For people who believe that every sector is defined by its talent, there will be a pleasing sense of reverse-continuity to this month’s news roundup: our selections take us through various advances in autonomous, zero-emission and powertrain technology to more technological innovation from some familiar names, and end with a student race series that seeks to inspire the engineers and innovators of the future. We like a simple good-news story, too, and it’s great to see a famed British carmaker doing well.
Ocado & Oxbotica partnership vision: groceries delivered, and not a human in sight?
Grocery firm Ocado has plans to develop autonomous vehicle prototypes for use in delivery as well as at its depots, within two years. It will fit some delivery vans and warehouse vehicles with video cameras and hi-tech sensing devices and share these with Oxbotica to help develop relevant technologies.
Ocado and Oxbotica worked together on a two-week trial of autonomous deliveries in South London in 2017. Oxbotica has since made “significant progress in developing its platform,” according to Ocado, with the latest tie-up involving a £10m investment from the latter, initially focusing on the grocer’s UK business.
Oxbotica co-founder Paul Newman hopes the firms will be able to combine their resources, to “bring our universal autonomy vision to life and continue to solve some of the world's most complex autonomy challenges."
New markets help outstanding Q1 for Rolls Royce
Iconic British luxury marque Rolls Royce suffered a steep decline in sales last year, but has come out fighting in 2021. Its first quarter has been bullish, with the brand selling the most vehicles for the period in its 116-year history, up 62% from the same period in 2020.
The 1,380 vehicles Rolls Royce delivered globally in Q1 exceeds the record it set in 2019, with sales surging in China and the U.S. – particularly Florida, which saw a 40% rise on the previous year.
The success of the brand in Florida has been attributed to two factors – the Covid-related migration of wealthy buyers to secondary markets such as Florida and Texas, and the new generation of the Rolls Royce Ghost and Cullivan SUV, with some of the quietness of 2020 a result of customers waiting for the next generation Ghost.
Red Bull in bullish mood
In Formula 1, Red Bull is further upping the ante as it begins work on a state-of-the-art facility at Milton Keynes which will be home to the Red Bull Powertrains division, part of its ambitious new drive to return to the pinnacle of the sport.
From next year, Red Bull will take over the Honda engine project, and team boss and powertrain CEO Christian Horner has stated his desire to attract the best possible talent to the fold as the team pursues a powertrain excellence to match its much-admired chassis.
The new Powertrain site will be close to the team’s chassis facility so the two units can function seamlessly, gaining every possible advantage from their proximity. Red Bull will keep some Honda staff on at its powertrain facility, but is looking to develop a new system in time for the new F1 engine regulations in 2025.
Manufacturing & Technologies
Stagecoach orders 46 zero emission buses
Bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis and electric mobility leader BYD UK have taken firm orders from Stagecoach for 46 zero emission buses, part-funded by the Scottish Government. The buses will be deployed in Stagecoach’s fleets in Aberdeen, Perth and Kilmarnock.
The order follows the Scottish Government’s award of funding through the Scottish Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme, which helps operators invest in electric vehicles and associated infrastructure. The Scottish Government has set a target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, while Stagecoach has recently announced that it is targeting a zero-emissions bus fleet by 2035.
You already know the story, but we’re hugely excited that NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has become the first aircraft to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet.
The solar-powered helicopter climbed to an altitude of 3 metres and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight.
The flight demonstration was piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms developed at JPL, with data needing to be sent to and returned from Mars, a distance of hundreds of millions of miles, using orbiting satellites and NASA’s Deep Space Network.
The 1.8kg helicopter is intended to demonstrate whether future exploration of the Red Planet could include an aerial perspective in an environment with one-third of Earth’s gravity. What an achievement!
Dyson to create 200 new UK jobs
Dozens of research-focused jobs are being created at Dyson’s Wiltshire Innovation Campus, as part of the company’s £2.75bn global investment plan. A total of 200 new hires will join 4,000 staff at the campus, which is spread across sites in Malmesbury and Hullavington. The new roles will cover specialisms such as electrochemistry, high-speed electric motor design, fluid-dynamics, turbo machinery and materials.
Over the next five years Dyson will also recruit 250 engineers in Singapore as it expands its software and electronics engineering teams to further develop connected and intelligent machines.
James Dyson said the new hires will be recruited to help make “radical leaps in the performance of our machines – underpinned by technologies such as solid-state batteries and robotics.”
Executives & Leaders
Former Tesla mastermind tackling EV’s big problem
JB Straubel, Tesla’s former Chief Technological Officer, is helping to tackle the Electric Vehicle industry’s elephant in the room: the huge (and largely unnecessary) wastage of batteries.
Founding Redwood Materials in 2017, he has since spoken about the importance of battery recycling and shared an inside look at the first Redwood Materials recycling facility in Nevada.
Straubel left Tesla in 2019 to focus on recycling the mountains of batteries that are the awkwardly against-trend by-product of one of the most celebrated green technologies: electric vehicles. He has pointed out that batteries are full of highly recyclable critical materials and metals such as nickel and cobalt, and his company now recovers about 95 - 98% of these.
Formula Student returns to Silverstone in July
Formula Student, the student engineering competition organised by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, will see students from around the world come together to take part in a live event this July, after a virtual fixture was necessitated by the pandemic in 2020.
The competition challenges university teams from across the world to design, build and run the best single seater race car, with internal combustion, electric, hybrid and autonomous vehicles set to compete.
Formula Student continues to gain popularity, with over 140 teams lining up for 2021. This year’s event takes place between Wednesday 21st and Sunday 25th July, with the main dynamic events held on Saturday and Sunday.