Best of the week’s news 11 November 2016: analysis from E&T’s editorial staff
E&T staff pick their favourite news stories from the past week and reflect on what these latest developments in engineering and technology mean to them.
Jade Fell, assistant features editor
There are growing concerns over the impact of Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, and they stem much further than the effect on US state surveillance. It’s a really sad state of affairs, with the US fraught with a strange mix of anti-Trump protests, and sickening chants of “We hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back”. Doesn’t that just fill you with hope for the future? I read this morning that Nigel Farage has called it a “revolution”, saying that he “couldn’t be happier” about Donald Trump’s US election victory. At this point, why anybody is interested in Farage’s views is beyond me. But apparently he has claimed Mr Trump, “hates the EU” even more than he does, and we can expect an improvement in US-UK relations. Do you remember when he promised to give all that money to the NHS? How did that work out for you? I’m sick of Farage, and I am sick of Trump. How either of these awful, loathsome men managed to get a single vote is beyond me. And no, it does not escape my notice that Hulk Hogan voted for Trump, and believe me I am devastated. It’s destroyed my faith in humanity. It’s not a revolution, Nigel, it’s the end of the world.
Katia Moskvitch, technology features editor
More and more nations on Earth are embracing renewables - and now researchers want to develop a solar power system... in space. Caltech and aerospace and defence technology company Northrop Grumman Corporation plan to launch the Space Solar Power Initiative (SSPI). The proposed system will consist of ultralight, high-efficiency photovoltaics to produce and distribute power dynamically, and ultralight deployable space structures - sort of like solar-catching carpets of nanostructured material in space. The project is supposed to last three years and will cost $17.5m. Well, if it works, at least one thing is for sure: there won't be any shortage of solar energy in space for years and years to come, as the Sun is not going anywhere any time soon.
Tereza Pultarova, news reporter
An electricity grid system 100 per cent based on renewable energy production that works in all regions of the world has been successfully simulated using a complex computer model. Created by a team at the Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland, it demonstrates how an electricity system that fulfils the targets set by the Paris Agreement by using only renewable energy sources could work.
Tesco Bank has had to pay £2.5m to 9,000 customers following a cyber-attack last weekend that was described as the first mass hacking of a western bank.
Dickon Ross, editor in chief
America has a new President Elect. Now the wait begins to see what Donald Trump will really do when he's in office, and what was just election campaign rhetoric. This week E&T writers outlined his campaign positions on key policy areas affecting engineering. Post-election, he talked a lot about the urgent need to invest billions in America's ageing infrastructure, the subject of our last issue's cover story. Our Washington correspondent Paul Dempsey looks at what that will mean in practice as well as what policies like tariffs on Chinese goods will mean for Silicon Valley technology companies who are importers of parts made abroad as well as exporters of finished product. Meanwhile, libertarians are concerned about what Trump's presidency will mean for state surveillance, encryption rules and net neutrality. And environmentalists are concerned about his attitude to the Paris agreement, support for sustainable energy and global warming in general. However, all bets are off for what Trump will really do next year. He will enjoy Republican control of all the legislative houses, but his own party may not go along with everything he threatened pre-election. When he is faced with the reality of international relations, constitutional law, secret national security briefings and complex policy side-effects he may row back on his controversial pre-election policy promises. Or he may not. Like every other business, engineering will have to wait and see.
Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
Who would have thought that the most advanced biometric facial recognition systems would be fooled by something as simple as brightly coloured spectacle frames? And they don’t just refuse to believe that you are you, which could be easily dealt with by a human supervisor; they can let you pass yourself off as somebody else without challenge. A study at Carnegie Mellon University found that one of their test subjects, a South-Asian female, was able to impersonate a Middle-Eastern male 88 per cent of the time, while one white male could pass off as a specific white female. That’s worrying in our security-conscious times.
I’ll admit that I’m somewhat sceptical about some of the big promises made for Hyperloop, the scheme to provide super-fast travel using maglev pods inside a vacuum tube. It strikes me that the engineering and safety challenges are huge and the cost likely to be phenomenal - but someone must have done a convincing sales pitch, because Dubai’s transport authority has signed a deal with one of the companies developing the concept "to assess the possibility of building" a line connecting the city with Abu Dhabi. We’ll see.
Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
As the shockwaves caused by The Donald's surprise victory in the US election continue to reverberate around the world, many peoples' desperate thoughts immediately turned to how much physical distance they could put between themselves and the living hell America may well soon become. How about Mars? Suddenly, eking out a gruelling existence on the scorched, parched, unforgiving surface of the Red Planet might not seem so bad. What's the housing market like? Well, take a look at this futuristic Martian home, based on the latest scientific knowledge and technical concepts, which has been put on display at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, ostensibly for curious visitors to get a glimpse into what life could be like on Mars a few decades from now, but now also potentially a showhome and sales office for Democrats keen to start afresh, Pilgrim style, in a new location light years away from their orange president elect.
Talking of Mars, it now turns out that the failed Beagle 2 lander - a long-standing joke for many years - actually came much closer to completing its mission than was previously thought. It still failed, but at least it failed less. In a week of pessimistic news, let's end on this optimistic point of view.