Architecture has been borrowing from Mother Nature for millennia. The first structures were made from natural materials; wood, straw, stone and soils. Many common objects that we use today are inspired by plant life too – burdock burs inspired George de Mestral to invent Velcro in 1955, and wind turbines are inspired by the fins of humpback whales!
Today, as engineers face the issues caused by climate change and high energy consumption, they are drawing on nature again to change the way we build our homes and offices.
Why do skyscrapers sway? Can materials really repair themselves? Can one person cause a bridge to collapse?
QEPrize Ambassador Roma Agrawal has recently released a new book, exploring the mysteries of the built environment. To read an excerpt, click here!
We have five copies of BUILT to give away to our followers on Twitter. To be in with a chance of winning Roma’s new book, simply tweet us a picture of your favourite building, telling us why you love it so much! Make sure to use the hashtag #BUILT and tag @QEPrize in your tweet.
Electronically displayed information is everywhere; smartphones, laptops, TV, advertising billboards, wearables… the list of devices we use goes on and on. These displays are mostly based on either liquid crystal (LCD) or organic light emitting diode (OLED) technology. These are great technologies, but they are not without limitations. We have all experienced the poor readability of a phone screen in sunlight and short battery life, largely due to the high power consumption of the display. Recent research has also shown that evening use of these light-emitting devices can negatively affect sleep and next-morning alertness.
So how can we design the next generation of displays to address these issues? A promising approach is to develop displays which can reflect natural ambient light or room lights to illuminate the screen, rather than using the powerful backlighting used in LCDs. Deployed in eReader devices, reflective displays provide vastly improved power consumption and outdoor readability. But this current form of reflective display technology cannot render good colour, nor deliver video rate refresh rates – a major limiting factor to wider application.
Modern engineering has moved on from the stage where hardware was always used for manufacturing, and computer software was necessary for programming. Today, we are close to being able to use purely biological approaches to produce drugs, food, clothing and even industrial goods. This discipline is called biological engineering, and progress has accelerated in the last ten years thanks to massive drops in the price of both DNA production and characterisation. However, the complexity of biology and the long time it takes to prototype proteins is still a major roadblock to progress.
Over the years, drones have gained popularity in the engineering and construction industry. Small and simple to fly, drones can quickly snap photos from every angle, giving a bird’s eye view of inaccessible areas. But thousands of photos are meaningless without the right tools to manage them. Drone mapping technology, or ‘photogrammetry’, helps make this task easier by converting drone photos into a 3D model. However, having only the 3D model is still not practical in most engineering work, especially in infrastructure inspection and maintenance. Trik is a specialised system, creating a 3D database. This allows engineering companies to make the most of their drone data.
Smart phones are the most iconic piece of technology of the modern age. They combine processors much faster than those that put a man on the moon, with colour touchscreens and high resolution digital imaging sensors. They can wirelessly send data to anywhere in the world and are ubiquitous; approximately 1 in 3 people worldwide own a cell-phone. Smart phones are changing the world, but still the potential of their technology is relatively untapped.
It’s a cold morning in San Francisco and I’m in an Uber wishing I’d had time to rent a bike. We’re meandering slowly through commuter traffic to get to a talk with what now feels like the toughest audience I have ever faced. I’m talking about the 321 five to 11-year old students of North Hillsborough School, a respected primary in the suburbs of this great city. As CEO of a UK clean-tech company, Pavegen, I suddenly feel exposed and nervous. Will the slides work on the school’s set-up? Do I have any jokes for this age group? Will the kids get it?
I needn’t have worried. The children and their teachers were amazing. We’ve had a good deal of experience in schools, but I’m always blown away by the intensity of the reaction that our technology inspires in young people.
With a bold new twin-chassis design, our ground-breaking GRAID robot is on track to transform the way National Grid inspects previously unreachable sections of its network. Project Lead David Hardman shares the latest as this innovative pipe dream gets closer to reality.
Human fascination with the power of machines has remained undimmed for decades. So it’s no surprise that our latest robotic innovation – Project GRAID – has been capturing the imagination of everyone from the national press to the gas industry, our customers and stakeholders.