Nuclear threat, CES roundup, healthy new year: E&T editors review the week's tech news

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.

Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor

Solar-powered purification system to bring clean water to remote villages

This isn’t by any means the first time we’ve reported on projects to clean up water supplies in remote rural areas around the world, but sadly these projects are still a necessity. We all know the stories: water-borne diseases kill far too many young children and keep older ones out of school, while women in particular spend hours of their day just carrying water when access to a clean source would free them for more productive and less exhausting activities. Clean water and properly managed sanitation do far more for public health than any amount of medical intervention, so well done to all those engineers who are doing their bit for the cause.

View from Brussels: Trump's atomic priority

Like our columnist Pelle Neroth, I remember a time when the risk of nuclear annihilation occupied people’s minds much more than it does today. Maybe climate change has replaced it in the public consciousness. By coincidence though, I’ve been thinking about it again recently – prompted by my discovery on a second-hand bookstall of Compton Mackenzie’s ‘Rockets Galore’. It’s a sequel to the better-known ‘Whisky Galore’, and this time the government wants to site a ballistic missile base on the island of Little Todday. Of course, it’s a comic story and everything ends happily, but the arguments for and against nuclear weapons are set out along the way, together with the potential for plans to go awry. Our column suggests that an agreement between the US and Russia to take their nuclear weapons systems off high alert could be made very quickly, and at least reduce the risk of a false alarm turning into a disaster.

Jade Fell, assistant features editor

Wacky gadgets from CES 2017

Wacky? More like excellent! Not only would I buy the majority of gadgets on this list, I’d probably go so far as to throw a blank cheque at the checkout clerk. (Jokes; who even uses a chequebook these days?) But I digress. Aside from the ‘smart’ shoes with adjustable heel height – not the heater ones, those sound great – these gadgets are nothing short of awesome. A toothbrush that promises to improve oral hygiene by helping you to seek out your problem areas – amazing. A smart hairbrush that monitors your hair health – Godsend. A fashionable scarf that filters air so you don’t have to look like a tool wearing a surgeon’s mask while walking around town – literally incredible. And the crème de la crème, an intelligent bed that promises customised comfort levels and a foot-warming section to help do away with those horrendous ‘let me put my revolting icy cold hooves on you’ moments that all British couples have to deal with each winter – seriously how can anyone not want this? This story will probably make the majority of you scoff at the stupid things people invest in but it just makes me envious that I wasn’t at CES to witness the glory of these devices in person.

Georgina Bloomfield, digital content editor

Soft robot wraps around heart to get it pumping again

A customisable soft robot that fits around a heart to help it beat has been developed by researchers in the USA at Harvard University and Boston Children’s Hospital. The device potentially opens new treatment options for people suffering from heart failure and has been shown to restore acutely failing pig hearts to 97 per cent of their original cardiac output. What a time to be alive!

Possible cyber and bomb attacks plague Canadian oil pipelines

Canadian oil pipelines, oil storage and shipment facilities are at risk of cyber espionage and attacks according to the country’s main spy agency. A spokeswoman for Public Safety Canada, which oversees CSIS, said there has been “growth in attempted cyber-attacks”, but declined to comment on specific incidents or threats, citing the demands of privacy and national security. How secretive…

Dickon Ross, editor in chief

Smartwatches can spot disease onset

One story this week confirmed the potential for technology already in our pockets to monitor our vital signs to predict the onset of disease much earlier than we ourselves would do. It comes in the same week as our new year ‘healthy issue’  which looks at technology's potential to improve our health in the future - with treatments and preventative measures targeted at individuals as well as monitoring and diagnosis. This healthcare revolution starts with smartphones and wearables but they have some way to go before they can be considered medical devices rather than merely consumer fitness gadgets. Many more people also need to be convinced that they should share their data for the benefit of all.

Dominic Lenton, managing editor

Crowdfunded energy company launched in drive to end ‘consumer rip-off’

It’s all very well for the government to try and encourage competition in the energy market by making it as easy as possible for domestic customers to switch supplier. You might make a bit of a saving in your annual gas and electricity bill, but at the end of the day you’re still dealing with a company whose top priority is to make money for its shareholders. Enter Our Energy, an embryonic crowdfunded business that will be owned by customers and, according to its founders, “bring democracy and transparency to the UK’s energy market”. They hope to raise the £450,000 they need to get things going this year. If you’ve had a bad experience with one of the established ‘Big Six’ it might be worth getting involved.

Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor

2016 was hottest year on record, just like preceding two years

Global warming doesn't mean more sunny days, to which our memories of another rather disappointing summer in the UK will attest. However, 2016 proved to be the hottest year on record globally, even beating some of 2015’s exceptionally high temperatures, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. 

Audio trends at CES 2017: how consumer lifestyles shape new music tech products

If you find yourself wondering why a lot of new gadgets end up looking the same, differentiated primarily only by colour, price and the extravagance of the packaging, leaving you bamboozled in a maelstrom of excessive choice, there is a simple explanation that may help explain this phenomenon: we, as consumers, want it that way. Turns out that designers and manufacturers follow our lead as much as they attempt to lead us.

Teardown: Microsoft Surface Studio PC

Genuinely, for the first time in my life, I've seen a Microsoft product that actually looks pretty cool. Inevitably, this is mostly because the Surface Studio PC takes its design cues from Apple's industrial design blueprint laid down over the last 10-15 years (Redmond, start your photocopiers, again), but all the same, credit where credits due. The Surface Studio PC looks like it could be a very creative, productive tool.

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