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Technology & robotics

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An illustration of a swarm of small drones, forming a "murmuration" resembling the shape of a bird.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Issue 97

Engineering swarm robotics

Dr Anna Ploszajski explores the engineering that goes into copying one of nature’s finest spectacles, and some of the surprising applications possible when robots work together.

Quick read

  • Aerospace
  • Design & manufacturing
  • Technology & robotics
  • Innovation Watch

How AI can help 3D print perfect plane parts

Finding and correcting 3D printing errors is especially tough in the aerospace sector: a part with even a 300-micron defect could be catastrophic.

Quick read

An abstract photo of a mesh, conceptualising the Internet of Things
  • Electricals & electronics
  • Technology & robotics
  • Opinion
  • Issue 96

Securing the Internet of Everything

Our IoT devices need engineers to safeguard our privacy, say Oktay Cetinkaya and Peter Novitzky.

Stylised artist's impression of an undersea cable in the foreground, with a cutaway showing the internal optical fibres, and whales depicted far in the background,
  • Electricals & electronics
  • Technology & robotics
  • Issue 96

Undersea information sharing

Undersea cables transport vast amounts of data across the world – and even detect whales and earthquakes.

  • Civil & structural
  • Technology & robotics
  • Software & computer science
  • Issue 94

3D printing a bridge with a twin

Virtual models of structures could help engineers use less material and save CO2 emissions in future construction projects – like with this 3D-printed bridge in Amsterdam.

Quick read

A scanning electron microscopy image of a spider mite crawling on a microelectromechanical system.
  • Electricals & electronics
  • Technology & robotics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 94

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)

Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) help to make many of our everyday items work, from Air Pods to airbags.

Quick read

A computer display, whose interface can guide a robotic arm with a magnetic appendage above a model of the colon.
  • Health & medical
  • Technology & robotics
  • Innovation Watch
  • Issue 94

Perfecting pain-free colonoscopies

Researchers are developing magnetically guided robotic instruments to make colonoscopies less painful for patients.

A tablet device shows data modelling onscreen, with a hand shown exploring the data by touching the screen
  • Technology & robotics
  • Software & computer science
  • Issue 93

Using data in engineering

In engineering, data is being used in multiple ways to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and reduce unnecessary use of resources.

Quick read

  • Technology & robotics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 93

How do drone displays work?

From London’s new year fireworks to the Tokyo 2022 Olympic opening ceremony, coordinated drone displays are creating spectacular light shows in the night skies, with clever engineering creating a system that can be flown safely and repeatedly.

Quick read

  • Technology & robotics
  • Sports & leisure
  • Innovation Watch
  • Issue 93

Bend it like a simulated avatar

The world's top free-kick-takers can curve a football in a way the goalkeeper can’t anticipate. Training to save these is no easy task. Now, Belfast startup INCISIV just might have a helping hand for goalies, with an ultra-programmable virtual reality technology.

Quick read

  • Arts & culture
  • Technology & robotics
  • Innovation Watch

How AI can unearth archaeological sites

Humans from long ago have left all kinds of marks on landscapes. An AI tool from startup ArchAI, could help find these ancient traces.

Quick read

A cartoon of a woman with a smartphone next to her showing it has recognised her face.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Software & computer science
  • Sports & leisure
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 92

Face filters

It started with face swaps, flower crowns and appended dog ears. Now, all manner of transformative sorcery is just a tap away.

Two artists, one on a ladder and one crouching, who are working on a replica of a Raphael painting next to a table of art supplies.
  • Design & manufacturing
  • Arts & culture
  • Technology & robotics
  • Issue 92

The technologies that recreate historic artworks

Did you know Churchill's wife once set a portrait of him on fire because he hated it so much? Factum Arte used modern technology to recreate it, so it lives to see another day – sorry Clementine.

To represent the importance of time to the economy, a hand holding a coin with a clock face is moving to insert it into a slot.
  • Aerospace
  • Electricals & electronics
  • Technology & robotics
  • Issue 92

Why microseconds matter

Time’s time to shine: why is ultra-precise time so important for everything from bank transactions to public transport? The NPL’s Dr Leon Lobo explains all.

An artists depiction of a pipeline inspection gauge, reimagined almost in animal form, with magnifying glasses observing as it moves down a remote pipe.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Issue 91

Adding value through maintenance

Failures of transport, power and other essential services cost many billions a year. It is the role of maintenance engineering to minimise those disruptions and to keep society running smoothly. Professor John Andrews from the University of Nottingham explains how sensor technology, remote sensing, big data, artificial intelligence, robotics, and other technologies play increasingly important roles in maintenance strategies.

Quick read

A black and white close up picture of a robotic vacuum.
  • Electricals & electronics
  • Technology & robotics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 90

Robotic vacuum cleaners

Twenty years after the Roomba's original release, the latest generation of robotic vacuum cleaners incorporate sophisticated machine vision technology to steer clear of electrical cables, stray socks and pet poo.

  • Electricals & electronics
  • Technology & robotics
  • Profiles
  • Issue 90

An innovator who fills a vacuum

From outer space to the depths of the earth, Professor Trevor Cross FREng seeks new uses of the technologies that enabled the electronic revolution.

Quick read

A person taking a live image of themselves with their phone. Their face can be seen behind the phone and also in the front screen of the phone taking a photograph.
  • Software & computer science
  • Technology & robotics
  • Innovation Watch
  • Issue 88

Remote and secure ID verification

Charlette N’Guessan is an Ivorian tech entrepreneur who is passionate about solving local challenges with technology. She used her software engineering background to launch BACE API, a digital identity verification system currently being used in financial services in West Africa.

A digital illustration of a plane.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Issue 87

Creating a virtual replica

Digital twins provide virtual replicas of a physical object or system, such as a bridge or an engine, that engineers use for simulations before something is created or to monitor its operation in real time. Stuart Nathan spoke to Mark Girolami, who leads the Lloyd’s Register Foundation programme on Data-Centric Engineering at the Alan Turing Institute about how digital twins are transforming engineering.

Five people from the neck down holding mobile phones.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Issue 87

How to make a mobile technology revolution

2021 marks 30 years since the launch of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), which transformed mobile communications across the world. Professor Stephen Temple CBE FREng, who led the UK’s part in the initiative, looks at its impact on the journey from 1G to 5G in the way that mobile technology generations are created.

Quick read

A cartoon of a robot head in a speech bubble
  • Software & computer science
  • Technology & robotics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 86

How do chatbots work?

As human interaction online gradually gives way to automated responses, chatbots must impersonate us without attempting to replicate human empathy or enthusiasm.

The Shadow Hand robot arm sliding a ring off a wooden stick. The hand is being controlled by a person in the background wearing a large glove.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Issue 84

Hands as machines

Robotic hands are designed to serve one of two separate purposes: as prosthetic devices acting as the functional replacement for a missing natural hand; or as machines for manipulating objects in the manner of human hands. Focusing on the latter, Geoff Watts spoke to Rich Walker, Managing Director of Shadow Robot Company, about the mechanical hands that are doing the tasks human hands cannot.

The robot dog K9 replica inside a house.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Issue 84

Learning code with robots

Richard Hopkins FREng has built a full-size robotic dog out of inexpensive and easy-to-access technology. K9 can hold a conversation, move without a human controller and ‘see’ his surroundings. Richard explains how K9 works, and how he’s using the robot to inspire the next generation of engineers.

A robot on a CT scanner patient table, which has wires and tubing to adjust guidewires and catheters.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Health & medical
  • Issue 83

Robotic assistance in surgery operating theatres

Robotic systems are increasingly in use in all aspects of our work and lives, and hospital settings are no different. Science writer Geoff Watts spoke to the engineers who are providing high-tech support to surgeons, which is making the surgical process simpler, quicker and more efficient.

Quick read

A schematic of Earth with 28 satellites orbiting in three orbital planes for the Galileo satellite navigation system.
  • Electricals & electronics
  • Aerospace
  • Technology & robotics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 81

Global positioning system

The global positioning system (GPS) enables anyone with a smartphone or navigation units on cars to pinpoint their location or tell the time. Initially developed for military use, it now has applications ranging from aviation safety and banking to rescuing ships in distress.

Emergency response professionals wearing masks loading the back of an ambulance with a stretcher at night.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Opinion
  • Issue 81

New tech creates 999 opportunities

Dr Nigel P Brown, the contingencies secretariat for the UK cabinet office, considers the future of emergency communications involving new technologies, such as voice analysis in calls, increased location accuracy and sensors to access vital signs to deliver a more efficient and effective service.

Quick read

Brian Mwenda holding the sixth sense device and standing next to a visually impaired person smiling holding a white cane outside the gates of Kenya's Institute for the Blind.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Innovation Watch
  • Issue 80

Echo-location for navigation

The Sixth Sense is a handheld device that uses echo-location and haptic feedback to help people with visual impairments and blindness get about safely.

A well lit large room at the Erith warehouse, containing cube-shaped robots with wheels, on a large grid as a floor.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Issue 80

Hives of activity

Ocado’s new automated warehouse in Erith is one of the most sophisticated in the world, with thousands of robots collaborating to pick and pack customer grocery orders. Neil Cumins spoke to Paul Clarke CBE, Ocado’s Chief Technology Officer, to find out more about the innovations that make the online supermarket work.

A laptop with green dotted vertical lines taking up the screen.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Opinion
  • Issue 80

AI is not magic but it is complex

Mandy Chessell CBE FREng, an IBM Distinguished Engineer, looks at the ethical responsibilities for engineers developing AI technology and what legal and governmental frameworks that still need to be established so that it can be trusted.

A artistic representation of a collection of optical fibres with light being transported to the end of the fibre.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Electricals & electronics
  • Issue 79

Hollowing out a future in fibre optics

Optical fibres are used in many settings, from computer networks to broadcasting and medicine, to carry information. The fibres are usually made up of strands of glass, each one thinner than human hair, but researchers have been working on fibres to transmit data that contain just air.

Quick read

A digital illustration of a women with red facial recognition dots, that are connected by lines, projected onto her face,.
  • Technology & robotics
  • How does that work?
  • Issue 79

3D facial recognition technology

Facial recognition technology can identify or verify a person using information from a digital image or video. The technology is used in many different systems but hit headlines as a feature of Apple’s iPhone X.

Quick read

  • Technology & robotics
  • Issue 77

Speech recognition

Speech recognition is a machine or program’s ability to recognise spoken words and phrases and convert them into a machine-readable format. The software is now a common feature in several devices, including smartphones, computers and virtual assistants.

Quick read

A headshot of Sinead O’Sullivan smiling at the camera, with her arms crossed and a yellow background.
  • Aerospace
  • Technology & robotics
  • How I got here
  • Issue 76

Q&A: Sinead O'Sullivan

Sinead O’Sullivan is an academic researcher at Harvard Business School and the US Center for Climate and Security, working on aerospace engineering, technology, business and policy. She is also commercialising technology to monitor interference in democratic elections.

Quick read

Three models of the orange and black Q-bot Spraybot robots, on a sandy floor next to a brick wall.
  • Technology & robotics
  • Innovation Watch
  • Issue 76

Heating homes with robots

Suspended flooring helps construction workers build level floors above uneven and damp surfaces. However the space between the floor and ground allows cold air to enter and can result in heat loss. To solve this problem, construction technology company Q-Bot has created robots that can install underfloor insulation without messy construction work.