The Chinese bus that straddles traffic

China is suffering some growing pains. Its cities are booming and road builders are having trouble keeping up. After last month’s nine-day traffic jam that stretched for 62 miles, it’s become obvious that something needs to be done.

One company has come up with an innovative result–a large bus with a tunnel underneath to allow two lanes of traffic to pass below it. The so-called Straddling Bus will cruise along at 60 km/hr (37 mph) and can carry up to 1,400 passengers. It’s 6 meters (6.6 yards) wide and up to 4.5 meters (4.9 yards) high. Sensors will warn when cars are getting too close to the sides or if a truck is too tall to make it into the tunnel.

The Straddling Bus has already been approved for use in Beijing, with 186 km (115 miles) of lines earmarked for the new system. Construction will being at the end of the year.

The video shows how it works. Hopefully the safety measures will be built with someone who has a greater grasp of engineering than the translator has of the English language.

Solar plane flies nonstop for a week

We recently reported on the historic flight of the Solar Impulse, the first solar-powered plane to fly through the night. Now another barrier has been broken. The Zephyr solar plane has flown nonstop for seven days.

Unlike the Solar Impulse, which carried a pilot, the Zephyr is an unmanned drone built by the UK defense firm Qinetiq. Drones have seen extensive service in Afghanistan and Iraq in recent years but are hampered by the need to return for refueling and thus losing sight of targets. Drones that never need to land have an obvious advantage. The civilian potential is obvious too, with researchers already thinking up applications for using them for scientific observation.

This development also marks another step forward for potential solar-powered commercial flight. The Zephyr has solar cells along its 22.5 meter (74 ft) wingspan that drive the propellers and fill batteries that are robust enough to power the plane from sunset to sunrise. Will we one day see solar-powered commercial flights? It may be a long way off, but considering the rapid pace of technological change, it’s unwise to say that anything is impossible.

The Zephyr is still in the air near the US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona and its support team plans to leave it flying for another week.

Exhibit highlights 1001 inventions of the Muslim world

A new exhibit at London’s Science Museum explores the often-forgotten contributions to science from Muslim scholars.

1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in our World follows the contributions of Muslim civilization from the 7th to the 17th centuries. After the disintegration of the Roman Empire, scientific study lapsed in Europe, but soon dynamic civilizations based in the Middle East took up the slack. From important centers such as Damascus and Baghdad came developments in medicine, mathematics, astronomy, geography, and a host of other studies. Muslim scholars were the first to build gliders, the first to create free public hospitals, and the first to use carrier pigeons s a means of quick, long distance communications.

The exhibition is divided into sections such as Home, Town, and Market, each highlighting different contributions to science and daily life. Also discussed is how civilizations in the Middle East preserved many ancient Greek and Latin books in Arabic translations when they were lost in Europe. Later they were translated back into Greek and Latin so Renaissance scholars could read them, thus bringing much of Europe’s heritage back to Europe.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a replica of a 13th century clock by the Arab scholar Al-Jazari that stands more than twenty feet high and celebrates the diversity of knowledge by having an Indian elephant holding up an Egyptian phoenix, Arab figures, a Persian carpet, and Chinese dragons. The clock runs on moving water following a system invented by the Greeks.

In an interview with the BBC, Professor Salim Al-Hassani, one of the exhibition’s organizers, suggested that science lapsed in Islamic civilization after the twin blows of the Crusades and the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongols. Much of the Muslim world was taken over by the Ottomans, a bureaucratic state that stifled scientific initiative. Then the scientists of Renaissance Europe adopted their learning and progressed it further, much like the Muslim world took the learning of the Classical World and developed it.

1001 Inventions runs until April 25. Admission is free.

Birds Inspire Aircraft Of The Future

The people designing tomorrow’s aircraft are turning to animals for inspiration.

In an effort to create a plane that would make no noticeable noise outside an airport, the Silent Aircraft Initiative is mimicking owls. The owl’s fringe-like feathers muffle the passing air as the bird swoops in for the kill — an age-old technology that could be Incorporated into planes of the future.

But it’s not just owls. For instance, NASA is also looking to birds, as they research planes that can shift the size and shape of their wings — creating a more efficient and versatile aircraft. NASA is also examining bats, and their ability to move more nimbly than man-made aircraft by sensing tiny changes in winds.

And yes, there’s even someone trying to create a machine that keeps itself in the air by flapping it’s wing. How completely and totally awesome.