Monday, 14 December 2009

Salute the Engineers

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is due to fly on Tuesday. If it lives up to expectations, it will use 20% less fuel than other comparable aircraft. The design has pushed the boundaries of commercial aircraft design using lightweight materials such as carbon fibre.

On a much smaller scale, the McManners family has taken possession of a prototype E-Mini at a ceremony at the BMW car plant in Oxford. My fellow drivers (E-Pioneers as we are called) will be testing a fleet of 40 cars on the roads of Southern England over the next six months. These are not electric milk floats with racing stripes down the side. These perform like a good car should, handle as you would expect from BMW and are quality cars. The E-Mini has the feel of the 21st century about it.

Both the Boeing 787 and the BMW E-Mini are bold moves that have required engineers to work outside their comfort zone. The business leaders in these traditionally conservative industries should be praised for pushing ahead. A car built today could be on the road for well over a decade; an aircraft could still be flying 30 years or more from now. A weakness in the design could be a time bomb waiting to sink the company. It takes courage to bet the future on novel design. This is the sort of courage the world needs more of.

Meanwhile, the Copenhagen climate conference has reached the half-way stage. The tiny Pacific ocean archipelago of Tuvalu has been speaking up, calling for a binding agreement that will limit climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius, much more ambitious than the big nations are contemplating. We have another week to wait before we know the nature of the deal our leaders will hatch. I suspect that Tuvalu will be ignored. It will be politically easier to resettle the 11,000 islanders than find a way to reduce carbon emissions enough to save their homes from being swamped by rising sea levels.

The 787 Dreamliner and the E-Mini are small first steps in the transformation of society. If we think that Tuvalu should be rescued, we will have to give our engineers the brief to start taking giant leaps. I believe it can be done. Where there is a will, there is an engineer who can deliver.

1 comment:

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