First for technology & innovation|www.theengineer.co.uk DECEMBER 2014|£3.70 Drone talk Should we be concerned about this year’s ‘must-have’ Christmas gift? »12 Rocky landing Your questions answered on ESA’s Rosetta mission »18 Engineering skills IET skills advisor Stephanie Fernandes on the implications of automation »10 For more news, jobs and products visit www.theengineer.co.uk Power dressing Why the time is right for the wearable exoskeleton »14

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First for technology & innovation|www.theengineer.co.uk DECEMBER 2014|£3.70

Drone talk

Should we be concerned about this year’s ‘must-have’ Christmas gift? »12

Rocky landing

Your questions answered on ESA’s Rosetta mission »18

Engineering skillsIET skills advisor Stephanie Fernandes on the implications of automation »10

For more news, jobs and products visit www.theengineer.co.uk

Power dressingWhy the time is right for the wearable exoskeleton »14

NationalInstruments_FP_TE_1114_dis.indd 4 04/11/2014 15:41


DECEMBER 2014 | theEnGineeR | 3

It’s the time of year when those of a Christmas-celebrating inclination think about mysterious lights in the sky and where they might lead. Heavenly phenomena were high on the agenda for followers of engineering disciplines too, with the amazing feat of the European Space Agency in not only sending a probe to study a comet, but actually landing a

robotic emissary on it. It’s been hailed as the most difficult landing in the history of space exploration and while it didn’t go exactly to plan, it still promises a wealth of new information about the formation of the Solar System.

In our Q&A feature this issue, the scientists and engineers behind the Rosetta probe and its lander, Philae, explain how they designed the mission and some of its main experiments, and express their hope that the lopsided lander might stage a dramatic resurrection as the comet comes nearer to the Sun and Philae’s photovoltaic panels receive more light.

The huge response to this Q&A shows why we continue to cover space. There are three main reasons. It represents optimism and hope — after all, launching a tiny probe towards

an obscure lump of ice and frozen dust billions of miles away in the hope that it’ll land a decade later is one of the most dramatically optimistic acts one could imagine. It represents the quintessential human characteristic of curiosity and wonder: two things that

everybody needs. And it depends strongly on international cooperation towards a common goal.

Elsewhere in the issue, we look at another subject that could be described as wonderful: the apparently coincidental development of several different types of exoskeleton, designed to help people continue in demanding physical jobs as they age, prolonging the time they can bring their skills to bear; and also to help those suffering from debilitating conditions or recovering from terrible injuries to regain the ability to walk and use their arms. Another story of hope for our readers to enjoy over the festive season.

Hope springs

The response to this Q&A shows why we continue to cover space


Stuart Nathan Features [email protected]


05 Technology Philae lander reaches surface of comet with assistance of UK technology06 Technology Sheffield Hallam engineers help Guy Martin break world speed record

08 Technology Flexible solar panelling could shift solar landscape

32 Digest This issue’s crossword, plus a look through the archives


10 Viewpoint Stephanie Fernandes on the opportunities of automation

12 Talking Point Pros and cons of the current craze for do-it-yourself drones

26 Paul Jackson Building a pipeline of talent for future engineers

24 Mailbox Your letters to the editor and views from www.theengineer.co.uk


14 Cover story Wearable exoskeletons that augment a user’s strength are being developed for a range of applications18 Q&A Our expert panel answers questions on the recent Rosetta mission, which landed a probe on a 4km-wide comet


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DECEMBER 2014 | theEnGineeR | 5

Find the latest news, jobs & products at www.theengineer.co.uk news:technology


Technology developed in the UK has helped ESA to successfully place a probe on a comet for the first time.

ESA’s mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, confirmed that the Philae lander had reached the surface of Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko shortly after 1600GMT on 12 November 2014.

Once secured onto 67P, Philae set to work with its scientific instruments to investigate the comet’s composition.

Rosetta’s 10-year journey was made possible with IFMS (Intermediate Frequency and Modem System) technology pioneered by BAE Systems in 1999.

Nick James, BAE Systems’ lead engineer for the project, explained that IFMS has three functions: to uplink tele-commands, such as a sequence of time-coded commands to tell Rosetta when to fire thrusters, or when to separate the lander; to downlink telemetry, such as images and scientific data; and provide very accurate ranging and tracking measurements.

He said: ‘Before IFMS came along, the ground stations [of] ESA and other agencies had lots of different bits of dedicated hardware that were associated with the specific standards that were used by different spacecraft.

‘A spacecraft in near-Earth orbit [NEO] would use one kind of modulation scheme and one sort of data-coding type, whereas spacecraft far away in deep space will use a different kind because they have different requirements. The NEO ones want to send data quickly, whereas the deep space ones need to send data through very, very noisy channels and so by the time the signal arrives at the Earth it’s very weak.

‘The idea of the IFMS is it basically does everything, it’s a signal processing platform that sits in the ESA ground stations and, depending on how it’s configured, it can demodulate and decode data from a huge number of different spacecraft.’

Being able to track Rosetta, which is travelling at speeds of up to 55,000km/h, is key to the mission, which flew a complex trajectory involving a number of planetary fly-bys of Earth, Mars and Jupiter before rendezvousing with 67P.

‘All of the motion that the Philae lander will have comes from the trajectory the main spacecraft Rosetta has at the release,’ said James. ‘So effectively Rosetta is on a collision course with the nucleus to release the lander. All of the knowledge of where the spacecraft is and how it’s moving comes from very careful monitoring of the radio signal from the spacecraft.’

James explained that there are three methods of doing this, two involving radial measurements and the third based around interferometry.

The first radial technique measures the Doppler frequency shift of the carrier in order to gauge the velocity.

James said: ‘The spacecraft effectively turns the uplink carrier around and sends it back down to us… [in doing so] we can measure the velocity down to tiny fractions of a millimetre per second in the radial direction and that’s on a spacecraft that is maybe doing 30km/s relative to the ground station.’

Ranging is conducted by sending a sequence of data bits up to the spacecraft, which are then turned around and sent back to Earth.

A third method used to ascertain the exact location of Rosetta involves triangulating its position with ground stations by taking a signal from Rosetta and determining the time delay between the arrival of the signal at each station.

All three methods were used extensively to track Rosetta’s rendezvous with the comet, measure its orbit and help the flight dynamics team at ESA determine the gravitational field of the nucleus.

Probe touches down on comet

Philae lander reaches surface of comet with assistance of technology that has been developed in the UK


Magnetic transmission could spell the end of gearboxes


Siemens hunts for buyer to take on Marine Current Turbines


Jetpack aims at emergency services applications


Driven by diversity: Bechtel’s global rail boss Ailie MacAdam


Spanish tidal turbine prototype installed at Orkney


Wireless material improves outlook for artificial retinas


Graphene has potential in fuel cells and armour


Fugro nets giant offshore contract


Electronic implant dissolves after treating bacterial infection


Prosthetic legs improved with robot control theory

For news and jobs visit us at theengineer.co.uk



To comment visit theengineer.co.uk

Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA


6 | theEnGineeR | DECEMBER 2014

Find the latest news, jobs & products at www.theengineer.co.uk


Engineers at Sheffield Hallam University have helped Guy Martin break a world speed record.

The mechanic, motorbike racer and television presenter set the new gravity racer record by hurtling down a road on Mont Ventoux in southern France at 85.61mph.

To build the racer, engineers from Sheffield Hallam worked with Martin to design, test and finalise the design of the motorless vehicle intended for use on downhill roads.

Dr Heather Driscoll from the Centre for Sports Engineering Research told The Engineer that the shape of the vehicle was designed specifically to fit around Guy Martin.

She said: ‘We created a CAD model of Guy in a near-recumbent position that was selected to reduce the frontal area of the racer, but yet still allowed him to drive naturally. A tubular frame was then designed around the virtual Guy.’

Dr Driscoll added that standard roll-cage features were incorporated, as the frame was the main structural component of the racer in event of a crash. ‘The composite body shell was then designed to fit tightly around the structural frame, to reduced flow separation/stagnation and thus minimise the experienced drag force and any wake structures. We then analysed the design using ANSYS CFD, and evolved our idea.’

Dr Driscoll further explained that once Martin was seated there was very little room inside the vehicle, so components for braking and steering had to be highly specified.

A very small rack-and-pinion system was modified to give a quick steering input and precise response and, after receiving feedback from

Martin, the team chose a small racing steering wheel rather than handlebars.

Dr Driscoll said: ‘The course had a number of tight bends that required Guy to attempt to carry as much speed through as possible — having a responsive steering system allowed him to do this.’

Hope Technology supplied the brakes and it advised the team to use vented rotors with four pot callipers on each wheel. Dr Driscoll added: ‘Instead of using the standard handlebar brake levers, we modified the system to run off a single foot brake. A bias valve was used to split the braking power between the front and rear wheel, and Guy could modify this while on the run.’

Expansion CreweBentley is investing £40m into its Crewe headquarters as part of a phased expansion that will see the development of a new R&D centre and the creation of more than 300 jobs. The facilities will house 1,300 Bentley engineers and this is the latest step in preparing Bentley’s infrastructure to bring the world’s first ultra-luxury SUV to market in 2016. Work will commence early next year.

Moon mission A Kickstarter campaign has been launched to send an unmanned robotic landing module to the South Pole of the Moon within a decade. The aims of Lunar Mission One, which is being delivered by UK-led holding company Lunar Missions Ltd, include the use of new technology to drill for samples unaffected by cosmic radiation and meteor bombardment. Partners include RAL Space and University College London.

Great expectations Over two-thirds of England’s small and medium-sized manufacturers expect to increase investment in new technology, machinery or premises in a bid to improve their productivity. According to the latest Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) Barometer, 57 per cent of companies report an increase in productivity within the last six months. A further 80 per cent identified the need for further efficiency gains in order to remain competitive.

Making shale moves Ineos is investing £640m into the production and exploration of shale gas in the UK. The company is currently building a shale gas import facility, and it has also bought the licence for shale gas exploration and development around its Grangemouth power plant. The company imports shale gas from the US for use as a fuel and feedstock but will negate this requirement with the new investment.

inbriefMore news daily attheengineer.co.uk

Sheffield Hallam engineers help Guy Martin break speed record


Virtual Guy breaks record

ORBIS project will collate data on UK rail network’s key assets


All eyes on the line ahead


A £330m programme to create a detailed digital model of the UK’s rail network has been predicted to save up to £1bn over the next decade.

Now into its second year, Network Rail’s six-year ORBIS project, which is being rolled out with IT consultancy CSC, will collate data on all of the network’s key assets and enable engineers to make better-informed decisions about how to maintain rail infrastructure.

Programme director Steve Dyke explained that the project is a response to rail’s growth and a predicted increase in passenger and freight journeys that will make it difficult to

grow capacity and maintain reliability while keeping down running costs.

Dyke said: ‘Technology can help us manage this conundrum by putting quality asset data at the heart of decision making.’

The system is based on the national criminal intelligence model, an effective method of turning disparate data into intelligence that is now used globally by police forces to help make strategic decisions.

Dyke said that by applying this to the railway network it will be possible to make more informed judgements, better anticipate knock-on effects and move towards a predictive maintenance model.

At the heart of the project is a vast 3D map of the entire UK rail network that has been created using a combination of existing and new data that’s been gathered by helicopter-mounted Lidar technology.

Known as RINM (rail infrastructure network model) this technology is currently being rolled out to the network’s engineers, who can use a tablet-based Google Earth style app to access information on variables such as the slope of a track to the density and shape of the trees that border it.

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Guy Martin piloting the Sheffield Hallam-designed gravity racer


8 | theEnGineeR | DECEMBER 2014

Find the latest news, jobs & products at www.theengineer.co.uk

Software builds up picture of wind activity


Modelling makes for better turbines

Power of the panel Alternative to traditional photovoltaics



A Cambridge start-up believes that its flexible solar panelling could change the landscape of solar installation in the commercial sector.

The Solar Cloth Company’s flexible thin-film photovoltaics (FTFPs) are a few micrometres thick and can be integrated into flexible and lightweight tensile structures called building integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs). In doing so, they provide an alternative to traditional photovoltaic panels.

Perry Carroll, CEO and founder of the company, and Christopher Jackson, innovation director, told The Engineer that copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) is used as a base technology because it is known for its higher light-to-electricity conversion rate and lightweight flexible properties. The technology is also 100 times thinner than conventional silicon (c-Si) glass-backed solar panels.

Carroll said: ‘Most steel portal commercial roofing cannot support the weight of heavy glass solar panels, but our lightweight solar cloth is ideal in these situations.

‘We estimate there is around 830 million square metres of commercial roof space and 350 million square metres of car parking space in the UK alone which, if covered with solar panels, could produce enough power to feed the UK’s national grid three times over.’

The duo added that CIGS is favoured because it is suited to northern latitudes.

Jackson said: ‘The spectrum absorbed by silicon cells ranges from 400–700nm, while the absorption range for CIGS cells is wider from 300–1,300nm. This means that the effective time for generating power is much longer each day for CIGS than other technologies.

‘There is also the lifetime degradation issue of silicon. Crystalline silicon and amorphous silicon PV exhibit degradation following long-term exposure to strong light.’

The company has unveiled the world’s first solar fabric tensile structure car park in Cambridge and has been awarded BIPV Innovation of the Year at the UK Solar Industry awards.

Jackson added: ‘We are currently closing in on deals involving 27,000 car park spaces with… retailers and 15 local authorities. We have built a growing sales pipeline worth £4.2m for 2015, including park-and-ride projects, airport parking operators and retail-park owners.’

The Solar Cloth Company is currently looking for investors and has turned to crowd-funding mechanism Crowdcube in order to raise £750,000 in return for a 10 per cent equity stake in the enterprise.


New technology could help improve the efficiency of wind turbines and the safety of maintenance staff by better predicting wind patterns.

Researchers at Sheffield University have created software that builds a picture of the wind activity — including speed and direction — around a turbine based on just two readings taken with static laser beams.

Existing techniques use similar ‘lidar’ technology but can only provide information about the speed of the wind travelling along the path of the laser beams and are blind to activity in other directions — an issue that is known as the ‘Cyclops dilemma’.

‘If you know what the wind looks like, in theory you can significantly reduce the unsteady loads on the turbine,’ said lead researcher Bryn Jones, who worked with colleague Paul Towers on the project.

The system would also benefit offshore turbine construction and maintenance crews, he added. ‘If you can

forecast an oncoming gust with a minute or two of warning that would be significantly valuable because it allows them to work closer to the margins and maximise their time in the ocean environment.’

Lidar systems can calculate the wind speed by measuring how the frequency of laser light changes when it is scattered by the moving air particles.

The Sheffield technology feeds this information into a model of a wind system that can estimate both the speed and direction of the air outside the laser beam area.

And by modelling what is happening in the surrounding area, the technology can predict how gusts of wind will hit the turbine in the immediate future.

By taking repeated measurements, the system can build up enough information to provide an accurate estimation of the wind pattern within a matter of seconds, according to Jones.

Four sites in England are to begin trials of driverless cars in 2015.The trials are due to take place from January in Greenwich

(London), Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry, and have been made possible with £10m of funding from Innovate UK.

According to Innovate UK, testing driverless cars in a real-world environment will lead to greater levels of understanding of these vehicles and let the public see how they will fit into everyday life.

The funding comes through Innovate UK’s Introducing Driverless Cars to UK Roads competition and the formal trials will last between 18 and 36 months.

The aim is to establish the UK as the global hub for the research, development and integration of driverless vehicles and associated technologies.

Nick Jones, lead technologist for the low-carbon vehicle innovation platform at Innovate UK, said: ‘Cars that drive themselves would represent the most significant transformation in road travel since the introduction of the internal combustion engine.’

Trials set to begin in England in 2015


Driverless on trial

The new panels can be integrated into flexible, lightweight structures

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DECEMBER 2014 | theEnGineeR | 9

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A recent report from Deloitte caused controversy last month by claiming that one-third of jobs in the UK are at

risk from automation.Research carried out by Deloitte and the

University of Oxford indicates that: “Technology, automation and robotics will cause a significant shift in the UK labour market in the next 20 years, with one-third (35 per cent) of existing jobs at risk of being replaced. Advances in technology will likely see jobs requiring repetitive processing, clerical and support services, replaced with roles requiring digital, management and creative skills. These trends are already well under way.”

However, we believe it is important to also consider the wider context of the engineering job market and the new opportunities that will emerge in the industrial landscape. The IET’s Skills and Demand in Industry Survey shows a clear demand for engineers in the UK whose skills are needed to meet industry needs and support growth. The 2014 report shows that more than half of companies are looking to recruit engineers in order to expand their business. This is against a backdrop of a higher proportion of employers reporting difficulties in finding the people they need. Fifty-nine per cent of companies indicated concerns that a shortage of engineers would be a threat to their business in the UK, yet 37 per cent are not confident in being able to find who they need due to a lack of suitably skilled people.

The report surveyed 400 companies from a broad range of sectors that are all planning to recruit engineering and technical staff. This shows that even if some roles are replaced by robotic and automated alternatives, engineers and their skills will continue to be highly sought after. The projected demand is for 87,000 new engineers and technicians each year for the next decade. The main focus now should be for employers and government to inspire and

And while The Royal Academy of Engineering’s report Jobs and Growth suggests a broad need for 100,000 skilled engineers and scientists each year, the growth of the RAS market is likely to add to that. This means further demand across the skills spectrum.

To be successful in RAS, the UK will need to attract skills from overseas. But this is set to become a highly competitive market. The European Commission believes that by 2020, there will be 75,000 new jobs at European manufacturers of industrial and service robots requiring relevant skills or qualifications, as well as 30,000 additional new high-tech jobs in robotics and 140,000 new jobs in European service industries using a broad variety of service robots.

Further research by the International Federation of Robotics and Copenhagen Business School offers an insight on the effects of automation in industry. While a decrease in jobs is observed in the short term, the long-term net effect on employment in the wider economy shows an increase. The new jobs that are created tend to be of a higher skill level as employees progress into new roles or move into other industries. As a result, they are paid more, which has a positive impact on the economy. This has been proven to be the case in counties such as Germany, Japan and South Korea who all have a much higher proportion of robots per manufacturing employee and are seen as being more competitive, have balanced economies and relatively low levels of unemployment.

For the UK to be globally competitive we need a system that allows us to bring in new engineers and upskill existing staff to work with the next generation of robotics. This comes from the development of skills and the wider adoption of automation in SMEs, both supported by government initiatives.

enable more young people to join the engineering profession through routes that are most appropriate to their strengths — whether this be academic or vocational. Better employer engagement with the education system is critical to create a system of education and training that satisfies the aspirations of young people while delivering the high-calibre engineers and technicians businesses need. More must also be done by employers to continually develop the skills of their existing workers.

A more recent report, the IET’s Ones to Watch, flagged robotics as one of the six top industries where the UK has potential to be a global leader. The report states that the rise of the robotics industry will create substantial skills demand from leading-edge R&D to technicians who will

manage robots where they are being used. According to the RAS (Robotics and Autonomous Systems) 2020 report, the immediate area of need is for skilled researchers. It said: “It is vitally important that investment is made at an early stage so that innovation is not starved of its primary resource. The provision of skilled researchers in RAS technologies who can move with confidence between academic and industrial organisations is critical to making the UK a world leader in RAS.”

Even if some roles are replaced with robots, engineers and their associated skills will continue to be highly sought after

Bright side of automation

10 | theEnGineeR | DECEMBER 2014

Join the debate at theengineer.co.uk

New jobs tend to be of a higher skill level as the employees move into new roles

A recent report flagged robotics as an industry where the UK could be a leader

Stephanie Fernandes is the principal policy adviser for education and skills at the IET

DECEMBER 2014 | theEnGineeR | 11


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There’s a real buzz about this year’s festive season. Or perhaps that should be a high-pitched whine. Because Christmas 2014 promises to be the season of the drone.

Originally developed for the defence industry, drones, or unmanned air systems (UAS),

have been available as consumer devices for a couple of years now but many observers believe 2014 could be the year that the technology really takes off (sorry about that).

A quick Google search uncovers a range of devices, mainly quadcopters, with a staggering range of capabilities. Indeed, just a couple of hundred pounds gives you access to kind of remotely operated, GPS-enabled systems that once only the military had access to. High-street technology chain Maplins — which now sells a wide range of devices — even features one of the vehicles in its latest advertising campaign.

It’s not difficult to see why the technology is generating so much excitement. The ability to

hover above your home and shoot your own aerial movies will be attractive to many. While the semi-autonomous behaviour of some current devices — for instance, the ability to use GPS to pre-programmed routes — further broadens the technology’s appeal.

What’s more, the build-your-own drone kits that are now widely available are a great way to enthuse young people about the wonders of engineering, and teach them the kind of hands-on skills that they’ll rarely learn from a games console.

The problem is, that with these capabilities comes the potential for trouble and the kind of systems that are now widely available have some obvious and far-less-benign potential applications.

Two recent football-related incidents highlight the technology’s potential to cause disruption. Earlier this year, the arrival of a drone carrying an

Albanian flag sparked angry scenes at an Albania v Serbia football match. Closer to home, a man was arrested after flying a drone over Manchester City’s ground during a game against Tottenham.

Meanwhile, a report on drones published this autumn by the University of Birmingham Policy Commission, which is chaired by former director of GCHQ Prof David Omand, raises the terrifying prospect that terrorist groups could potentially use small, commercially available vehicles to mount attacks in the UK. ‘Fast, cheap, available micro RPA (remotely piloted aircraft), in particular, are difficult to defend against, given their ability to fly past and over obstacles to find their target,’ claims the report.

Clearly, there are genuine public safety concerns

here, and as the policy commission’s report argues, preventing the technology being used for criminal purposes represents a major challenge.

Winning this battle should also be a major priority for the UK’s wider UAV industry, which is keen to open up civil airspace to large unmanned air vehicles in order to make it easier to test and develop an area of technology that is of growing importance to the UK economy.

As one of those attending a roundtable on the topic hosted by The Engineer back in 2012 claimed, the irresponsible use of widely available consumer drones could irrevocably damage public opinion and hold back development of this emerging area of industry.

The holly and the UAV

The build-your-own drone kits that are now widely available are a great way to enthuse young people about engineering“


Jon Excell [email protected]

The rise of the do-it-yourself drone — which looks destined to become one of this year’s most popular festive gifts — is raising security and privacy concerns that could have implications for the wider UAV industry

DECEMBER 2014 | theEnGineeR | 13

theengineerpollLast week’s poll: With police warning a House of Lords committee that off-the-shelf ‘drones’ are being used to harass people, there are growing calls for tighter regulation of their use. We asked whether these concerns are justified?

The largest group of the 452 respondents to the poll thought that drones should be treated with caution, and a clear majority were concerned about uses of the technology as consumer models become more advanced. While 44 per cent thought that regulations should anticipate the rapid pace of development of the technology, 18 per cent thought that privacy was a valid concern and 15 per cent thought they could be used to mount terrorist attacks. Of the less cautious respondents, 16 per cent thought that consumer drones could inspire budding aerospace engineers, and just 4 per cent thought they would be a short-lived fad. What’s your opinion on this subject? Let us know below.

yourcommentsA lot of people will be getting these for Christmas presents. Are they seriously going to be checking for government regulations before rushing outside? No they aren’t... They really are inspiring pieces of kit — but have been rushed into the consumer market without any consideration for their potential uses.Chris Wood

No matter where terrorists originate from they will not be looking at what the legislation dictates, they will use whatever the technology best suits their aims.Jim Logan

I am a drone owner in the US. We are seeing instances of drone misuse here on a daily basis. We also see misuse of drugs, automobiles and many other useful things. Drones have a stigma attached due to the very effective way some of the more sophisticated models have turned many bad people into tiny burning embers for all to watch on YouTube. I am a farmer and outdoorsman and I fly only over my own property. The uses for a landowner are unlimited. I can look for lost livestock, check on remote fields and so on from my front yard. I surely hope the quest for restrictions to satisfy those who fear drones does not limit my activity here at home.Anonymous

Most Model Quad flyers are responsible people, you can’t have the odd loony spoil the hobby. As for terrorists? Rules are of no interest to them, they will do as they please, with little chance of stopping them.So I do hope the House of Lords doesn’t conclude that anyone flying a quad with a camera, must be a terrorist, or something equally evil? This is in a country that has the highest number of CCTV cameras per head of the population, anywhere in the world. The drones represent a tiny number by comparison.Steve

Policing the use of remotely controlled flying devices is and will remain largely impossible. Once again the law of unintended consequences rules supreme.JohnK

There are perfectly good regulations in place with the Air Navigation Order and CAP658 that clearly state what is and is not legal. The problem is that no one is made aware of this. The first step is to ensure that distributors and retailers are made to pass on this information in the form of written instructions with the product so there is no excuse for operators not knowing their responsibility. It is no different to selling guns, imitation guns, or any other restricted sports/activity equipment. As a model flyer myself I repeatedly see instructions regarding the FAA regulations for use

in the US but never anything about the ANO and CAA in the UK. Make it compulsory for distribution and retail. Flying over private property without consent, flying within 50m of buildings, flying within 100m of public gatherings, taking photographs without permission are all covered by existing rules, ignorance is the problem.Chris Dore

The article infers that this is military technology/hardware gaining a commercial application. This is not the case. There are many manufacturers of military drones who started in model aircraft control and branched out into military applications. In reality it is often the other way round. The biggest advance is further miniaturisation of existing systems so that they are now able to be fitted into very small airframes. As stated by another respondent these aircraft are not large enough to carry a significant amount of explosive. So long as they are used sensibly by the genuine enthusiast they are safe. But potential threats exist from other misuse of technology e.g. lasers that are capable of blinding pilots if shone in the direction of an aircraft. There is of course already legislation in place to protect against such misuse. I don’t think we should get carried away with unnecessary reactions to this; after all there are model aircraft that are capable of carrying 20lbs of explosive, but they are not considered a threat.Ray Herbert

Now that the more complex parts (e.g. autopilots) are readily available on the internet, these parts can be incorporated into large, fully autonomous, accurate, long-range weapons. The biggest danger to the general public is a lack of imagination on the part of those whose job it is to protect us with regard to what it is possible to make and how it could be used.Robin Colbourne

There is a big issue with privacy too. Put a high-definition camera on board with an image stabilised telephoto lens, and journalists (or anyone else) will be able to invade the privacy of anyone they care to target even without flying them over private land. As far as the next Battle or Britain is concerned, maybe the military will need to invest in shotguns.Robert

This is just another fad that will soon fizzle out when the public gets fed up with taking shots of their house and garden, and local authorities ban them from public places.David Redfern

Click here to join the debate

Click here to join the debate


We should be very concerned about the use of the technology to invade people’s privacy

The main worry is the potential use of the technology to mount terrorist attack

They’re just toys with limited capabilities. It’s a fad that will inevitably pass

Although current technologies are limited, capabilities are advancing fast and regulations should anticipate this

We should welcome the drone. The technology can help inspire a new generation of aeronautical engineers

None of the above






14 | theEnGineeR | DECEMBER 2014

In 1931 the American author Charles Fort (now best known for collecting details of weird and unexplained phenomena) coined the term ‘steam-engine time’. It refers to technologies for which

the concept and underlying science has existed for some time, but that remain undeveloped until some triggering event, and then numerous teams, not in contact with each other, begin working on the technology at roughly the same time. The late 18th century was just the time to develop steam engines, Fort said, although the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all understood the scientific basis of their operation and had tinkered with the principles; James Watt, Thomas Newcomen and Richard Trevithick all came up with their own versions.

By Fort’s example, then, we can probably say that it’s exoskeleton time.

The idea of exoskeletons has been around for decades. It’s a simple idea: use powered mechanics to increase the strength of a human operator. General Electric built the first one in 1965. It was a fearsome device called Hardiman, which used hydromechanical servos for power. Hardiman was supposed to enable a human operator to lift up to 1,500 pounds, but the prototype, capable of lifting 750 pounds, weighed twice that; and problems with the control system meant that it jerked so violently that it was never switched on with a person inside.

Hardiman was predated by perhaps the most enduring image of an exoskeleton, the Marvel Comics superhero Iron Man, created in 1963 by writers Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and artists Jack Kirby and Don Heck, and more recently portrayed on-screen by Robert Downie Jr and a lot of CGI. Other notable manifestations include the Powerloader from the film Aliens, halfway between a forklift truck and a robot, and used to load armaments into an aircraft and to fight the marauding Alien Queen

But the realm of science fiction was where exoskeletons stayed for many years. No more, however. In the past five years or so, a plethora

of research projects have been working on concepts for exoskeletons, and some working models have been developed. One such device, the BRA-Santos Dumont, developed by teams in the US, Germany, Switzerland and Brazil, helped Juliano Pinto kick the ceremonial first ball of the 2014 World Cup at its opening ceremony, despite his being paralysed from the waist down. At around the same time, the Rewalk Robotics exoskeleton, from Israeli firm Argo Medical Technologies, was approved for use by paraplegics outside hospitals in the US by the FDA; previously a ReWalk skeleton was used to complete the 2012 London Marathon (in 17 days) by Claire Lomas, who had been paralysed following a riding accident.

So what’s tripped us over into ‘exoskeleton time’? According to robotics expert Rich Walker of the Shadow Robot Company, there are two triggers: one technological and the other societal.

The technological trigger is lithium-ion batteries, Walker said. ‘One thing that has limited exoskeleton development in the past has been the problem of powering the things,’ he explained. ‘A battery pack that is too heavy to move obviously limits the applications you can address, and

nobody wants to have to cart around a power pack the size of a suitcase either.’

Walker referred back to popular culture to illustrate his point — Frank Miller’s graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, which depicts the last days of Batman, shows the Caped Crusader’s alter ego Bruce Wayne developing powered armour to defeat Superman, who has become a government agent ordered to remove him. But the only way Wayne can power the suit is to hijack the city’s electricity grid by wiring it up to a lamp-post. ‘It doesn’t matter how good your

exoskeleton is if you’re tethered to the spot, even if you’re Batman,’ he said. Iron Man’s suit is

powered by a miniaturised ‘arc reactor’ — although nobody’s ever explained what that is — but the real world needs real technologies. ‘The energy density of the new generation of batteries designed for

Wearable exoskeletons that augment a user’s strength are being developed for a range of applications. Stuart Nathan reports

Power dressing

Work-wear: Engineers on Robo-Mate are developing a system for manual workers

DECEMBER 2014 | theEnGineeR | 15

laptops, mobile phones and even electric cars means that considerable energy storage is now available in a form that is practical to make portable,’ Walker said. Indeed, ReWalk’s battery and computer, housed in a backpack, weighs 2.3kg of the system’s total 23.3kg.

This technological development has been accompanied by a problem seen particularly acutely by the engineering sector: the ageing of the workforce. People with engineering skills are increasingly in their 40s, 50s or older, Walker said, and despite their skills this means that their bodies are less capable of working on jobs that require the lifting and manipulation of heavy equipment and materials. ‘Exoskeletons help support people and prevent injury when they’re doing the kind of repetitive, load-bearing task you need to do if you’re working in the automotive sector or in shipbuilding,’ Walker said. “Korean shipbuilding companies are among the people who are looking at these technologies; moreover, in the US, DARPA is very keen on funding research of this type to prevent injury to soldiers performing this kind of operation, and that’s seen as a great way to fund the early stages of development of this type of technology ahead of trying to commercialise it, possibly for a different application.’

In general, exoskeletons are being developed for two applications: medical and industrial. In each of these, though, there are shades of usage that have a significant effect on what technologies are used in the design and how they are intended to operate.

For example, there are two ways a medical exoskeleton can be used. It can help people without the use of their limbs to perform tasks they would otherwise find impossible, with the force provided by electric motors or hydraulic systems effectively replacing that exerted by the contractions of muscle fibres in non-paralysed people; such as with the use of a ReWalk device to complete a marathon.

But it can also be used as a rehabilitation system to help people recover the ability to move their own limbs after spinal injury, nerve damage, stroke or other forms of injury. In this case, the exoskeleton takes the place or supports the work of a clinician using so-called ‘passive physiotherapy’ where the patient’s limbs are repeatedly moved into positions that they would not otherwise be able to achieve, which over time can help to restore the range of movement.

The distinctions are less marked for industrial exoskeletons, although again there are some, depending on whether the system is intended to support workers performing repetitive tasks and prevent injury, or to help them achieve feats they simply would not be able to manage through muscle power alone.

One project firmly in the rehabilitation camp is LOPES, a lower-body exoskeleton developed at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. A tethered system designed to work with a treadmill, LOPES is now on its second iteration, LOPES II, which earlier this year made the transition from lab to clinic with the installation of systems at the Roessingh and Sint Maartensklinieks rehab centres, both of which were involved in the development of the system along with mechatronics companies Moog and Demcon.

LOPES II holds patients around the hips, knees and ankles, and delivers passive physiotherapy to patients who have suffered strokes or spinal chord injury by moving their legs with levers and push-rods. ‘We’re not trying to replace a physiotherapist,’ said systems engineer Jos Meuleman of Moog Robotics. ‘The physio has to work with the patient, devise the best exercises for him or her, and programme the machine. But passive physio is very demanding for the therapist because it involves manipulating limbs and bearing their weight; LOPES handles that, and also ensures that patients repeat the optimal range of movement each time.’

There is some debate over whether or not exoskeletons count as robots, because the presence of a human within the system is a crucial part of their definition. What tips LOPES II into the robotics arena is the array of sensors fixed to the patient via the harness that holds them in the system and supports the hips and pelvis

DARPA is keen on funding research of this type to prevent injury to soldiers and that’s seen as a great way to fund development Rich Walker

Support: LOPES delivers passive physiotherapy by

moving a patient’s leg

Big strides: The LOPES system is already being

used by clinicians



16 | theEnGineeR | DECEMBER 2014

through exercises. This detects and measures the amount of force the patient’s muscles are able to exert, and activates the exoskeleton’s motors to assist them: but only according to the amount that they need help to complete the movement and retain balance without stumbling. Over time, as the patient regains strength, the assistive force reduces, until the patient is able to perform the movements without any help.

‘Help when it’s needed is the main reason we developed LOPES,’ Meuleman explained. ‘Patients retain a lot of freedom of movement — they aren’t locked in — and they can learn from their mistakes safely, which is one reason it’s a static machine rather than a free-standing unit. It would be feasible to add trunk support and turn the system into one that could move with the patient.’

The LOPES system uses a control technique known as virtual model control (VMC), which translates the physical interaction between patient and robot needed for therapy into a ‘virtual model’ such as a spring or damper that can push, pull or cushion the moving limb into the correct movement.

The team is about to start working on LOPES III, which will add another set of movements — the rotation of foot and ankle. ‘If you watch someone walking, a lot of the movement is triggered by the back foot pushing off the ground, and that depends on ankle rotation,’ Meuleman said.

Another European project tackling the industrial aspect of exoskeletons is Robo-Mate, a €4.5m project involving 12 partners from seven countries in the EC. This aims to develop an intelligent, manoeuvrable, wearable exoskeleton for manual handling work. This is distinct from military or rehabilitation applications, according to project leader Prof Hans-Wernher van de Venn of Zurich University of Applied Science, because military exoskeletons tend to be too heavy and rehab systems don’t provide the correct support for load-bearing lifting and handling needed in industry.

The project is supported by automotive companies, including Indra, a French vehicle recycler; Compa, a Romanian component maker; and Fiat, which will test the device in its research centre and on the factory floor.

Robo-Mate will be supported by a steel cable hanging from the ceiling, and will include manipulators with object recognition systems. Passive systems will protect the parts of the body that users are not directly using in their work, such as neck and lower back; while active systems will assist movement of ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and wrists. The suit will also include a helmet with a head-up display and incorporating noise reduction to protect hearing, and a camera in the chest — coincidentally, the same point as Iron Man’s arc reactor — for quality control.

According to van de Venn, Robo-Mate will make industrial work safer for staff by letting them reduce the physical effort needed to manipulate heavy components,

while also helping older employees continue to use their skills; it will also reduce the cost of treating injuries.

In the US, meanwhile, one team is taking a strikingly different approach to exoskeletons. While others take some inspiration from nature’s exoskeletons — in insects and crustaceans — in making them out of rigid materials, Harvard’s biodesign labs has developed an exosuit made from soft materials — mainly fabrics — which can be worn beneath clothing.

Team leader Conor Walsh is careful to always refer to the system as an exosuit, rather than a skeleton. In its basic concept, the suit is a series of pulleys connected to motors. Using fabrics rather than solid materials prevents restriction of movement and allow the body’s natural movement to be used to generate force.

Textiles, therefore, are at the heart of the exosuit’s function, and Walsh’s team is developing materials specifically to be able to apply a torque to the wearer’s body. The textile incorporates flexible sensors into its weave, which gauge the wearer’s movement and help the suit’s control system decide the best point to apply a force. These sensors include gyroscopes, pressure sensors and inertial measurement units, which incorporate accelerometers and are most commonly used in UAVs, aircraft, satellites and spacecraft. This is in contrast to rigid exoskeletons, which typically monitor joint angles. The team has also used surface electromyography to monitor muscle activity, which shows how hard muscles are working with and without assistance from the suit.

The suit transfers forces through cable-driven electromechanical actuators, although the team has also tested pneumatic systems. These work by giving the wearer a ‘nudge’ at the most helpful point in the movement range, which is so slight that the wearer often doesn’t notice it. ‘People have felt their legs feel heavier when it’s not working, which is the best sign that it is working,’ Walsh said.

Walsh’s team has taken the DARPA funding route and is developing the exosuit with a view to helping soldiers march for longer while carrying rucksacks. Equally, he said, it could be used by firefighters or as a rehabilitation aid, or to help elderly people maintain their balance and avoid falls. ‘It could be used to help people move faster, or for longer at their normal pace, by relieving the load on their muscles to delay fatigue,’ Walsh said. A collaboration with sportswear manufacturer New Balance is aimed at developing the system for outdoor activities such as hiking, and Walsh’s team includes clothing designers.

So an exoskeleton isn’t going to help you beat Superman, or take flight and battle aliens; but it might well help you to reach the summit of Mount Snowden or load up a removal lorry next time you move.

For more on this story visit www.theengineer.co.uk

Textile torque: Harvard’s biodesign labs has developed an exo-suit made from soft materials

DECEMBER 2014 | theEnGineeR | 17


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Q&A:rosetta mission

18 | theEnGineeR | DECEMBER 2014

L anding a spacecraft the size of a washing machine on a 4km-wide comet billions of miles away is one of the most notable feats in the history of space exploration. Questions

from readers for our team of experts from the Rosetta mission flooded in; we’d especially like to thank the students of the STEM Academy Rocket Club and Year 13 Physics Group of the Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College in Bradford. Thanks are also due, of course, to the panel.n Phil McGoldrick, engineering manager for Rosetta, Airbus Space & Defence, Stevenagen Steve Kemble, senior mission analyst, Airbus Space and Defencen Dan Andrews, co-investigator, Ptolemy mass spectrometry instrument on Philae, Open Universityn Nick James, BAE Systems engineer, leader of Intermediate Frequency Modem System (IFMS) teamn Laurence O’Rourke, ESA science operations coordinator and lander systems engineer

n We heard the sounds generated by the lander. Given that sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum, exactly how were these sounds generated, what do they tell us and why is sound the best way to understand that data? PM: The sounds are picked up by the feet of the lander. The sensors are in the feet — an experiment called SESAME (Surface Electric Sounding and Acoustic Monitoring Experiment). It picks up the vibrations at acoustic frequencies. DA: While sound and vibration doesn’t travel through the vacuum

of space, it is still free to travel through other media such as structures. This is how it’s possible to hear, for instance, thruster firings or docking mechanisms engaging from inside the ISS. What was recorded at touchdown were the vibrations as the feet first pushed through a layer of softer material before striking a hard surface — and the best way for humans to sense such high-frequency vibrations are as sound.

n It took 10 years to get Rosetta to the comet, which means all the on-board systems are more than a decade old. a: How much more could you achieve if you had up-to-date tech out there?NJ: The IFMS on the ground is a software-defined radio and so can be adapted to handle many different formats. Unlike modern commercial software one of our key requirements is backwards compatibility with old systems that are already flying. PM: More up-to-date tech could be chips that could store more data — and therefore more data could be sent back by Rosetta in each transmission. Increased memory would also allow more frequent measurements to be taken — before the chip became full, and had to transmit data.DA: Designing a clean-sheet spacecraft today we could use more advanced cameras and other instrumentation, new materials, new propulsion techniques, new communications techniques and probably do the whole thing even more efficiently. Yes, we could potentially get better data. I say potentially though, because this is only part of the story. Reliability is also crucially important in any

Comet calls

Our panel answers questions on the recent Rosetta mission, which landed a probe on a 4km-wide comet. Stuart Nathan reports

space mission and particularly one such as Rosetta with the long timescales involved. Thus the use of ‘heritage’ hardware with proven reliability is one of the sacrifices that is well worth making to gain confidence that it will survive the rigours of long-duration space exploration. There is another side effect of the rapid technical progress we are seeing; in 2030–40 when a hypothetical ‘Rosetta 2’ arrived at its target, we’d still be asking the same questions: comparing then outdated 2010s technology to the technology people are carrying around in their pockets. b: How frustrating is it to be working with technology you know is inferior to the stuff you could send now? PM: It is not frustrating as all space technology needs to be robust, for example, to resist charged particles and the problems of bit flips — so for us it is business as usual. There is no point in sending the latest systems if they are vulnerable to failureDA: To be perfectly honest, it isn’t. The wealth of data coming back and the success of the mission to date is beyond my wildest dreams. Also, with the Ptolemy instrument, we had the foresight to design an instrument that could be reprogrammed at the comet, to take advantage of everything we have learned since launch and such modifications were actually made at short notice in response to the ‘non-nominal’ landingc: Are there any compatibility issues between the 10-year-old tech in the sky and the presumably more modern tech on the ground, or is mission control still using Windows Vista? PM: Again it’s business as usual. For example, our sophisticated telecommunications satellites are designed for a minimal lifetime of

15 years in space — so we are experienced at running spacecraft successfully over long periods. One of our satellites has so far clocked up more than 22 years of successful in orbit operations. DA: None whatsoever. A greater challenge is in people management — keeping teams together in the current funding climate, either keeping individuals or at least their knowledge base current throughout the duration of the mission. This is where good data management practices and archives such as the Planetary Data System (PDS) come in.

n How was this particular comet selected? DA: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko wasn’t actually the initial target comet. Rosetta was originally intended to launch in 2003 and travel to comet 46P/Wirtanen (another comet in the Jupiter group) but sadly the Ariane 5 launch immediately prior to what would have been Rosetta’s turn failed and it was decided not to risk Rosetta on the same type of booster until the cause of the failure was known. This led to a one-year-delay and a new target, chosen both due to scientific interest and also that we could get to it with the delta-v available without incurring too much of a launch delay. LOR: There were both engineering (flight dynamics: capability to be able to reach a target from an Ariane 5 launch and within a certain number of years) and scientific (knowledge of the properties e.g. size and activity of the comet) factors taken into account for its selection.

n How complicated are the calculations for plotting Rosetta’s intercept route and what was the margin of error? SK: These are the result of detailed mathematical simulations of the orbital dynamics and the manoeuvres, combined with trajectory optimisation techniques to minimise fuel. The comet is approximately 4km in diameter and the distance travelled over a billion kilometres, so the percentage error in the calculations and their implementation via navigation techniques is very small.

n How long can Rosetta remain functional in orbit around the comet and what data are you hoping it can send back, even if Philae remains dormant?

SK: The orbiter is planned to remain active until around the perihelion passage (i.e. approximately 10 months, and then also slightly past perihelion. Flying in close proximity to the comet, the orbiter possess a suite of instruments to observe and analyse the comet’s properties. Also, the Rosetta mission was specified to operate until December 2015 — and it therefore has plenty of fuel on board. DA: By December 2015, Rosetta will have observed comet 67P’s activity increasing as it approaches the Sun and reacting in ways that we simply cannot yet predict with any certainty. That is by no means a hard-and-fast end. As is typical with exploration missions, Rosetta may live on as it again recedes from the Sun, its available power reducing as sunlight grows dimmer and activity likely reducing to reflect its quarryLOR: Rosetta can remain functionally around the comet until August/September 2016. This time period is derived from two main operational aspects; the first is the fuel that is expected to be depleted by then, the second is the distance from the sun. At that time, the distance becomes comparable to that where Rosetta had to go into hibernation a number of years ago.

n Realistically, what are the chances of being able to revive Philae? LOR: There are two main drivers for a Philae re-awakening. The first is the power; here I believe that Philae has a good chance to revive itself if you recognise that the larger solar panel has been oriented to the Sun (before it went to sleep) and that we are

Q&A:rosetta mission

DECEMBER 2014 | theEnGineeR | 19

Percentage error in the calculations and implementation via navigation techniques is very small Steve Kemble

Landing: Landing a probe on a comet is one of the space sector’s most

stunning achievements Launch: Rosetta was launched in 2004


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getting closer to the Sun so the power it generates will increase over time. The second is the thermal environment. The lander unit/science operations can only start above -40°C, thus when Philae wakes up the first thing it has to be able to do is switch on its heaters to heat up the units (and the batteries) to operating temperatures. Philae can only revive itself if its temperature environment does not get too cold e.g. below -55°C. As Philae was effectively off and did have quite low temperatures during the hibernation phase, there is a high possibility that even well below these low temperatures it should still work. PM: Very good and we are hopeful. When Philae landed, the comet was three times further away from the Sun than Earth. By March next year it will be same distance as Earth and will have 10 times more solar energy. So even in the shadows there will be more light, and the Sun angle will change, which should also help. Like most spacecraft, Philae went to sleep when power levels dropped. And like most spacecraft it is designed to come back to life when power levels rise — all power will be sent to the batteries until they have enough charge to wake up the craft again.

n As the comet perihelion is passed and the comet heads off back for the outer reaches of the solar system, how long can mission control remain in contact with Rosetta and (if it’s revived) Philae? Could the mission last as long as Voyager? SK: In principle an extended mission phase after perihelion is possible. The comet is likely to ‘outgas’ near perihelion, which could potentially result in damage to the orbiter, but the orbiter will ‘stand off’ to minimise damage. DA: The final end to the mission will ultimately be governed by dwindling levels of sunlight and fuel. In the same way that Rosetta had to hibernate during its cruise to the comet due to lack of available power, the same power reduction will come into play as Rosetta recedes from the Sun again. While the active mission won’t last as long as Voyager, Rosetta itself will eventually become ‘just another tail particle’. LOR: To go into hibernation and come out again requires fuel. In that respect, it won’t last as long as Voyager because the fuel is the driving factor for the end of the Rosetta mission.

n How much does Philae actually ‘weigh’ while on the surface of the comet ? DA: The comet has a mass of 1.0 +/- 0.1 x 10^13 kg, or roughly 10 billion tons — about the same as a small mountain. The size and

mass of the comet yields a tiny acceleration due to the fact that gravity at the surface is some 50,000 times lower than on the surface of Earth. Don’t forget though, Philae still had 100kg worth of momentum to be absorbed by the landing gear.

n Did the lander’s software alter anything about the approach, landing or how the mechanism of landing works because of the failed thruster? PM: No. The feet have a spring dampening system for the landing. NJ: The lander had no control over its trajectory. This was determined entirely by the ejection from Rosetta. It is likely that the failure of the ADS (active descent system) thruster contributed to the first bounce.

n What parts of the lander’s experiments were completed fully, what parts only partially (and what was different in comparison to the plan) and what parts didn’t execute at all? LOR: All instruments were executed on the comet. In certain cases, a sub-instrument was not used e.g. CIVA microscope, or results were inconclusive e.g. SD2, APXS. DA: Ptolemy made a serious of atmospheric ‘sniff’ measurements starting just nine minutes after the initial bounce and was later able to analyse one sample oven containing a molecular sieve designed to trap down coma material. Ptolemy did not receive a solid sample — it was only possible to drill one sample during the modified First Science Sequence and this was delivered to the COSAC instrument.

n Could landing the probe in any way alter the course of the comet and if so is this calculable? SK: The mass of the lander is relatively small compared to the comet mass and the impact speed very small, so the momentum transfer is negligible and the change in the comet orbit is undetectable.

n How did you plan the trajectory for Rosetta? Since it is an object-tracking problem, did you use a feedback controller or was it all planned in advance and done via feed-forward commands? SK: In the final approach phases the comet is acquired visually by the orbiter and relative position and velocity estimates are improved. A sequence of manoeuvres is then used to progressively approach the comet, with further measurements taking place between manoeuvres. The process takes several weeks so it is not an automatic control loop, more of a ‘man-in-the-loop’ system with ground planning to execute the control.

Q&A:rosetta mission

DECEMBER 2014 | theEnGineeR | 21

Philae still had 100kg worth of momentum to be absorbed by the landing gearDan Andrews

In the lab: Rosetta’s lander under development in 2002

Weak signal: Tracking an object that is so far away has

proved to be a major challenge


Q&A:rosetta mission

22 | theEnGineeR | DECEMBER 2014

NJ: Rosetta is moving under the gravitational influence of the Sun, the comet and the other bodies in the Solar System. Its trajectory is also affected by non-gravitational forces (thermal radiation from the spacecraft, thruster firings, drag from the comet’s coma and so on). The IFMS on Earth allows very precise measurement of radial velocity and range and position on the sky. These measurements, along with the gravitational and non-gravitational force models, are used by the Flight Dynamics team at ESOC to compute the precise trajectory. Since the mass of the spacecraft and the thruster efficiency is known it can determine the length and direction of thruster burns required to adjust the course. The ‘feedback’ then consists of doing further measurements and modelling of the orbitLOR: From an operational perspective, the trajectory of Rosetta was already planned before launch in 2004 based upon the new comet selected. The only mode where Rosetta does use a feedback controller is in the asteroid-tracking mode where the navigation camera feeds in what it sees into the control loop. Every other mode is through commanding from ground.

n What are the challenges involved in receiving such a weak and very narrow beam signal from Rosetta and especially when the signal is arriving at the Earth after 45 minutes of travel in space? Are highly directional ground station antennas continuously tracking/moving in Azimuth and Elevation to search for such a signal? NJ: The antenna is pointed very precisely using predictions of the spacecraft’s position on the sky (this is called autotrack). The IFMS can also provide feedback to the antenna pointing controller to allow it to maximise the available signal level. The signal is very weak by the time it is received by the IFMS so we use very narrow bandwidths (a few tens of Hz on the carrier and milli-Hz on the ranging signal) to extract the synchronisation information. This is assisted by an FFT that estimates the carrier frequency. LOR: The challenge primarily comes from the size of the ground station antenna used on Earth to acquire the Rosetta signal. Normally you need 35m or greater at the distance where Rosetta is. There is no need to do any search for the signal as Rosetta’s position is very well known and calculated. Currently the one-way travel time of the signal is about 28 minutes. For low-Earth-orbit satellites the ground station antennas do indeed move to maintain contact with them.

n What is the thermal-control system that is used in Rosetta and Philae? Is there any difference between the system used in both of them? PM: Rosetta has radiators to get rid of excess heat and heaters to ensure the spacecraft does not get too cold. Rosetta also has a series of louvres that open and close automatically to maintain the correct temperature. LOR: Rosetta has an active thermal-control system that maintains temperatures of all units within a certain predefined set of limits. If the temperature gets too low, it switches on a heater, if it is too high then it switches off a heater and takes advantage also of a passive thermal control to aid in cooling. For Philae, it has two passive absorber foils mounted to the lid, collecting solar energy and dissipating the transformed thermal power via radiation into the

internal compartment It also has electrical heaters. Contrary to Rosetta itself, Philae has the capability of maintaining the temperature of its units ‘above’ a certain temperature but it has no way to reduce a temperature besides switching off units. The three-month lifetime on the comet (at least for the original landing site) was linked to the temperature within the lander getting too high at the end for the lander to be able to sustain operations.

n What attitude-control systems does Rosetta have and what are their respective roles? PM: Rosetta has a bi-propellant thruster system, which is the same technology that we use on our telecommunications satellites, so flight proven and reliable.DA: Rosetta has two attitude-control systems, one using flywheels and one using thrusters. Most attitude control is done via flywheels which are spun; any increase or decrease in the rotation speed of a flywheel will cause an opposing motion in Rosetta via the conservation of angular momentum (in the plane of the flywheel). Since flywheels act only in one plane, several are needed to control the spacecraft’s rotation in 3D space. These flywheels do however have limits and need to be ‘offloaded’ if they start to approach

operating limits of RPM — these offloads are accomplished by firing bipropellant mono-methyl hydrazin thrusters in such a way as to apply a torque to the spacecraft, countered by spinning down the relevant flywheels. All delta-v manoeuvres are all carried out by the thruster system, a series of 24 10-Newton thrusters, four of which (the ‘axial’ thrusters) point along the Z-axis of the spacecraft for this purpose. LOR: Rosetta’s thruster system is normally not in use as fuel is a life-limited item on the

spacecraft. In that respect, it is used when the spacecraft is in safe mode or indeed when it performs manouevres. In all other modes, it uses its three reaction wheels linked to the

degrees of freedom of the satellite and controls its attitude using these. When the reaction wheels reach a certain velocity, then the thrusters are used to offload the momentum that has built up in the wheels.

n What systems are active in Rosetta’s hibernation mode? DA: Thermal systems were active to make sure the spacecraft did not freeze and the receiver was active, waiting for the signal to tell it to wake up. LOR: Primarily the main computer and the thermal-control system.

n Why did you choose solar panels over, say, an RTG? DA: Solar panels are simple and reliable, and proven on our previous scientific and commercial satellites. They will generate a lot of power as Rosetta travels nearer to the Sun. NJ: Mainly political in that launching RTGs involves launching plutonium and that would be a problem for Europe. ESA is investigating RTGs that use a different isotope and this may allow it to launch in future. US spacecraft also use small amounts of radioactive isotopes to provide heating and this would have been useful for Philae. LOR: ESA does not use any nuclear capabilities for its spacecraft. In that respect, we were forced to build large solar panels to give the required power.

ESA is investigating RTGs that use a different isotope and this may allow it to launch in the future Nick James“

Picture: ESA’s Philae lander is the first human-made object to land on a comet

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Politics, positives and negatives Our opinion piece and poll on political intervention on infrastructure drew a mixed response, and a stimulating discussion between two readers

I agree that an independent body with a long-term remit should be established.These announcements are politically driven to appease voters in the short term. No matter who wins the next election, these schemes will subsequently be cancelled, as any contract negotiations will not be complete until after the next election.Brendan Lacey

Better to follow the Danes and start investing in local community-owned renewable energy RE infrastructure that are fuel savers and fourth-generation district heating storage systems that include low-cost excess RE seasonal heat stores with some low-cost gas turbines (purchased from E.ON) for the occasional back-up. The gas can be ‘low carbon’ coming from methanisation, RE hydrogen electrolysis and grid injection, P2G power to gas (methane) via the Sabatier reaction, or even coal biomass BECCS gasification using British-invented BG Lurgi gasifiers and Timmins pre-CO2 removal. All this including energy saving and much more in order to develop a 100 per cent renewable energy system.John Daglish

Infrastructure investment can’t help but be inextricably bound up with politics. Mindless ‘market’ theory (i.e. bad politics) is the problem. Sound political/economic practice would get the job done, if it were properly informed by the latest engineering science. Moreover, this idea that we should ‘keep the government out of it’ is responsible for the UK’s abysmal track record on the commercialisation of new technology, across the board. Parliament enacts the IP laws that destroy the innovative engineering that ‘the market’ (controlled by an incumbent industry) is opposed to.David Smart

It’s great to have investment but as engineers, lets get real here. With the exception of JCB and CAT Peterlee dumpers, in the main, the trucks, cranes, diggers, engines, rollers, graders, tunnellers, pavers, hydraulics, tyres, and 90 per cent of the kit will be imported, so the UK does not enjoy a full win from the investment, we just improve our overseas competitors’ businesses. Sadly, as our politicians would not have a clue what the aforementioned machinery does they are in no position to even understand this

comment. They will also never have heard of Foden, ERF, Blaw-Knox, Barber Greene, Priestman, Hymac, Aveling-Barford, Dowty, Plessey, Coles, Grove and Jones. Need I go on?Clive Walton

Clive,Why are you citing CAT, when Thwaites is a British-owned-and-made dumper truck manufacturer. I’m sure you know but, just to remind you, the UK has the world’s second-largest aerospace manufacturing base. Oh, it also makes the cream of the world’s prestige car market. Oh and then there’s F1…Mike Brennan

Mike,Thanks for your input, I did say “in the main” and apologise for omitting Thwaites, a major customer of Dowtys in the 1970s. I also omitted Terex. I could also list just a couple of the dumper manufacturers who have ‘disappeared’ — James F Low, Liner Concrete, Haulamatic, Aveling-Barford and so on. But I am delighted that Thwaites is still alive and kicking. I also accept that we do some good stuff in aerospace and automotive, but they should be in addition to our heritage manufacturing, not as a replacement for it. Please visit Germany to see how it prioritises its manufacturers. Stimulating conversation for an old man like me though! Clive Walton

Clive, Post-war Germany, to its credit, focused on year-on-year investment and making and not on dogma, strikes and red-tie-wearing demagogues, hence its current market share and quality of product.However, I should point out to you that Germany often has to (or seeks to) use British expertise and British companies to make its Mercedes F1 engines and cars, its Bugatti Veyron gearboxes or its 320-tonne steel castings. JCB, Rolls-Royce,

McLaren, JLR and Bentley, to name but a few, have recently had record revenues or profit in addition to massive factory expansion (Uttoxeter, Rotherham, Woking; Crewe, Cheadle, Wolverhampton and so on). The quality of British-manufactured product has probably never been better. Expanding it as we are will give us a much better, high-value manufacturing base than a larger, much-less-complex one at the mercy of cost. By the way, the UK space industry is currently growing at about 9 or 10 per cent per annum. Mike Brennan

Mike, This is great stuff and you are absolutely right to point out the positives. There is nothing nicer than a day at Sheffield Forgemasters. I am just genuinely saddened that within a few years everyone will have forgotten all the famous British manufacturing businesses and, more importantly, their employees.Clive Walton

Clive,No, there’s no chance of famous British manufacturing businesses and, more importantly, their famous employees being forgotten. Company names come and go through consolidation or end of life. Older ones that we looked fondly on have also been replaced by the cutting-edge technology of McLaren, Reaction Engines, AstraZeneca, ARM, BTG, Surrey Satellites and on. Our heritage is very much renewed and celebrated, for example:1. The new Sir Henry Royce Institute in Manchester;2. The F35B in development for the two new Royal Navy carriers was made possible by Sir Sydney Camm and Rolls-Royce’s work on the Harrier; and 3. The new Francis Crick Institute in London. Mike Brennan

Have your say at theengineer.co.uk

DECEMBER 2014 | theEnGineeR | 25


Marinelife There was much support for marine energy technology following our article on Pelamis going into administration • I’m a big supporter of marine energy. It seems like we need to take a step back and assess what exactly is causing the issue — is it the energy devices themselves, logistics, support? Concentrate on solving these first before launching new businesses that are built on the same risks and issues as the current businesses.Chris Wood

• There is enough energy in the North Atlantic within our territorial waters to supply twice our needs forever.When the oil starts to run out and the oil-rich nations lose their grip over our political elite we then might start looking at ways of extracting this energy.Anonymous

• I agree with Chris Wood. In Britain, we often seem to look for reasons why we can’t do something, rather than examine

the problems and look for solutions. I too am an enthusiast for marine energy, and wonder what would have happened if the same investment had been poured into this instead of the inefficient wind-power mess.Steve Gardner

• I too am a supporter of marine energy and as an island nation believe this is the way forward. I favour using sea currents as the preferred direction as these are fairly constant and predictable, followed by tidal power. There will always be a period of slack water at any one location but this could be balanced by generation at

various locations. Wave power, I am not so sure. It is a shame that companies are simply looking for a quick buck that drives them into wind power with the visual pollution that that technology entails. As it is in the country’s interest to push forward with marine power it needs the government to encourage the development of marine energy and to move away from wind power. Companies seem reluctant to make that move on their own.20 Cent

• It is sad to think that what kills off a lot of very clever technical solutions is the dwell

time from proving it to starting to get traction commercially as in these cases. Private investors need to see rapid returns to encourage investment, but the technology roll-out often just cannot move that fast for many reasons. From what I have witnessed a number of small companies have failed after investment has been secured as unrealistic timelines have been drawn up in over eagerness by all parties. I have come to the conclusion these projects have a natural rhythm that cannot easily be changed. Technologies such as tidal need government support from all parties committed to the long term.Simon McLoughlin

• I’m not convinced by Pelamis considering it’s already been running 16 years. Encouraging to see so many ideas. We have a commitment to CO2 reduction and development cash should come from a national fund. Sad to see engineers dissing wind power, even criticising its efficiency as though burning fossil fuels is efficient.Malcolm

Engineering has, as a profession, been around for rather a long time. In fact it must be at least a

couple of hundred years since the over-arching label of ‘inventor’ was automatically applied to anyone who nailed one piece of metal to another piece of metal and called it a widget.

It’s not that inventor and engineer are mutually exclusive but rather, as we at least know, ‘engineer’ covers all manner of areas and has an official title for every subtly different application. Therefore, there has surely been a chance for roles to become clearly devolved, defined and consequently boundaries set.

My move to the Great Lakes Metal Foundry and Glass Works has, however, shown me the variations that can be found between companies for even a single job title. In my previous life there were certain levels of performance related to engineering design that I was expected to attain, and sometimes it felt as if I was a tad marginal. Of course, we all push ourselves, and indeed expect to be pushed, to reach for excellence; to continually improve and find challenges. This is a key aspect of our ‘professionalism’ and development. However it is fair to say that in the world of widgets I seemed to be struggling on this score.

Ensconced in my new world I seem to be seen as excelling in the very same areas. As far as I can tell, my peers are of a similar ability to those before, with the two companies showing similar trend-bucking levels of success and growth. In fact, bar the products manufactured it’s difficult to separate them. As it happens my new place of employ is just across the river from my old one so

it’s not like these inconsistencies can be blamed on differing cultures or local conditions.

There are personal consequences to be considered regarding this. With the renewed validation my confidence has grown and not only do I feel better about what I am doing but also that I am successfully taking on higher levels of responsibility.

There are problems of course, these things will never be plain sailing, but as a direct comparison the degree to which my morale has improved is rather surprising. I am not conscious of doing anything radically different so the only thing I can think of is that there is a variation in expectation.

If this is the case then obviously the result (given the success of both companies) shows no degradation in performance coupled to a happier bunch of engineers.

Of course this may just be the lull before the storm; perhaps it will shortly all come crashing down around my ears. Until then I remain somewhat perplexed regarding how such variations can exist for a clearly defined professional role and wonder how many engineering careers have been influenced for good or ill by such vagaries.

A new job, and some morale-boosting praise, prompts our anonymous blogger to ask why different companies appear to have different expectations of their engineers?

With the renewed validation my confidence has grown and I feel better about what I am doing “


inyouropinion Join the debate at theengineer.co.uk

the Paul Jackson column

The final days of last month brought us ‘Black Friday’, a US import that sent thousands of bargain hunters to the high street and signified a welcome boon for the retail sector as Christmas shopping began in earnest. Less likely to make the front pages, but for even greater economic potential,

were a number of significant moments for engineering.

Launching Tomorrow’s Engineers activity in Scotland, Erik Bonino, chairman of Shell UK, said: ‘Scotland is famous across the globe as a pioneer of innovation. The

North Sea is one example of an economic success that was only made possible through the innovation and ingenuity of scientists and engineers. But the ongoing shortage of technical skills risks jeopardising the country’s success.’ This highlights the real need for fresh blood in the industry to meet both the challenges of North Sea extraction and decommissioning, even in centres of engineering excellence.

With £250bn earmarked for decommissioning, this time in the nuclear sector, the skills, capabilities and capacity required are significant. Add to that the fact that the sector anticipates a peak in demand for new build in 2024 and it’s clear that there will be hugely increased demand for engineering professionals. Our research, which is to be published next month, will show that the demand for workers by engineering employers is expected to continue to outstrip the UK supply by a sizeable margin.

November saw Unite launch its charter for engineering excellence where it called for the government to do more to support engineering and called for an ‘engineered in Britain, bought in Britain’ policy. We believe in the need for a strong, coherent strategy to boost UK engineering.

At this year’s CBI conference there was much talk about infrastructure and the industry will no doubt welcome the investment in the road improvement programme outlined by David Cameron. Nick Clegg talked of ‘wholesale renewal in infrastructure’ and Ed Miliband affirmed Labour’s intention to create an infrastructure commission to facilitate forward planning. While individual projects will be judged on their own merit, with so much rail and road development planned it’s more important than ever to ensure, and indeed improve, the flow of skilled professionals into the workforce.

For each project, whatever its size and scale, the industry needs skilled engineers to ensure successful delivery. Politicians have been talking about projects and investment, all of which need

real people to deliver them. During his recent visit to Crossrail, Ed Miliband highlighted the shortfall of engineering skills across the sector and outlined a strong desire to create an extra 400,000 engineers by 2020.

He also flagged the gender imbalance across engineering calling it a matter of ‘national embarrassment’ that the UK has the lowest proportion of women in engineering of any European

country. We know that the drive to see more women in engineering needs to start at school, which is why we focus so much of our energy on inspiring young people, especially girls, to continue with STEM subjects to keep their future career options as broad as possible.

It’s important, therefore, that the engineering community continues to work together to drive the creation of the next generation of engineers — a feeling that was shared when representatives from a range of professional engineering institutes and employers came together at the Royal Academy of Engineering for the yearly Engineering the Future plenary. Engineering can’t hold flash sales, but the UK can build a talent pipeline to enable it to deliver on the promise of the next few decades.

It’s important that the engineering community continues to work together to drive the creation of our next generation

Building a pipeline of talent

The drive to see more women in engineering needs to start at school

Paul Jackson is chief executive of EngineeringUK

26 | theEnGineeR | DECEMBER 2014

Around £250bn has been earmarked for nuclear decommissioning

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The Festival of Britain in 1951 changed London’s landscape completely, with the building of what we now know as the South Bank arts complex — the Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth halls, the Purcell Room, the Hayward Gallery, the British Film Institute and the National Theatre. Yet, despite its current status as the epicentre of the capital’s cultural life, the site started out with engineering, science and technology at its centre. In 1949, The Engineer reported on the genesis of the Festival of Britain and what its instigators hoped to achieve. Although the Festival is now perhaps associated with the new beginnings symbolised by the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne in 1952, it was intended to mark the centenary of Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition and to instil some optimism during the dreary years of post-war austerity.

The article drips with the sort of patriotic fervour that is rare in today’s more circumspect and, perhaps, more cynical times. ‘The South Bank Exhibition will be mainly concerned with those contributions to science, technology and industrial

design in which Britain’s prestige stands highest,’ it says.

It’s striking how prominent mentions of Britain’s history of exploration and discovery are. Britain was still an imperial power in 1949, but the Empire was crumbling. But the Exhibition’s most striking building (and perhaps the most notable absence from today’s South Bank), the Dome of Discovery, centred around exploration and, as The Engineer said, aimed to tell a story of ‘British pre-eminence in discovery and exploration, not only by land and sea, but into the very nature of the living world and the universe’. One section would ‘display the latest knowledge of the structure and nature of matter, culminating in a display of nuclear energy’, and ‘in all sections, it will be made clear how the initiative in exploration and discovery remains with the British, who continue their researches aided by new ideas and new tools largely provided by science’.

Elsewhere, visitors could see displays on natural resources, ‘British raw materials, resources of greater variety than can be found in any area of comparable size’; industry, covering the conversion of raw materials into finished products ‘not by the display of any [single industry] in its entirety, but by the selection of outstanding processes, machinery and techniques from several groups of industries’; and the sea and ships, which would ‘display many aspects of our marine supremacy from shipyards to fisheries’ (Britannia still ruled the waves).

It’s a historical irony that one of the first actions of Churchill’s incoming Conservative government in 1952 was to level the lot, apart from the Festival Hall, possibly because of its strong association with the post-war Attlee government.

We’d be delighted to hear readers’ memories of the Festival of Britain, especially if it sparked an interest that culminated in a STEM career. JE

november1949The Engineer’s coverage of the Festival of Britain’s South Bank site shows Britain still wanted to appear pre-eminent in many areas




1 Important piece of computer data (6,4)

6 Employed in accomplishing something (4)

10 Operate or control a vehicle (5)

11 Shaped roughly without finishing (5-4)

12 Series of short sharp taps (3-1-3)

13 Loose protective smock worn over ordinary clothing (7)

14 Creation of a building (12)

18 Struggle through a difficult period (4,3,5)

21 Elaborate outdoor parties (7)

23 Force over an area produced by a pressure difference (7)

24 Gradual increase in loudness (9)

25 All the plant and animal life of a particular region (5)

26 Physical position in relation to the surroundings (4)

27 Cause to move faster (10)


1 Ahead of the times (6)

2 Time periods during which you are at work (6)

3 Branch of physics dealing with energy from friction (14)

4 Early limited awareness of something yet to occur (9)

5 Prefix meaning white or colourless

7 Postulated sequence of possible events (8)

8 Hanging freely (8)

9 Common electrical wire (5-4,5)

15 Tracing device used in animation (9)

16 Chief magistrates (8)

17 Sticking fast (8)

19 Tropical shrub (6)

20 Opening through which fluid is admitted (6)

22 Relating to audible sound (5)

32 | theEnGineeR | DECEMBER 2014

For more on this story visit www.theengineer.co.uk

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