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Salaries rise before Brexit 'storm' and the flapping robots: 10 top stories of the week

Professional Engineering

Flapping 'smarticles' combine to move together for the greater good (Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech)
Flapping 'smarticles' combine to move together for the greater good (Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech)

Salaries rise before the ‘storm’

Process Engineering

Salaries for new starters in engineering were up 1.2% year-on-year in August. The increase in pay – which coincided with an estimated decrease in the number of jobs advertised by 1.4% – was caused by employers struggling to fill engineering roles, said CV-Library CEO Lee Biggins. Many organisations face “a huge sense of economic uncertainty” ahead of Brexit, he added, calling it a “storm on the horizon”.

The ‘green’ greenhouse gas 23,500-times more potent than carbon dioxide


Emissions of sulphur hexafluoride – a greenhouse gas 23,500-times more potent than carbon dioxide – have rapidly risen in recent years, according to the BBC – and the concerning rise is partially down to an unexpected source. The gas is used to prevent electrical short circuits, and is frequently used in new switchgear for large renewable projects such as offshore windfarms.

A fresh wind

The Guardian

Thankfully, the industry is exploring alternatives to sulphur hexafluoride and a ban could be introduced in future, as a new leasing round from the Crown Estate could see a massive boost to offshore wind capacity. The auctioned areas of seabed around England and Wales could hold turbines capable of providing 7GW of capacity, enough to power more than 6m homes.

New trains on track?

Professional Engineering

Since 2015, train operators have placed large new train orders owing to cheap finance, franchise specifications emphasising quality, and new trains having lower maintenance and running costs. New trains can provide extra capacity and improve reliability but are also causing some issues, writes David Shirres. Software reliability, depot capacity and crew shortages all need to be tackled to prevent delays, and a long-term railway strategy is needed.

Amazon charges into electric vans


Amazon has made a huge order for 100,000 electric vans from Michigan start-up Rivian. The order, which follows an investment of $0.7bn, could play a key part in the global giant’s plans to use 80% renewable energy by 2024 and 100% by 2030.

The new black

New Atlas

Move over Vantablack – a new material from MIT engineers is reportedly 10-times blacker than any other material. The aluminium- and carbon nanotube-based material absorbs at least 99.995% of all light that hits it. The blacker-than-black material could be useful for ‘shades’ to guard space telescopes from ambient light.

Wood gets spider powers

The Engineer

Researchers have created a new ‘bioplastic’ by combining synthetic spider silk with cellulose fibres from wood. The composite, created by a team at Aalto University and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, could be a biodegradable and sustainable plastic alternative for applications in medicine and packaging.

Ain’t no sunshine


A new organic solar cell can harvest enough energy from indoor ambient light to power Internet of Things (IoT) devices, researchers have claimed. The Chinese-Swedish team measured efficiencies of 26.1% and 23% in experiments, and said they were confident that the flexible and low-cost cells could power a range of everyday devices.

For the greater good

Professional Engineering

Small, immobile robots only capable of flapping their arms might not sound very useful – but when combined, they form something greater than the sum of their parts. Known as smarticles – smart active particles – the “very rudimentary” robots are capable of moving through mazes, and could eventually lead to robotic ‘swarms’ for military or disaster-response applications.

An 'entirely new way' to show off at the beach

Professional Engineering

Described as “an entirely new way of experiencing the water” by Australian company Electro.Aero, the WaveFlyer appears similar to a conventional jet-ski while stationary in the water. When it gets going, however, it rises up using its actively stabilised hydrofoil propulsion system. Lithium-ion batteries rated 2kWh reportedly power the craft with two riders for more than 30 minutes, compared to maybe more than two hours using petrol.

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