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Blended wing flies out of secret testing and HS2 go-ahead: 10 top stories of the week

Professional Engineering

The Airbus Maveric blended wing concept (Credit: Airbus, Fixion,
The Airbus Maveric blended wing concept (Credit: Airbus, Fixion,

HS2 go-ahead


Prime minister Boris Johnson gave HS2 the go-ahead despite predicted costs spiralling up to £106bn for the rail project. The prime minister criticised “poor management” of the scheme, and announced a full-time minister to oversee it. The first phase, between London and Birmingham, is due for completion between 2028 and 2031.

The world’s biggest fan

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Rolls-Royce has started manufacturing the world’s largest fan blades for its UltraFan demonstrator engine. The composite blades have a diameter of 3.56m, almost the size of a current narrow-body fuselage. The British company said the UltraFan could cut fuel consumption and emissions by 25% compared to the first generation of Trent engine, which first entered service 25 years ago.

Secret blended wing

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A ‘blended wing’ aeroplane design used for a new technology demonstrator could reduce fuel consumption for single-aisle aircraft by up to 20%, Airbus has claimed. The multinational company unveiled the Maveric (Model Aircraft for Validation and Experimentation of Robust Innovative Controls) at the Singapore Airshow. The model had been in secret testing.

The ’supermicrosurgery’ robot

New Atlas

A human-operated medical robot has performed its first ‘supermicrosugeries’, procedures to reconnect vessels with tiny diameters between 0.3-0.8mm. The Musa robot from Dutch start-up Micosure translates surgeons’ hand movements into more precise actions.

Lasers travel around corners

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the University of Leeds have created a ‘topological laser’ reportedly capable of sending light particles around corners, tackling the widespread issue of defective laser units caused by problems in manufacturing. The new method could help prevent wasteful manufacturing.

‘Rusty’ spaceships

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Rust on a spaceship sounds like a cause for concern before a launch into orbit, but it could offer vital protection for electronic systems. Oxidised metal powder, essentially rust, has been mixed into a polymer to create a coating that could shield military or space electronics from ionising radiation. Developed at North Carolina State University (NC State), it could add extra protection or enable useful weight savings.

Solar-powered desalination

New Atlas

Two teams have created solar-powered desalination devices, which could remove salt from seawater to tackle local drinking water shortages. One – developed at MIT and Shanghai Jiao Tong University – heats water sucked up into a ‘wicking’ material, while the other – from the University of Bath, University of Johannesburg and Bogor Agricultural University in Indonesia – removes salt from water using an ionic system.

European fighter project takes off

Aerospace Manufacturing

A consortium led by Dassault Aviation and Airbus will start work on developing demonstrators and maturing new technology for the Future Combat Air System fighter jet, after France and Germany awarded an 18-month contract. Flight tests could begin by 2026.

’Unrolling’ batteries to reveal secrets

Professional Engineering

Hidden secrets about a battery’s inner workings have been revealed by researchers who virtually ‘unrolled’ a Duracell unit, potentially enabling better cells for future electric vehicles. The international team, led by researchers at University College London, adapted an algorithm designed for investigating papyrus scrolls that are too fragile to unroll. The ‘4D’ technique for looking inside the lithium-ion cell combined X-ray and neutron tomography to track processes deep inside during discharge.

Single-seater ‘pod’

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The latest ‘pod’ vehicle aimed at revolutionising city transport was unveiled at Move 2020 this week. Known as Motiv, the single-seat autonomous ‘platform’ – self-driving technology has not yet been installed – was showcased by Gordon Murray Design and consortium partners Delta Motorsport and itMoves. Part-funded by the UK government, the vehicle is described as a “cost-effective, ultra-lightweight quadricycle vehicle platform that is designed to meet full passenger-car crash safety requirements”.

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