The pick of the crop from the E&T mailbag and inbox
REAL RISK OF DRIVERLESS CARS
I enjoyed the cartoon of pedestrians scattering from the path of an approaching driverless car that accompanied your June issue Comment column, but could the real problem be the exact opposite? How long will it be before walkers and cyclists discover that driverless cars will stop for people in the road?
Our towns and cities could become pedestrian precincts by default as we step off the kerb, confident that the traffic will give way to us, and cause gridlock. No one seems to have considered the effect changes in pedestrian behaviour might have. And changes there will be, as the trade-off between perceived risk and convenience shifts.
What about the school run? Each yummy mummy will go to school in her 4x4 to deliver her rain-soluble precious right to the gate, and then find it impossible to leave as the car refuses to start when there are children around it. Assuming the car will even allow itself to get that near, of course.
We could legislate to separate all traffic from all pedestrians, but how will we manage the interface between the two? For example, that school run. At some point the passenger will have to get to and from the car. Home should not be like using a departure lounge, and neither should the village shop or the school gate. I wouldn't want to see a society where all road journeys have to be from one automated car park to another.
Geoff Tily MIET
MAGLEV OPPORTUNITY MISSED
'Floating on air' (June 2015) refers to Professor Eric Laithwaite's work on magnetic levitation but overlooks his most significant contribution in this field, which was to tracked hovercraft. This concept was sponsored by the National Research Development Corporation in the 1960s and 1970s to bring together the intellectual property it held covering Christopher Cockerell's hovercraft principle and Laithwaite's linear-induction motor. A company set up to further this work, Tracked Hovercraft Ltd, demonstrated a train floating on air and driven by a linear-induction motor on a track at Erith near Cambridge.
This took the work as far forward as NRDC could afford and support was then sought from the government of the day under Michael Heseltine as Secretary of State. It was another time of cuts in funding for research, and support was not forthcoming. Had it been, the UK might lead the world in high-speed train technology to this day. As it turned out another great opportunity was lost.
Dr Peter Tanner FIET
HAS LI-FI'S TIME COME?
In response to the article 'Wireless on the Move' and use of Wi-Fi on trains, perhaps this a good opportunity to apply a level of innovation to our dated railway technology systems. This would also help in delivering the 'digital railway' vision and feed into the railway version of the Internet of Things.
Li-Fi (Light Fidelity) was first coined in the UK and is a form of visual light communication based on the concept of LEDs transmitting data across to other equipment. The rail industry is currently investing in LED technology in stations, platforms and rolling stock, so the opportunity to look further into railway applications using this type of system exists. Li-Fi technology itself is developing at a faster rate and recent demos have shown it to be working successfully on handheld devices.
The added benefit of enhanced security is also highly attractive to consumers as the connection is only line of sight and less likely to be intercepted.
As this is an on-board technology it does not address any existing wireless connectivity issues such as blackspots. A whole-life cost analysis will need to be carried out to determine its feasibility and any financial benefits it can deliver from potential rollouts.
Zahangir Hussain MIET
ENGINEERS INSPIRING STUDENTS
Derek Newport (Comment, April 2015) highlights the lack of knowledge, amongst both pupils and teachers, of the world of engineering. Having a daughter currently studying for a master's degree in civil and structural engineering, it resonated with me.
Educated in the state school system, many of her peers were totally ignorant of what she was intending to do. Poorly advised not to take further maths at A level, it was on visiting universities that she realised how useful it would be and opted to study the AS in year 13. She did however have one advantage over many of her peers as her father is a chartered electrical engineer who, witnessing her passion for maths and physics, encouraged her to consider engineering.
Having access to E&T and similar engineering magazines was so useful. They provide a wealth of information on projects and if schools and colleges could access and promote these resources I am convinced many students would'be inspired and discover an area of study they had not contemplated.
HOW MUCH DOES MATHS MATTER?
Engineering degree syllabuses include a substantial amount of mathematics. However, many CAD software packages are available, so do engineers actually make many calculations when developing or designing products or systems, or when managing process-control plants? Then again, when CAD software is employed, to what extent do today's engineers still need to understand the maths in order to use CAD effectively?
In my Comment column in the May 2015 issue of E&T I wrote about how my new book on this subject, 'Savour the Fruits of Mathematics', addresses this question. Now I would like engineers to complete a short questionnaire whose results could be used to inform students and teachers about the extent to which mathematics is important in an engineering career.
Engineers, particularly chartered and incorporated engineers willing to participate in the survey, can request a copy by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be helpful if groups of engineers would appoint one member to apply for a copy for distribution.
Derek J Newport
Newcastle under Lyme, Staffs
The picture in World News on page 7 of the June 2015 issue of E&T described as showing Russia's Armata T-14 battle tank breaking down during rehearsals for the 70th anniversary Victory Day parade in Moscow was actually a Second World War T-34 being offloaded from a tank carrier.