Intelligent homes: your tech is getting smarter

Panellists discuss AI at CES 2017

As the doors opened to this year’s CES tech show in Las Vegas, the latest in tech and gadgetry was unleashed on the world. With everything from smart hairbrushes to IoT-connected recycling devices on display, the hottest products hitting the stage all proclaimed their ‘intelligence’. But what does owning a ‘smart’ device actually mean?

The idea of artificial intelligence, or at least the notion of machine-based reasoning, has been knocking around since the late 1600s. Child prodigy and mathematician George Boole set about using his favourite subject to explain logic. He developed his idea into a new type of algebra which used only ‘true’ or ‘false’ statements. This algebra, or ‘Boolean logic’, became an essential tool in modern computing.

THE MAMAOPE: Saving lives through pneumonia diagnosis


Every child, no matter where they are born, should have the right to a healthy life. Unfortunately, this has not been the case in Africa for a long time. Common killer diseases still claim a huge number of lives, and every day we are bombarded with images of pain in the media. These diseases have been the top causes of children’s death throughout the continent time and time again.

Nearly 1.4 million children under the age of five die from pneumonia each year. This accounts for one in five child deaths globally. All those human lives turn into one more news story, and while headlines might change, the pain that mothers endure does not easily go away.

Tunnelling under the Thames

1Darkday- Tuppaware Plastic Pipe

Engineers at National Grid Gas Distribution are kicking off the new year with their biggest project yet. Starting at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the team will sink a shaft 30m down into London’s sticky clay. Three hundred metres away in Battersea Park, another landmark site, a sister hole will mirror the first. The final stage of the plan will see engineers tunnel under the River Thames to join the two shafts together.

The ambitious project is part of National Grid’s £1 billion master plan to future-proof London’s ageing gas infrastructure. Once complete, the tunnel will be home to a brand new mains gas pipe, delivering energy to homes across the city.

A revolution in skin-care


You’ve heard of the spray on tan, but what about a whole new spray on skin? Well, that’s exactly what the engineers at RenovaCare have been working on.

The novel technology, dubbed the ‘SkinGun’, starts with a short hospital procedure lasting just an hour and a half. Taking a small skin sample, a specialist team set about extracting a patient’s own stem cells. The device then disperses cells into a fine mist, healing burns and wounds fast and scar-free.

The engineer and the silk violin


Luca Alessandrini is an innovator and designer from Italy who is making waves in the world of acoustic engineering.  The last big disruption in musical materials is noted as the rise of carbon fibre in the 1970s. Modern acoustic materials have since become disposable, often made from plastics or their derivatives.

The materials used in speakers, amplifiers and musical instruments are often unsustainable. Plastics are toxic when burned and produce a lot of waste as they are rarely recyclable. Even wooden parts are often found to be off key with nature. To Luca, this sounded like the perfect opportunity for innovation.

Finding the ‘next big thing’ in engineering


The closing date for applications to the UK’s top engineering innovation prize is fast approaching.

With the coveted gold medal and a cash prize of £50,000 at stake, the MacRobert Award is the most prestigious national engineering prize on offer. First presented by the MacRobert Trusts in 1969, it is also the longest running prize of its kind.

Each year, an expert panel of judges from the Royal Academy of Engineering handpicks an outstanding innovation to be honoured by the Award. In order to be worthy of such an accolade, nominations must prove themselves to be of tangible benefit to society as well as a commercial success.

Building a centrifuge on a shoestring


A team of Stanford engineers has taken the dime store approach to kitting out their lab. Using twine, paper and plastic tubing, they have created the world’s cheapest centrifuge. It costs just 20 cents to make. With a little creativity and some thrifty spending, the team hope to produce a full field lab for even the most remote areas.

Inspired by whirligig toys, the “paperfuge” spins at speeds of up to 125,000rpm and hits centrifugal forces of around 30,000 Gs. That’s 30,000 times stronger than the pull of gravity! Manu Prakash, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford and the study’s senior author, believes this makes it the fastest human-powered spinning object on earth.

Made in exactly the same way as the simple toys, the hand-spun centrifuge separates blood into component parts in 90 seconds flat.

Attention to atomic detail


Since its invention in the early 1960s, engineers have fought to improve the design and function of the silicon chip. The building blocks of modern computing, each chip has a circuit etched into its silicon crystal surface. These intricate circuits conduct electricity, switching it on and off to produce a series of ones and zeros. The code can then be used to represent pictures, music and even movies in digital form.

Chipmakers have battled for fifty years to boost their chips power, all the while shrinking them in size. As our demand for smaller devices grows, could the solution lie in a radical move away from silicon?