Article - Issue 65, December 2015

Diversity and inclusion, Dyson award winner, Superfast broadband award, Computer creativity, Better and faster, Connecting data, and Ingenia survey results

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DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

Two new reports published by the Royal Academy of Engineering in November found that while many UK engineering companies are already engaged in driving better gender balance in the engineering profession, more work is needed to broaden its future recruitment pool by encouraging, disabled, ethnic minority, socially disadvantaged, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to join the profession.

Increasing diversity and inclusion in engineering survey report 2015 is based on a survey of 51 leading engineering companies and sector skills councils. This includes findings from 26 partner companies who are members of the Academy’s Diversity Leadership Group (DLG) chaired by Atkins Chairman, Allan Cook CBE FREng, and 25 Corporate Partners of the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation Corporate (CIHT). Of the companies surveyed, 88% anticipate difficulty in recruiting in the future and would like to broaden their recruitment pool; 80% see diversity as critical to enhancing their capacity for innovation and creativity and 81% see it as crucial to tackling the skills shortage.

A further report, Increasing diversity and inclusion in engineering – a case study toolkit, includes key facts and background information, five step-by-step tools designed to guide and underpin diversity and inclusion in the workforce. The report is designed around 17 case studies from representative organisations such as the and companies large and small including Arup, BAE Systems, Card Geotechnics, Limited, Metaswitch, National Grid, National Rail and Northumbrian Water Group.

People from ethnic minorities make up 25% of the UK’s primary school children, 25% of engineering graduates and 12% of the working age population but account for only around 6% of those in employed as professional engineers. The reports highlight this imbalance and the case studies aim to inform a wide range of business aspects that touch on employment diversity including apprenticeships, flexible working, leadership, mentoring, networking and cultural awareness.

The diversity and inclusion survey report and toolkit with supporting online material is available at www.raeng.org.uk/policy/diversity-in-engineering/bis-programme/employers

Diversity and inclusion

DYSON AWARD WINNER

The James Dyson Award has this year gone to Joel Gibbard who has used 3D technology to make prosthetic hands more quickly and cheaply than ever before. The award pays £2,000, which will be spent on a new 3D printer to speed up the prototyping process.

Joel Gibbard began his Open Bionics enterprise in his bedroom in 2013 as a crowdfunded project that was supported by Bristol Robotics Laboratory. Since then, he has taken his innovation through 10 design revisions and engineering changes to reduce the number of separate parts. He can now offer amputees a custom-fitted socket and hand inside two days, where equivalent existing products would take weeks or even months to supply.

Dyson award winner

An amputee wears the new 3D-printed arm and shakes hands with Joel Gibbard © Open Bionics

By employing a tablet with a dedicated sensor, he is able to size up the user’s needs, 3D-print the thermoplastic elastomer parts in around 40 hours, and then assemble them in a further two hours.

The Open Bionics hand is essentially a skeleton surrounded by a ‘skin’ that can itself be customised in terms of styling, patterns and design. Its grip control relies on myoelectric signals that detect muscle movements via sensors attached to the user’s own skin. A single flex from the wearer opens and closes the fingers, while a double flex forms a pinch grip. While the wearer cannot tell specifically what is in their grasp, sensors in the digits instantly identify when they come into contact with an object to limit the amount of pressure exerted.

Each lightweight and customised hand costs around £2,000. While prosthetic arms fitted with hooks cost a similar amount, devices with controllable fingers today sell for between £20,000 and £60,000. Joel Gibbard’s innovation has potential applications in developing nations where civil war has left many upper limb amputees needing affordable prosthetics.

SUPERFAST BROADBAND AWARD

A team from Atkins has been awarded this year’s Royal Academy of Engineering Major Project Award. The company has received the award for its part in the delivery of high speed broadband internet infrastructure to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, providing fast internet access to thousands of households and isolated communities.

Until recently, many communities in this area were not served by superfast fibre-based broadband services, with some of the most remote not having access to an internet connection at all.

Superfast broadband award

Highlands and Islands subsea cable laying © Gillies MacKenzie

In 2011, Highlands and Islands Enterprise set the engineering challenge of enabling the delivery of next generation broadband to the majority of premises across this remote region of Scotland by 2016. However, the dramatic geography and dispersed population of the region presented significant technical and cost challenges.

Atkins ensured that the project specification included the provision of 400 km of new subsea fibre optic cables linking the Inner and Outer Hebrides and Orkney Islands, and over 800 km of new fibre optic cable.

In the first year of the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband Project (DSSB), starting in 2014, hundreds of kilometres of fibre were laid by BT to create a core network, including 20 subsea routes put in by Orange Marine, representing the biggest ever telecoms subsea cable laying undertaken in the UK. It is estimated that 85% of the population of Scotland will have been reached by the end of 2015 and a further 10% will be connected by the end of 2017.

While the Highlands and Islands represent the most remote European location to access, other countries such as Australia, China and Vietnam have challenging geographies and similar areas of low population density. Some of the solutions for hard-to-reach communities, such as subsea cabling or broadband fixed wireless via the 5.8GHz radio spectrum, should enable almost any location, no matter how remote, to be reached.

COMPUTER CREATIVITY

The BBC micro:bit, a pocket-sized computer with motion detection, a built-in compass and Bluetooth technology, is to be given free to every child in Year 7 or equivalent across the UK. The BBC’s new educational tool is designed to introduce young children to computer technology as creators rather than users.

Measuring 4 cm by 5 cm, it comes in a range of colours, and is designed to be fun and easy to use. It can carry out simple instructions – like lighting up its LEDs or displaying a pattern – with no prior knowledge of computing on the user’s part. It also connects to other devices, sensors, kits and objects, and is a companion to Arduino, Galileo, Kano, littleBits and Raspberry Pi, acting as a springboard to more complex learning.

Computer creativity

Each element is programmable via easy-to-use software on a dedicated website at www.microbit.co.uk that can be accessed from a PC, tablet or mobile. A personal area on the website allows users to save and test creations in a simulator before they are transferred to the micro:bit, and the available tools scale to be as complex as ideas, imagination and skills require.

The BBC has been the overall editorial and project lead for the micro:bit, coordinating the partnership, micro:bit development and delivery, learning resources and on-air and online inspiration for teachers, schools and makers across the UK. The project has been undertaken in collaboration between 29 partners in the technology and educational fields, including Microsoft, ARM, Samsung, Lancaster University and the Wellcome Trust.

The BBC and its partners intend to provide up to one million micro:bits before the end of 2015. The technical specifications for the device will be open source and the partnership plans to collectively develop a not-for-profit company to oversee and drive the micro:bit legacy.

CONNECTING DATA

Connecting data

A report published in November by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Institution of Engineering and Technology argues that a ‘data-enabled’ economy can help address the UK’s productivity deficit of 17% relative to the average across the G7 economies. Connecting data: driving productivity and innovation also states that harnessing the power of data analytics – big data – and linking key datasets reliably in real time have the potential to drive innovation and enhance productivity. However, good practice in the UK is neither widespread nor consistent enough across different sectors of the economy to maximise the benefits of data analytics.

The report sets out recommendations for ways to strengthen the use of data analytics so that it is applied securely and effectively across sectors. These include developing a suite of technology-independent resilience frameworks for both new and old infrastructure and creating markets in data to improve access to valuable data.

Broadband access and mutually agreed standards for data capture, trading, and re-use are key components, and regulators, professional institutions and standards bodies need to work together to make performance and resilience a shared priority. Standards will also make it easier for organisations to share data and collaborate.

The report recommends adapting undergraduate and postgraduate courses to reflect new and unmet demands for a multi-skilled workforce with data science skills.

Moving to a data-enabled economy is essential in terms of the UK’s international competitiveness, says the report, but it cautions that rapidly developing new technology will place further strain on already fragile systems that are also potentially under threat from breaches of cybersecurity. The requirement for best practice in systems engineering is particularly important for critical infrastructure and the ‘Internet of Things’ because of the risk of creating vulnerable systems of systems.

Read the report at tinyurl.com/ocwc3gm

BETTER AND FASTER

How does great engineering contribute to supreme sporting achievement? The latest in the Ingenia live! series took place on 12 November at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London. The main theme – engineering for sports – was explored by two industry experts who discussed the advanced engineering and modelling techniques being used to design and build sporting equipment that enables British athletes to deliver ever higher levels of performance.

Better and faster

(left – right) Dan Chambers, Dr Scott Steedman and Dr Caroline Hargrove © David Newland

Dan Chambers, Co-founder and Director of Draft Wheelchairs Ltd, spoke about the engineering challenges he had to overcome in designing and building bespoke sports equipment for elite athletes in disability sport. He talked about customising the seating on sports chairs to suit the huge variety of requirements and body shapes that disabled athletes present. He said that while future developments in material and aerodynamics may give gains through the reduction of mass, rolling resistance and air drag, the requirement for one-off tailoring create challenges in manufacturing using moulded composites.

Dr Caroline Hargrove, Technical Director of McLaren Applied Technologies, explained how, 15 years ago, McLaren pioneered a data-driven approach to engineering racing cars by designing its own F1 simulator. The company found that including the driver in the simulator in a realistic and immersive way was crucial to understanding how they could improve the performance of the racing car on any given track. Recently, McLaren Applied Technologies has used the same data-driven approach to model the man-machine interface in a number of other fields such as high end racing bicycles and the skeleton-bob used by Amy Williams when she won gold in the 2010 Winter Olympics – see Ingenia 43.

The evening was chaired by Dr Scott Steedman CBE FREng, Editor-in-Chief of Ingenia magazine in front of guests that included early-career engineers and undergraduates. A video of the evening is at www.raeng.TV

INGENIA SURVEY RESULTS

A few words from the departing Managing Editor, Dominic Joyeux

Dominic Joyeux

Every two years, we send out a questionnaire to get feedback on topics the magazine covers, the relevance of content and the satisfaction of Ingenia’s readers. The 11,000 people who receive the hard copy version of the magazine were sent a questionnaire with issue 64.

The returned forms and the online SurveyMonkey responses amounted to an overwhelming thumbs-up for the magazine. 73% of respondents rated Ingenia very good, 23% good, 3% okay and 1% poor. The 96% approval rating was heartening feedback and we are grateful for it.

Another survey question asked how many extra people read the respondent’s copy. The average number for each Ingenia issue is four. This, combined with the average of 150,000 online visits to www.ingenia.org.uk each quarter, adds up to an Ingenia readership that has tripled in the past six years.

I am now leaving the Royal Academy of Engineering after 11 years managing Ingenia. I am not an engineer but have learnt that the scope of engineering is pervasive, it is everywhere and a part of everything we do. Our magazine focuses mainly on UK engineering innovation but that does not restrict the range of subjects nor the quantity and quality of material at our disposal.

With the magazine going out to the 3,600 UK educational establishments with a sixth form, Ingenia is playing its part in helping create another generation of inventive engineers. My parting words are: Ingenieurs, allez-y! (Go for it!)

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