September 2014

Date:19 August 2014 Tags:, , , , , ,

Supercarriers uphold a proud tradition

For the first time in 15 years, Britain’s monarch has smashed a bottle of the good stuff against the hull of a new warship – and a rather large one, at that. “Bands played, sailors cheered, the crowd applauded, and the Red Arrows traced a deliciously patriotic red, white and blue trail across the overcast sky.”

That’s the introduction to this month’s cover story, which focuses on Britain’s biggest-ever warship, the 65 000-ton HMS Queen Elizabeth (see “All hail, the Queen”, page 34).

The huge carrier was assembled at Rosyth, near Edinburgh, and will be completed over the next two years. She took to the water for the first time on 17 July, about two weeks after being named by the Queen. A sister ship, the equally formidable HMS Prince of Wales, is currently under construction at the same dockyard.

According to the Royal Navy, the two “supercarriers” – equipped with fifth-generation Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter jets and all manner of advanced defensive technologies, including a radar system that’s capable of tracking 1 000 objects at once – will be sufficiently versatile to tackle a full range of military tasks, from enemy engagement to providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

We’re talking a long and proud tradition here. According to the Royal Naval Museum, one of Britain’s oldest maritime museums, no navy or fleet existed in any shape or form in England until the reign of King Alfred (871-901). The museum’s historians reveal that Alfred’s first seaborne engagement was in 882 against four Danish ships in the Stour estuary. In 895-7, Alfred built longships to his own design and defeated the Danes off Essex and in the Thames estuary. “It is for this reason that King Alfred is often claimed to be the founder of the Navy.”

The British Navy became the Royal Navy after the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660. In 1661, Sir William Penn and Samuel Pepys (the famous diarist) established the Naval Discipline Act, which included the Articles of War and founded the Royal Navy by statute.

Back on dry land, we present what may be the most comprehensive account you’ll ever read about Google Glass, and how it feels to live with it. In “Through the looking glass”, starting on page 80, writer Clive Thompson says there’s always a gulf between how creators intend their tools to be used and the way people actually use them. There can also be a divide between the experience of users and those with whom they’re interacting.

“From my perspective, I was wearing a computer (Google Glass), a tool that gave me the constant, easy ability to access information quickly. To everyone else, I was just a guy with a camera on his head. With a technology this strange and new, it’s hard to tell just what it is: a bridge to the rest of the world – or just another screen blocking people out?”

Things move pretty fast in the tech world. Just days after editing this article, we heard of a London-based firm that had made it possible to control Google Glass by using brainwaves. The company has released an open-source application called MindRDR that’s used in conjunction with Neurosky’s EEG biosensor headset. In essence, the app serves as the bridge that connects the two devices, translating the brain activity into executable commands for Google Glass. And you thought science fiction was for dreamers, right?

Are you an inventor?
Popular Mechanics is looking for genuinely fresh ideas in its annual Inventor of the Year competition for 2014 – and substantial cash prizes are up for grabs. For entry forms and the “rules of engagement”, click here

– Alan Duggan (aland@ramsaymedia.co.za)