Archive for November, 2010

Reuters

Reuters

Under the Alps

November 24th, 2010 by Gene
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While most of us have been keeping track of what’s happening with new computers or airplanes, Swiss engineers have been hard at work on the biggest construction project in decades. Under the Alps. Today, on Engineering Works!

The Gotthard Base Tunnel is actually two tunnels, each more than 30 feet in diameter and more than 35 miles long. It’s the longest tunnel ever built. Drilling began in 1996 and when it opens, probably in 2016 or 2017, it will carry part of a high-speed rail link between Zurich, Switzerland, and Milan, Italy. Engineering experts say it’s the biggest and most complicated construction project since the Panama Canal.

Here are some of the details.

To get to this point, eight huge drilling machines chewed out 23 million tons of rock. On a good day each of them got through about 130 feet. To help work move faster, a half-mile-deep shaft was sunk from the surface at the tunnel’s half-way point. From there, engineers drilled toward each end.

It wasn’t always easy. Unstable rock forced them to relocate an emergency shelter. And at one point, one of the drilling machines was buried by rock falling from the tunnel roof and stalled for six months.

Trains using the two tunnels will travel at almost 150 miles per hour. It will cut travel time from Zurich to Milan almost in half, to two and a half hours. That’s faster than flying.

Our way home is on the surface, and that’s fine with us. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by K-A-M-U F-M in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web. http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: Construction projects like these tunnels under the Alps are always impressive. It’s interesting that once the train service gets under way, it’ll be faster to travel from Zurich to Milan by train than to fly.

For more:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,723202,00.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6471241.stm

Stephen Nakatani/Flickr.com

Stephen Nakatani/Flickr.com

Water, water … anywhere?

November 17th, 2010 by Gene
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When we talk about scarce natural resources, we usually think oil. But there’s another one. Water. Today. On Engineering Works!

If you live in the United States, as most of us do, water’s not a big deal. Turn on the tap and there it is. Sometimes, like the last couple of years in Texas, watering the lawn in the summer got a little expensive, but the water was there.

If you look at the Earth from space, it looks like we have plenty of water. And we do. The problem is that most of it doesn’t do us any good. Here are some facts and numbers to think about.

Only about two-and-a-half-percent of all the water on earth is fresh, the kind we can drink. The rest is salty. And two-thirds of that is frozen in arctic and Antarctic ice caps and glaciers. Almost all of what’s left is buried in deep underground aquifers, rock formations – some a half-mile down – that hold water like other formations hold oil. Here’s a kind of scary number: only about three-gallons of every thousand-gallons of fresh water is on the surface, where we can get at it easily.

Many civil engineers spend their careers designing effective ways to store and purify water and move it from where it is to where it’s needed. It’s an occupation that’s only going to get more important as the earth’s population grows.

Our water’s dried up for today. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by K-A-M-U F-M in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.  http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: Water is one of the most valuable natural resources we have, but nobody seems to notice. We can live without oil, but we can’t live without water. How will we get enough?

For more:

http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/earthwherewater.html

http://water.org/learn-about-the-water-crisis/facts/#water

Solomon, Steven. Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization. New York: Harper-Collins, 2010.

Robert Scoble/YouTube.com

Robert Scoble/YouTube.com

Computers in the driver’s seat

November 10th, 2010 by Gene
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Search engine giant Google has been spending lots of money to come up with a car that drives itself. We’ll look at what it means. Today, on Engineering Works!

If you’ve been following high-tech news lately, you know that the folks that run Google are spending a ton of money to design software and sensor systems that aim to let you leave the driving to your car. Some of their cars have driven as far as a thousand miles on real highways and city streets without a driver’s help.

The take-home part may be what this kind of research is going to mean for drivers like us, next year or five years from now. It’s likely to be pretty cool.

Let’s start with new gear that will help us merge into freeway traffic. Other sensors will warn us if we’re running too close to the car ahead or nodding off at the wheel. Or how about cruise control that thinks for itself. It’ll slow down automatically if traffic slows. Or radar that looks ahead on foggy days to warn us of what’s ahead before we get close enough to see it.

All this stuff is coming. And we’re probably going to see some of this stuff, or all of it, in pieces long before the whole thing comes together in a car that drives itself.

However it happens, it’s going to be fun to see. And drive. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web.

http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: Some of this technology sounds a lot like what we called science fiction only a while ago. The big question: but can we trust it?

For more:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/science/10google.html?_r=2&ref=science

http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-10-11/google-robot-car-the-future-of-cruise-control-convoys-car-sharing/?om_rid=NrbmWv&om_mid=_BMtLxVB8VLz$Zb

Matt Zaske/Flickr.com

Matt Zaske/Flickr.com

Blowin’ in the Italian wind

November 3rd, 2010 by Gene
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Sometimes you find leading-edge energy technology in unexpected places. We’ll show you where. Today, on Engineering Works!

When someone mentions green energy, stuff like wind turbines and solar panels, one place you’re not likely to think of is Italy. Think again. Small towns in Italy are showing the rest of us what can be done to use green technology to cut our energy bills. They’ve got motivation. Their electric rates are about three times what we pay in the United States.

More than 800 small towns and villages in Italy are investing in green energy and making it work. Consider the mountain village of Tocco, population 2,700. Tocco gets electricity from four wind turbines and an array of solar panels. The village doesn’t get its electricity directly from the turbines. The company that owns the turbines sells the electricity they produce to the national electric grid and Tocco gets a share of that price. Last year that paid for the village’s electric bill and produced a profit. About $200,000 worth.

The solar panels provide electricity to light the village cemetery and buildings. They produce a small profit, too.

Residents of the village are getting into it. Some of them are installing their own solar panels. It works for them, too. One new solar panel owner saw monthly electric bills drop from as much as $700 to zero.

Our electric bill is paid up, but it’s still time to wrap this up for today. See you next time.

Engineering Works! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by KAMU-FM in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web. http://engineeringworks.tamu.edu

Start the discussion: This kind of stuff is pretty small stuff in the big picture, but it shows that wind and solar can work in the real world. Pretty cool.

For more:

http://www.greenoptimistic.com/2010/10/07/tocco-italia-renewable-energy/

http://inhabitat.com/2010/09/30/ancient-italian-town-completely-powered-by-renewable-energy/

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/29/science/earth/29fossil.html?_r=1