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Curved windows, UK Green Recovery, electric forecourts: best of the week’s news

Image credit: Ruslan Guseinov / IST Austria

E&T staff pick the news from the past week that caught their eye and reflect on what these latest developments in engineering and technology mean to them. For the full story, just click on the headline.

Tim Fryer, technology editor

Affordable curved glass façades in sight with AI tool

Undoubtedly there would be a market for this. I could see statement buildings rise in Dubai and Las Vegas as corporate egos are massaged and buildings become ever more adventurous and spectacular.

The actual mechanics of this don’t surprise me though, not on the design side anyway. The stress analysis component that goes into the leading CAD tools would be capable of including the vital statistics for glass as much as any other material. I suppose the trick is then to impose the additional design rules imposed by using the cold bending technique for making the glass at reasonable cost.

However, a few things do itch away at the glass half-empty mind. Namely, do all those curved glass surfaces create the sort of lenses that concentrate light into a fire hazard on sunny days (as was reported with the ‘Walkie-talkie’ building in London)? How do you clean them? And would you ever let a group of boys with a football anywhere near them?

Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor

800,000 trees to be planted across UK as part of Green Recovery Challenge

What the world needs now is love, sweet love – and more trees. They are the lungs of the planet. They also look beautiful, play a crucial part in so many ecosystems and serve to remind us of the way the world used to be before humankind chopped most of them down – or bombed them back to the Stone Age. World Wars One and Two saw huge reductions in forest and woodland coverage in the UK and Europe, as wood was seized and scythed to serve the war effort. The UK in particular only had around 5 per cent of total land area given over to woodland 100 years ago. That denuded tide has slowly been turning and the more trees we plant, the more long-term good it will do for the health of all living creatures on Earth – ourselves included. Whether this latest government initiative will be fully delivered – who's going to count 800,000 trees? – remains to be seen, but on the face of it, this at least sounds like very good news.    

SpaceX’s Starship explodes in crash-landing fireball after highest test flight

Classic engineer's response to the total and utter destruction of a multi-million dollar rocket: "The data and test results we got were fantastic!"

Dominic Lenton, managing editor

UK’s first EV charging forecourt opens in Essex

Welcome to the new experience of refuelling your car. Electric vehicle owners in the Braintree area of Essex, or those passing through who find themselves in need of a top up, can take advantage of the first of more than a hundred ‘electric forecourts’ that Gridserve says it’s going to open across the UK over the next five years.

The process may be slower than filling up with petrol, paying and heading off but it’s designed to be more comfortable. Each site will be equipped with a waiting lounge, ‘washrooms’, exercise space, business meeting pods, a children’s area and shops. So with some judicious planning, motorists can use the time their car’s on the forecourt to do a gym session or fit in a couple of meetings.

You can add to that the feel-good factor of knowing that you’re charging with electricity generated from solar canopies literally over your head (backed up by the company’s own network of solar farms).

Clearly, it’s early days for this new approach to travelling by car, but with the government having brought forward plans to block sales of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030 this is a lifestyle change we’re going to have to get used to. Maybe in ten or 20 years’ time we’ll look back at this pioneering effort at making electric transport less stressful and consider it unbelievably quaint. For now though, it looks like an idea whose time might have finally arrived.

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