiple mobile networks were named among the finalists of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize. Proposed by twelve African entrepreneurs, the innovative ideas will receive support from RAEng to get off the ground.
The largest 100 per cent biomass power plant in North America was launched. The originally coal-fired Atikokan Generating Station in the Canadian province of Ontario was reconnected to the grid after undergoing a two-year $170m (£105m) reconstruction prompted by the introduction of tougher emission measures in Canada. Generating 200MW when operating at full capacity, the plant will run on wood pellets made from locally sourced biomass by Ontario-based suppliers.