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SpaceX capsule makes history and autonomous bus arrives: 10 top stories of the week

Professional Engineering

The SpaceX capsule docks to the ISS. It is now returning to Earth (Credit: NASA/ YouTube)
The SpaceX capsule docks to the ISS. It is now returning to Earth (Credit: NASA/ YouTube)

Ground-breaking SpaceX capsule begins descent


High above the Earth, a sensor-laden dummy is drifting in the Dragon capsule as it returns to the surface. The final stage of the SpaceX capsule's journey brings a ground-breaking week to an end – it was the first voyage by a commercial spacecraft made for NASA astronauts, marking a private company's furthest incursion into traditionally public endeavours. Elon Musk said the planned hypersonic re-entry is his biggest concern, with the threat of potential rolling thanks to the capsule's irregular shape. 

Autonomous bus arrives in Singapore

New Atlas

A partnership between Nanyang Technological University and Volvo is testing "the world's first full size, autonomous electric bus" in Singapore. The 80-capacity vehicle reportedly requires 80% less energy than equivalent diesel vehicles. It relies on a busload of advanced tech to keep passengers safe and comfortable, including 3D imaging cameras, 1cm-accurate navigation and an inertial measurement unit for a smooth ride. 

Drones, future-gazing AI and speedy underwater vehicles – this is the tech needed for UK's massive offshore wind boost

Professional Engineering

Autonomous drones, speedy underwater vehicles and advanced AI programmes that peer into the future will see increasing roll-out over the next 11 years to enable a massive increase in offshore wind power, an expert has said. Offshore wind power capacity in the UK will almost quadruple to at least 30GW by 2030, according to a new ‘sector deal’, generating a third of our electricity. 

Trans-Atlantic robot hand operator feels a connection

The Engineer

An operator in California has felt a keyboard, chess and Jenga pieces from the other side of the world, controlling a robotic hand with haptic feedback in London. The system, developed by the Shadow Robot Company, SynTouch, HaptX and ANA Holdings, could be useful for nimble tasks in dangerous environments, such as nuclear decommissioning or space station construction.  

Flipping tech! Why MIT’s backflipping Mini Cheetah could be vital to AI research

Professional Engineering

With a highlights reel of running, spinning and backflipping, MIT’s Mini Cheetah robot caught global attention last week – but its lasting legacy could be providing a versatile and relatively low-cost platform for AI researchers. Low-cost, easily replaceable components could be a big draw for engineers without their own platforms, said Dr Ali Shafti, enabling advanced new movement systems. 

Another week, another AI military wingman

New Atlas

Not to be outdone by Boeing's announcement last week, Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems and the US Air Force Research Laboratory revealed another jet-powered combat drone, designed to escort manned fighters, fly independently or 'swarm' with other unmanned vehicles. The human-robot collaboration could be the shape of things to come. 

A breath of fresh(er) air

Rail Engineer

South Western Railway, in collaboration with Porterbrook, will install Eminox catalytic converters to hundreds of diesel trains. The project will see Eminox SCRT technology installed to SWR Class 159 diesel multiple units, aiming to reduce nitrous oxide emissions by 80% and carbon monoxide by 90%.

New solar drone could bring 5G connectivity

IEEE Spectrum

Following in the flight paths of the record-breaking Helios drone and cancelled projects from both Google and Facebook, NASA, SoftBank and AeroVironment are launching a new 'flying wing' solar-powered drone. The unmanned craft could provide 5G and IoT connectivity. 

Gas-sniffing drones detect methane leaks from a distance

Professional Engineering

Gas-sniffing drones will detect costly methane leaks from a distance while swooping above pipelines. The drone-mounted gas leak detection system is being launched by ABB in Houston, Texas, and is designed to improve infrastructure safety, safeguard the environment and protect energy company revenue.

‘Acoustic metamaterial’ could be real-life mute button

Professional Engineering 

A new ‘acoustic metamaterial’ that nearly silences noise while allowing airflow through could theoretically “block the sounds of anything,” researchers have claimed. Engineers at Boston University in Massachusetts created the metamaterial, which they shaped into a ring-like structure to successfully cancel noise being “blasted” from a speaker.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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