Archive: George Stephenson’s writings

Liverpool and Manchester Railway brought several world firsts. IMechE archivist Karyn French delves into George Stephenson’s writings

The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was opened on 15 September 1830 to link the two cities. It was the first public transport system that did not use animal traction power and the first to provide a scheduled passenger service.

The initial 1823 survey for the line was carried out by William James but was considered defective and in 1824 George Stephenson was appointed engineer in his place. Stephenson was replaced too after further mistakes were made, possibly owing to the absence of his son Robert. George and John Rennie were then appointed as engineers, and they chose Charles Blacker Vignoles as surveyor.

But the crossing of Chat Moss peat bog (pictured top) saw both Rennies and Vignoles resign and brought the return of George Stephenson as engineer, with Joseph Locke as his assistant. The construction of the line itself was not the only engineering feat accomplished in order to overcome the topography and geography of the route: the crossing of Chat Moss is well known for its ingenuity but permanent civil structures were also built.

The most notable of these is the Sankey Viaduct, which is the world’s oldest major railway viaduct still in use. It was built by Stephenson and allowed the line to cross the Sankey Canal while leaving enough clearance for sailing vessels to pass below. It is 183m long, with nine round-arched spandrels on sharply-battered piers. Its arches are of 15m span and 21m high. The gradient of the viaduct had to be suitable for the locomotives. It was this that Stephenson seemed most concerned about in his reports. He commented that the nature of the supports required further consideration. He thought consideration should be given to driving piles close to the canal. He was also concerned about the piers; although these were completed in 1829 Stephenson was writing in 1832 (the viaduct was not considered complete until 1833). I cannot find any evidence that his advice was taken and his alterations made but if you know differently please email

Where the viaduct solved one problem by going above, the Wapping Tunnel (pictured bottom) in Liverpool solved another by going beneath ground. It was the first tunnel in the world to be bored under a city. It is 2km long and was open from 1830 until 1972.

Originally the railway out of Liverpool was to run north along the docks but landowner opposition made this impossible. The new route required considerable engineering works in addition to the tunnel. The 1-in-48 gradient was much too steep for the locomotives of the day. So a stationary steam engine was installed at Edge Hill to haul wagons by rope up from the Park Lane goods station at the South End Docks. The goods wagons were connected to locomotives at Edge Hill for their onward journey.

At Edge Hill cutting, the tunnel can be seen flanked by another Stephenson tunnel, Crown Street Tunnel, and a later addition, a short tunnel of 1846 that allowed an increase in freight traffic. The Crown Street Tunnel was bored from a deep cutting at Edge Hill and ran to the passenger terminus station at Crown Street, the world’s first public railway station. This station was later abandoned for the more central location of Lime Street.

Edge Hill was the site of another engineering spectacle, the Moorish Arch where the railway’s opening ceremony took place and where Stephenson was required to provide a dramatic and decorative feature.


The IMechE Archive has reports by Stephenson, and illustrations. These are online 


Huawei Honor 8

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Huewei Mate 9 has 5.9″ inches 5.9inchs FHD display. The resolution of display is 1080 * 1920 Pixels with PPi of 373. The Procesor Powered by Hisilicon Kirin 960 (2.2GHz Octa-Core) Processor with Mali G71 MP8 and RAM is 4GB/ 6GB. Huawei using Dual camera technology in this smartphone which very strange at this price point. Mate 9 Rear camera is very powerful because Dual 20 MP +12 MP, f/2.2, OIS, 2x zoom, Leica optics, phase detection & laser auto-focus, dual-LED  flash and front camera is 8-megapixels, f/1.9 lens. Internal memory is 64GB with expandable memory of 256GB and OTG also support. 4000mAh battery life.

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Colours Availability in Huawei Mate 9

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LAUNCH Announced 2016, November
Status Available. Released 2016, December
BODY Dimensions 156.9 x 78.9 x 7.9 mm (6.18 x 3.11 x 0.31 in)
Weight 190 g (6.70 oz)
SIM Single SIM (Nano-SIM) or Dual SIM (Nano-SIM, dual stand-by)
DISPLAY Type IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size 5.9 inches (~77.5% screen-to-body ratio)
Resolution 1080 x 1920 pixels (~373 ppi pixel density)
Multitouch Yes
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 3
– EMUI 5.0
PLATFORM OS Android OS, v7.0 (Nougat)
Chipset Hisilicon Kirin 960
CPU Octa-core (4×2.4 GHz Cortex-A73 & 4×1.8 GHz Cortex-A53)
GPU Mali-G71 MP8
MEMORY Card slot microSD, up to 256 GB (dedicated slot) – single SIM
microSD, up to 256 GB (uses SIM 2 slot) – dual SIM
Internal 64 GB, 4 GB RAM
CAMERA Primary Dual 20 MP +12 MP, f/2.2, 27mm, OIS, 2x zoom, Leica optics, phase detection & laser autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash, check quality
Features Geo-tagging, touch focus, face/smile detection, panorama, HDR
Video 2160p@30fps, 1080p@30/60fps, check quality
Secondary 8 MP, f/1.9, 26mm, 1080p
SOUND Alert types Vibration; MP3, WAV ringtones
Loudspeaker Yes, with stereo speakers
3.5mm jack Yes
– Active noise cancellation with dedicated mic
COMMS WLAN Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, DLNA, WiFi Direct, hotspot
Bluetooth v4.2, A2DP, EDR, LE
Infrared port Yes
Radio No
USB v2.0, Type-C 1.0 reversible connector
FEATURES Sensors Fingerprint (rear-mounted), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, barometer, compass
Messaging SMS (threaded view), MMS, Email, Push Email
Browser HTML5
Java No
– Fast battery charging
– DivX/XviD/MP4/H.265/WMV player
– MP3/eAAC+/WMA/WAV/Flac player
– Document editor
– Photo/video editor
BATTERY Non-removable Li-Po 4000 mAh battery
MISC Colors Space Gray, Moonlight Silver, Champagne Gold, Mocha Brown, Ceramic White, Black, Obsidian Black
Price group 9/10
TESTS Performance Basemark OS II: 3280 / Basemark OS II 2.0: 2637
Basemark X: 36519
Display Contrast ratio: 1622 (nominal), 3.680 (sunlight)
Camera Photo / Video
Loudspeaker Voice 83dB / Noise 74dB / Ring 85dB
Audio quality Noise -92.2dB / Crosstalk -93.3dB
Battery life
Endurance rating 82h

Asimov’s Laws won’t stop robots harming humans so we’ve developed a better solution

(Credit: Shutterstock)

(Credit: Shutterstock)

How do you stop a robot from hurting people? Many existing robots, such as those assembling cars in factories, shut down immediately when a human comes near.

But this quick fix wouldn’t work for something like a self-driving car that might have to move to avoid a collision, or a care robot that might need to catch an old person if they fall. With robots set to become our servants, companions and co-workers, we need to deal with the increasingly complex situations this will create and the ethical and safety questions this will raise.

Science fiction already envisioned this problem and has suggested various potential solutions. The most famous was author Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which are designed to prevent robots harming humans. But since 2005, my colleagues and I at the University of Hertfordshire, have been working on an idea that could be an alternative.

Instead of laws to restrict robot behaviour, we think robots should be empowered to maximise the possible ways they can act so they can pick the best solution for any given scenario. As we describe in a new paper in Frontiers, this principle could form the basis of a new set of universal guidelines for robots to keep humans as safe as possible.

The Three Laws

Asimov’s Three Laws are as follows:

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

While these laws sound plausible, numerous arguments have demonstrated why they are inadequate. Asimov’s own stories are arguably a deconstruction of the laws, showing how they repeatedly fail in different situations. Most attempts to draft new guidelines follow a similar principle to create safe, compliant and robust robots.

One problem with any explicitly formulated robot guidelines is the need to translate them into a format that robots can work with. Understanding the full range of human language and the experience it represents is a very hard job for a robot. Broad behavioural goals, such as preventing harm to humans or protecting a robot’s existence, can mean different things in different contexts. Sticking to the rules might end up leaving a robot helpless to act as its creators might hope.

Here to help. Shutterstock

Our alternative concept, empowerment, stands for the opposite of helplessness. Being empowered means having the ability to affect a situation and being aware that you can. We have been developing ways to translate this social concept into a quantifiable and operational technical language. This would endow robots with the drive to keep their options open and act in a way that increases their influence on the world.

When we tried simulating how robots would use the empowerment principle in various scenarios, we found they would often act in surprisingly “natural” ways. It typically only requires them to model how the real world works but doesn’t need any specialised artificial intelligence programming designed to deal with the particular scenario.

But to keep people safe, the robots need to try to maintain or improve human empowerment as well as their own. This essentially means being protective and supportive. Opening a locked door for someone would increase their empowerment. Restraining them would result in a short-term loss of empowerment. And significantly hurting them could remove their empowerment altogether. At the same time, the robot has to try to maintain its own empowerment, for example by ensuring it has enough power to operate and it does not get stuck or damaged.

Robots could adapt to new situations

Using this general principle rather than predefined rules of behaviour would allow the robot to take account of the context and evaluate scenarios no one has previously envisaged. For example, instead of always following the rule “don’t push humans”, a robot would generally avoid pushing them but still be able to push them out of the way of a falling object. The human might still be harmed but less so than if the robot didn’t push them.

In the film I, Robot, based on several Asimov stories, robots create an oppressive state that is supposed to minimise the overall harm to humans by keeping them confined and “protected”. But our principle would avoid such a scenario because it would mean a loss of human empowerment.

The ConversationWhile empowerment provides a new way of thinking about safe robot behaviour, we still have much work to do on scaling up its efficiency so it can easily be deployed on any robot and translate to good and safe behaviour in all respects. This poses a very difficult challenge. But we firmly believe empowerment can lead us towards a practical solution to the ongoing and highly debated problem of how to rein in robots’ behaviour, and how to keep robots -– in the most naive sense -– “ethical”.

Christoph Salge, Marie Curie Global Fellow, University of Hertfordshire

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Golden nano-material could make medical devices safer

(Credit: Wiley-VCH)

A smart polymer that changes colour to signal infection and then releases antibiotics could make medical devices safer.

Researchers in Saudi Arabia are working on technology to cut down on the number of patients being infected by bacterial contamination from re-usable tools such as X-ray imaging plates, which are used for mouth scans in dentistry.

Smart coatings have previously used nano-crystals embedded with silver ions, which have antibacterial properties, but tend to leach too rapidly over time.

However, a team at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia have developed a method that uses gold nanoparticles instead. These gold nano-particles have an advantage over other methods because they can change how they interact with light in response to specific bio-molecular interactions.

However, it wasn’t just as simple as swapping silver for gold. The team, led by Niveen Khashab, an associate professor at the university, had to develop a new type of ‘nano-filler’ to create their smart material.

“Nano-fillers are small chemical agents distributed in the matrix of a polymer composite,” she explained. “They’re dopants, so they improve on the regular material and introduce new properties—in our case, making the coating antibacterial.”

The team’s approach, which is described in a paper published in Advanced Healthcare Materials, involves treating gold nanoparticles with bacteria-killing lysozyme enzymes. They are then attached to slightly larger silica nanoparticles that have been stuffed with molecules of antibiotic drugs.

This complex cocktail emits a fluorescent red glow in normal, clean, conditions. However, when bacteria is present, the lysozyme enzyme rips the gold and the silica nano-clusters apart. This simultaneously switches off the fluorescent effect, and releases the antibiotic cargo.

The team have tested their new polymer in experiments with E. coli, and found less leaching compared to the silver ion method. They compared x-ray dental plates with and without the smart polymer coating, and found that they could determine the level of bacterial contamination by looking for colour changes under a UV light.

There was no change in the quality of the images obtained using these plates. “The process of coating is easy,” said Khashab. “We are looking at improving this technology to include other medical devices of different sizes and shapes.”

Haptic technology is helping the visually impaired ‘feel’ sound waves

in Haptics

(Credit: Adam Parkinson)
(Credit: Adam Parkinson)

Researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London are using haptic technology to help visually impaired audio engineers ‘feel’ sound waves.

For most of the history of music production, it’s been a very tactile process. Recording studios were full of switches, sliders, buttons and dials. Audio engineers would physically scrolls through reels of tape, and make edits by cutting them with a razor blade.

But that all changed with the advent of computers. Now, the power of a recording suite can fit into a laptop, and switches and dials have been replaced with digital menus. Instead of scrubbing through a track using reels of tape, musicians and technicians scroll through a waveform – a visual representation of the audio track showing the peaks and troughs of its volume and frequency.

But what if you can’t see? Audio production has gone from being an ideal career for someone with a visual impairment to an ergonomic nightmare. There are tools such as ‘Voiceover’ which can help deal with computer menus by reading out their contents, but these can clash with the underlying audio.

One potential solution was showcased yesterday at the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Innovation in Haptics event.

The Haptic Wave prototype – developed by researchers at Goldsmiths – consists of a wooden board with a slider built into it. As the user moves the slider from left to right to scroll through time, a dial moves up and down depending on the position of the waveform at that point in time.

The louder it gets the higher the dial, and it falls to the bottom of the slider for the quiet parts. “It’s an immediate, intuitive indication,” said Atau Tanaka, a professor of media and computing at the university, who worked on the ESPRC-funded research.

Adam Parkinson, who co-authored the research, told Professional Engineering that they had consulted with a number of visually impaired audio engineers about what kind of device they’d been looking for before developing the Haptic Wave, which is about 30cm long and 12cm tall. “Whether you’re visually impaired or not, this technology frees you up and you can take that information in through the hands,” he said. In the future, the same technology could potentially be used to show whether a vocalist is in tune.

Parkinson said the device, which is being trialled in music studios and recording facilities across the United States and England, could be useful for audio engineers, musicians, radio producers and voiceover artists

It was just one of a number of haptic technologies on show at the Royal Academy of Engineering event, which also featured a demonstration from Bristol-based start-up Ultrahaptics. Their technology uses ultrasonic waves to simulate the sensation of touch. PE tried a few demos, including one where it felt like bubbles were popping on the skin, and another where we could physically feel the sensation of pressing a switch in mid-air. Speakers also discussed the potential for haptics in areas such as surgery and healthcare, and entertainment, where it could be used to allow museum visitors to ‘feel’ objects that they’re not usually allowed to touch.

All new Volvo cars to be electric or hybrid from 2019

Joseph Flaig

The Volvo XC60 T6 (Credit: Volvo)
The Volvo XC60 T6 (Credit: Volvo)

All Volvo cars launched from 2019 will be either electric or hybrid models, the manufacturer announced today.

“Electrification is paving the way for a new chapter in automotive history”, Volvo said, as it set out plans for an electric motor in each of its cars. The Swedish company will introduce electrified cars across its model range, including fully electric, plug-in hybrids and mild-hybrid cars.

Volvo Cars aims to sell 1 million electrified cars by 2025, when it also hopes to have climate-neutral manufacturing operations.

“People increasingly demand electrified cars, and we want to respond to our customers’ current and future needs,” said president and chief executive Håkan Samuelsson. “You can now pick and choose whichever electrified Volvo you wish.”

“Volvo are anticipating a shift toward electric cars over the next decade in a big way and want to be at the forefront of that push,” said automotive expert David Bailey from Aston University to Professional Engineering. “It’s another signal that huge disruption and transformation is coming to the industry with electric, connected and autonomous technologies coming.”

A big shift away from diesel is already happening, said Bailey. As battery costs drop and more choice emerges, electric cars will begin to out-compete traditional vehicles from the early-to-mid 2020s, he added.

3D-printed model hearts could make surgery safer

Amit Katwala

(Credit: Rob Felt)
(Credit: Rob Felt)

Every year, tens of thousands of people are diagnosed with heart valve disease.

Some of them undergo a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), where a heart valve is replaced with a prosthetic. There are a number of different prosthetics for heart surgeons to choose from, with different sizes from different manufacturers. If the valve doesn’t fit correctly, blood can flow around the prosthetic rather than through it.

Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and the Piedmont Heart Institute hope to cut down on this ‘paravalvular leakage’. They’re using medical imaging and 3D printing technologies to create individual models of patients’ hearts to help heart surgeons choose the right size prosthetics.

“Paravalvular leakage is an extremely important indicator in how well the patient will do long term with their new valve,” said Zhen Qian, chief of cardiovascular imaging research at Piedmont Heart Institute. “The idea was, now that we can make a patient-specific model with this tissue-mimicking 3-D printing technology, we can test how the prosthetic valves interact with the 3-D printed models to learn whether we can predict leakage.”

In a study published in the journal JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging, the researchers described how they created models from CT scans of the patients’ hearts, which could reliably predict the amount of leakage that would occur in the rule heart.

The models are 3D-printed using metamaterials that mimic the properties of human tissue. They can recreate unique properties of a patient’s heart, such as calcium deposition and the stiffness of the arterial walls.

“Previous methods of using 3-D printers and a single material to create human organ models were limited to the physiological properties of the material used,” said Chuck Zhang, an engineering professor at Georgia Tech.

“Our method of creating these models using metamaterial design and multi-material 3-D printing takes into account the mechanical behaviour of the heart valves, mimicking the natural strain-stiffening behaviour of soft tissues that comes from the interaction between elastin and collagen, two proteins found in heart valves.”

The researchers used the printed model hearts to test how closely different prosthetics fitted to the walls of the heart. The used warm water to mimic the temperature of the human body, and implanted the prosthetics inside the models in the exact same location that they’d been places in the hearts of real patients. They found that a poor fit in the model was associated with a higher level of leakage in the real patients.

“The results of this study are quite encouraging,” said Qian. “Even though this valve replacement procedure is quite mature, there are still cases where picking a different size prosthetic or different manufacturer could improve the outcome, and 3-D printing will be very helpful to determine which one.”

Bladeless propulsion could open the skies for flying cars

Clockwise from left: Mohyi Labs' flying car concept, drone concept and PAL-V's Liberty Flying Car (Credits: Mohyi Labs, PAL-V)

Clockwise from left: Mohyi Labs’ flying car concept, drone concept and PAL-V’s Liberty Flying Car (Credits: Mohyi Labs, PAL-V)

Flying cars have remained stubbornly fictional, with safety and regulatory concerns and battery technology keeping our personal vehicles pinned to earth.

But a bladeless propulsion system could change that. Speaking at Frost and Sullivan’s Intelligent Mobility Event in London today, entrepreneur John Mohyi outlined his company’s fascinating technology.

“The objective is to make flying cars practical in densely populated areas,” he said. “Bladeless propulsion makes this possible by limited the blades that can cut people and harm infrastructure.”

Mohyi Labs plans to demonstrate the technology in small autonomous drones before scaling it up to carry passengers. It works using ‘ducted counter-vortex radio impeller technology,’ where air is manipulated using waves rather than blades.

Currently, the biggest problem with flying cars is providing and storing enough energy to get them off the ground. According to Mohyi the bladeless concept is more energy efficient than a helicopter or quadcopter drone.

“As long as batteries take 37 times less energy per kilogram than petrol, there’s still a long way to go to efficient flying,” said Robert Dingemanse, the CEO of PAL-V.

His company, whose name stands for ‘personal air and land vehicle’ are developing the world’s first commercially available flying car. The PAL-V Liberty is ready for pre-order and set to be completed by the end of next year.

Instead of a fixed wing or multi-rotor system, it uses a single fold-away rotor blade like a helicopter. Unlike other concepts, it’s designed to fit in with current aviation and automotive regulations. “The regulatory framework is in a lot of cases a big inhibition to come to market,” said Dingemanse. “That’s why we build it within existing regulations, become a player in the market, and then later on start to influence regulations.”

The PAL-V is designed for inter-urban travel – moving between cities rather than in them, precisely because of the safety implications of flying over built up areas.

But Mohyi Labs’ bladeless technology could offer a solution for both drones and flying cars. Because there are no blades, drones with this technology can fly a lot closer to the ground where they can’t fall and injure people. This opens up drone delivery as a much more practical solution in build up areas.

Mohyi outlined a solution for built-up areas where bladeless flying cars could hover above the ground within cities, or even slightly above regular traffic. “Using the cushion of ground effect, it uses ten times less power,” he said.

They could even take to the water. “We should stop thinking about flying cars as just aerial vehicles but as air land and sea vehicles,” said Mohyi. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

Laser as bright as a billion Suns could shine a light for engineers

A scientist at work in the Extreme Light Laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Credit: University Communication/ University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
A scientist at work in the Extreme Light Laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Credit: University Communication/ University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Shining with the brightness of a billion Suns, a ground-breaking laser could help engineers shed light on new materials and protect aircraft from devastating failures.

Physicists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have created the Diocles Laser, which produces the brightest light ever created on Earth. In a recent experiment, the scientists focused the laser to one billion times brighter than the surface of our closest star, for 30 billionths of one millionth of a second. The resulting light created unique X-ray pulses which could generate extremely high-resolution images, which the team said could be useful in engineering, medicine, science and security.

Lead scientist Donald Umstadter said the X-rays’ extreme energy and incredibly short duration could help generate 3D images on a nanoscopic scale. This means the “unimaginably bright” Diocles could help map the molecular landscapes of nanoscopic materials being used in semiconductor technology.

The rays created could also be used to find tiny hairline cracks in jet turbines, which are not picked up in conventional X-rays. The U.S. Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) is funding the university’s research into the field to protect against “catastrophic jet engine failure” caused over time by miniature faults.

The Diocles also acts as a particle accelerator, which can be practically used for radiotherapy, industrial processing and other biomedical research. The laser, housed at the university’s Extreme Light Laboratory, is far smaller and more compact than traditional accelerators at just 15ft by 15ft.

“The headline fact is that the acceleration gradient – the distance which you need to accelerate a particle to a given energy – is about 1,000 times shorter than in a conventional accelerator like those at Cern,” said physicist Simon Hooker from the University of Oxford to Professional Engineering. “Hence, in principle, we can take a big machine and make it a thousand times shorter… potentially shrinking accelerators from the length of a football pitch to something much shorter.”

The laser’s high power and relative portability means it could also be used for security purposes, the University of Nebraska team said. The Diocles could potentially create X-rays powerful enough to “see through” four-inch thick steel, detecting bombs or other threats in cargo.

The research was published in Nature Photonics.