Engineering and technology shape the world around us and play a critical role in addressing some of the greatest global challenges of our age. The latest figures estimate that there could be 59,000 engineer shortfall in the UK each year, while only 12% of the engineering workforce are female and just 9% are from BAME backgrounds.
One of the main barriers to young people pursuing a career in engineering is deeply rooted cultural perceptions of the profession being mechanical, too technical and boring.
That’s why we’re joining with the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering to celebrate This is Engineering Day, held across the country today.
This year the theme is #BeTheDifference, a celebration of the engineering that shapes our world for the better, whether that’s by making our day to day lives easier or tackling some of our biggest global challenges. The aim of the day is to showcase what engineers and engineering really look like and celebrate the impact they have on the world.
On social media and in the stories here, we’re celebrating the positive impact engineers have on the world around us and our daily lives.
AI magic bean could save farmers millions
Farmers across the world could jack up giant profits using an Artificial Intelligence soil monitoring system developed at Brunel.
By collecting data about soil and growing conditions, the ‘magic bean’ helps farmers boost crops, cut waste and save time, money and water.
It comes after last year France saw record temperatures of 49.5 °C, the US had its wettest spring since 1995 and severe frost threatened Brazil’s coffee harvest.
The Brunel algorithms could help producers work around freak weather triggered by climate change and unplanned supply problems after Brexit.
“We have a way of using data to make crops grow better, worldwide," said electronic engineer Dr Tatiana Kalganova.
Farmers can plant one or many of the £92 pods into soil. Each houses sensors that collect hourly data on growing conditions. Without Wi-Fi, GSM or an internet connection, it uses a low-power Internet of Things (IOT) radio to feed the results directly to the internet.
Heat maps and snapshots of changes in air and soil temperature and moisture levels, shown on a website or app, let farmers figure out what the soil needs and where. This means they can make cost-saving choices, such as watering a particular field only where and when the land needs it.
Air and soil stats for each farm are fed to a central server which uses intelligent algorithms to predict what soil temperatures (to within 0.2 °C) and moisture levels will be in an hour’s time.
“Currently farmers spread water, nutrients and pesticides equally across the whole land,” explains researcher, Lorenzo Cucurachi. “But not all land has the same type of soil or behaves the same way.
“This technology can be used to analyse the soil and understand how it differs across the land, how it holds the moisture and for how long, which is important for the plants. This is how it helps optimise resources utilisation and cuts costs.”
Noise-cancelling window shutters help city dwellers with cooler, quieter buildings
We all want to work and live in comfortable, quiet environments, cooled to just the right temperature whilst shielded from outside noise and pollution.
Cool buildings come with a not-so-cool economic and ecological bill, however, and our constant drive for comfort is a spiralling problem – we produce lots of heat cooling buildings, so cooling buildings requires ever greater amounts of heat. As a result, the average temperature of our cities is creeping up.
Now though, a recent graduate from Brunel University London believes they may have a solution.
“The idea is to have a smart window shutter that knows when to open and close automatically by sensing the inside and outside temperatures,” said recent mechanical engineering graduate Nicolas Lomas.
“So, if it’s going to be a very hot day, we can cool the building before everyone arrives. It can pre-empt what temperature it’ll need to be.”
Whilst opening windows to let cool air in isn’t a new solution, the smart window shutters also tackle one of the biggest issues with open windows – they let the outside noise in.
Using an effect called the Helmholtz resonator principle, the shutters can be tuned to block out and cancel sounds at particular frequencies, such as the rumble of traffic or the wail of a passing jet.
“I had Heathrow approach me and say, you know, we could use this to cancel the noise from airplane engines so people who live nearby can have their windows open,” said Mr Lomas.
“Right now, Heathrow spends millions giving people nearby triple or quadruple glazing, and now they could do something much smarter.”
New generation prosthetics help children walk again
A ‘one size fits all’ approach is often cast as a quick fix, something poorly thought through. That couldn’t be further from the truth for a Brunel engineers team working to get amputee children in some of the world’s poorest countries quite literally back on their feet.
Sean Cullen, Xiaowen Pan, Mohammed Habib Rahman, Asad Parkar are perfecting affordable, easy-to-make, easy-to-assemble, self-adjustable artificial legs designed to keep up with children’s ever-expanding shoe sizes.
Prosthetic legs are pricey – costing up to £10,000 and need constantly replacing especially in growing kids. Children in developing nations can spend years in wheelchairs waiting for experts to fit bigger ones or otherwise making do with painful poorly fitting prosthetics.
With an adjustable socket and replacement 3D printable feet, these prosthetics systems can be quickly mass produced from easy to find materials, need no expertise to fit and fit most people. “When it comes to the developing world, you're looking at remote areas that don't have fabrication facilities, so can’t produce custom-made prosthetics,” said project leader Sean Cullen. “So if we could bulk ship a load of kits that can be air-dropped with simple instructions, we could get so many kids walking again.”
“Future generations of prosthetics like it will make a huge difference to kids,” added Sean, who himself became an amputee in his second year at Brunel. “They grow up so fast, the prosthetics can't keep up with them. So a device you can adjust as they grow will be life-changing.”
Explore our engineering disciplines at Brunel University London: Aerospace Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Flood and Coastal Engineering and Mechanical and Automotive Engineering.
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