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Monday, 6 June 2011

The Engineer Articles, "Developing autonomous fighting machines", "Will nuclear U-turn leave an energy gap? " and "Removing shock from the system with magnetic fluids"

The Engineer
June 6, 2011

Developing autonomous fighting machines

War machines: Accelerating the development of autonomous defence systems raises both ethical and technological questions

If you’re the sort of person who takes Hollywood blockbusters seriously, then defence research is an inherently risky thing. Advanced weaponry rarely works and it’s left to plucky mavericks to save the day. Most risky of all are autonomous robotic defence systems; according to the Terminator films, they’re bound to become self aware, decide that humanity is a threat and unleash a nuclear armageddon to wipe pesky Homo sapiens off the face of the planet.

In reality, autonomous systems are firmly in place as an integral part of the armed forces’ arsenal. For instance, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) often referred to as drones are regularly used to perform reconnaissance and attack missions, with BAE Systems’ Mantis among the systems carrying out observation and the General Atomics Predator capable of using missiles and other weaponry.
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Will nuclear U-turn leave an energy gap?
Germany’s announcement that it is to abandon nuclear power and pursue renewable technologies to meet its energy generating needs isn’t a surprise. The country has always had an ambivalent attitude towards nuclear, unlike the diehard atomic enthusiasts next door, and the strong representation of the Greens in the German parliament, along with the general shocked reaction to the Fukushima crisis, meant that a retreat on the return to nuclear policy was always likely.

The country will have a struggle on its hands to match the generating capacity of nuclear reactors with renewables. There is much speculation that it will return to coal in the short term, or will end up surreptitiously buying nuclear electricity from excess French capacity; the new reactors in Flamanville are coming along and there’s no sign of the Paris parliament backing off from its nuclear built policy.

Removing shock from the system with magnetic fluids

Magnetically reactive fluids are offering smoother operation across a vast range of industries

At first glance, magnetorheological (MR) fluid isn’t that exciting. It’s grey, oily and about three times denser than water. Left to its own devices, it slowly spreads over a surface, forming a thick pool of liquid. Place this liquid close to a magnet, however, and a remarkable transformation takes place.

Within milliseconds of coming close to the magnet, the once free-flowing MR liquid hardens into a near-solid state. The particles suspended in the fluid line up in long chains along the lines of magnetic flux, restricting the movement of the liquid and increasing its viscosity. The process is reversible and when the magnetic field is removed, the solid once again becomes a fluid.
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