Engineering News (March 2017)

Something old

Rolls-Royce recorded a pre-tax loss of £4.6 billion for the last financial year – the largest recorded in the company’s 133 year history.

The power systems company has been hit by the decline in sterling; part of these losses have arisen from the £671m costs arising from settling historic bribery and corruption charges. Most international aerospace contracts are priced in dollars. Some of the protective investments that Rolls Royce made to cushion itself against market volatility were made to accommodate the rise and falls in the value of the US markets. The 2016 Brexit vote caused the value of Sterling to fall by around 19% against the dollar. For a company as large as Rolls Royce, the effect has been almost catastrophic.

In a statement regarding the loss, Rolls Royce’s Chief Executive Warren East stated that ongoing changes to the company’s operation and efficiency programmes would make 2017 a better year, with many analysts agreeing with the prediction.

Rolls Royce’s misfortune is a stark reminder of the economic realities of business in a post referendum United Kingdom have changed drastically. A number of respected business analysts are predicting further drops in the value of Sterling once Article 50 is instigated and the process of leaving the EU begins.

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Something new

Oregon State University’s College of Engineering has unveiled a new bipedal robot which has been named ‘Cassie’. Jonathan Hurst, the Associate Professor of Robotics spoke about the machine at a press conference last month. “Quite simply, robots with legs can go a lot of places that wheels cannot. This will be the key to deliveries that can be made 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by a fleet of autonomous vans that pull up to your curb, and an onboard robot that delivers to your doorstep.”

Like Boston Dynamics’ Atlas, Cassie can take phenomenal punishment. The team developed Cassie as a prototype for applications such as home and business deliveries which would ultimately lead to fully automated low-cost shipping.

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Something borrowed

Engineers have developed an amazing origami-inspired ballistic shield which can protect a number of people from gunfire. The portable device, developed by Larry Howell and his team at Brigham Young University, weighs 25kg and neatly folds away for storage. Made of 12 layers of bullet proof Kevlar which surrounds an aluminium core, it takes advantage of a technique in Origami called a Yoshimura crease in order to create the protective shape once expanded. It can be erected within five seconds, and protects those within from side as well as frontal assault.

Traditional ballistic shields are designed to protect a single user. The origami shield can provide cover for up to three people. As dangerous situations unfold, so does the shield – when deployed, it can be refolded rapidly and moved to a new location, or carried when erect in order to provide protection on the move. The shield could also provide protection to wounded citizens or officers in an emergency situation, or used to protect children in the event of an attack on a school, a sadly increasing phenomenon in America.

The team tested the device using a large number handguns, including a Smith and Wesson 9mm, the trusty old .357 and .44 Magnums. The shield successfully stopped bullets from all three pistols. Even with large calibre ammunition hitting the shield, the device remained extremely stable.

“We worked with a federal special agent to understand what their needs were, as well as SWAT teams, police officers and law enforcement, and found that the current solutions are often too heavy and not as portable as they would like,” said Howell. “We wanted to create something that was compact, portable, lightweight and worked really well to protect them.”

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Something flew

India successfully managed to launch 104 satellites in a single mission, and according to the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), officially setting a new world record for launching the most satellites at one go. The launch of the PSLV-C37 vehicle carried a single payload which included the Cartosat-2 series satellite and 103 co-passenger nanosatellites, weighing just over 650 kg in total.

Out of the 104 launched, 101 are foreign nanosatellites for international customers. 96 were from the United States, with the remainder from Israel, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

India is seeking a bigger share of the $300 billion global space industry, and this mission has certainly upped the ante.

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his congratulations to the team responsible for the launch, which went without incident and was broadcast live on national TV news channels. Modi is a big supporter of the sub-continent’s space program, and has again praised the efforts of the team of scientists responsible. Three years ago, the ISRO pulled off a low-cost mission to send a probe to orbit Mars that succeeded at the first attempt. Mars missions are notorious for their failure rate, so for a first attempt, this was an exceptional effort.

ISRO also has another advantage for customers: the price tag for launches. It’s competitive prices attract international customers. Last year they launched 75 satellites from Sriharikota in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

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Business News – February 2017

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