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The Bloodhound Landspeed Record car

Make time for a little bit more of E&T this Christmas

Image credit: Bloodhound

Welcome to our special digital-only Christmas bonus issue of E&T – in addition to our regular print issues of 2019 but available only digitally, in the app as well as right here online.

Our top story is about the car pictured above: the Bloodhound land speed record car. Children have never been more aware of the need to protect our environment, and engineering can help in many ways, from alternative renewable energy sources to carbon sinks or new materials to replace damaging plastics.

So how do we get the message that engineering is exciting and relevant across to a new generation? Is the best way to do it with a fossil-fuel-guzzling, rocket-engine-powered car attempting to break the land speed record in the South African desert? Is it all now looking just a bit too Jeremy Clarkson and not enough Greta Thunberg? Crispin Andrews catches up with the latest on this much delayed but now revived Bloodhound project and talks to engineers, teachers and the children themselves about the pros, the cons, and whether it inspires or infuriates young people. 

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. But beware of avalanche. These disasters in fact take around 100 lives in Europe each year. So engineers are working on ways to give skiers more warning. There's also an animal welfare angle to this issue. Crossing roads is a risky business for wild animals the world over, from deer in the English countryside to Tasmanian devils in, erm, Tasmania, who don't in fact move in a whirlwind of their own like the cartoon character (disappointing, I know) but do get regularly run over on the roads. So engineers are developing some clever ways to allow and encourage animals to cross safely. Animal testing is a terrible but necessary precaution, say scientists, if we are to have new medicines to cure disease. But for how much longer? How far can new virtual testing techniques replace the animals in the labs? 

If you're not in the mood for a winter wonderland, we have some escapism to warmer climes for you too. Len Williams takes a ride on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway in South India to find what it is that makes this classic railway journey so special – and it's partly thanks to the line's rack and pinion system. We go to Africa too, where drones are already being used for real deliveries, way ahead of Europe.

The morning after a UK general election we look way forward to the government of the future. Some people would say we've already had one or two, but could a robot leader do a better job than a politician? Should technology go into politics? Rich Wordsworth looks at the chances of installing an impartial AI Prime Minister.

That's some of the features in this special issue, where you'll also find instalments of many of our regulars, from the Views from Brussels and Washington to Vitali Vitaliev's After All column. Eccentric Engineer tells the story of the game 'Pong'. We have a special Christmas gadgets section too, with gift ideas for our readers. And you must check out the 'human skin'-effect gadgets in this month's summary of all things weird and not-so-wonderful, Bizarre Tech by Rebecca Northfield. In Hilary Lamb's award-winning Evil Engineer column, a gentleman wants to know how he can stop Christmas. “I must stop Christmas from coming!” he declares, “…But how?” Our resident agony engineer tries to help.

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