A celebration of innovation

Happy new year, and welcome to January 1976. Let’s take a quick look at what’s making the news in The Engineer this week.



The electronics industry is increasingly excited by the prospects for the video disc — ‘a gramophone-type visual playback system which plugs into the television.’ While most developers are attempting to adapt the technology of the gramophone from audio to visual playback, a bold few are experimenting with the use of a laser as the stylus.



As The Engineer notes, the estimated retail price of the cheapest equipment will be around £400 (we’re in 1976 don’t forget) — ‘a crippling blow’ to the system’s prospects as a mainstream consumer product.



A further problem is the fact that 80 per cent of us rent our colour televisions, raising issues of compatibility between players and sets.



Elsewhere, the magazine features a promotional push by the Indian engineering industry to convince UK firms of its credentials as a serious player on the world stage — ‘the Japan of tomorrow’ no less.



The spokesman was careful, however, not to claim that India could hope to match the might of the UK’s manufacturing base, reports The Engineer. ‘He stressed that Indian firms could not compete with typical mass-production methods used in the UK. However, where batch sizes are small and components require a sizeable amount of individual machining, he said Indian firms could prove highly attractive.’



Back in the present, we should explain why The Engineer, normally the most resolutely forward-looking of publications, is revisiting the 1970s.



Our brief exercise in time travel is intended to set the tone for a very special anniversary for The Engineer, one that we believe is unique for a UK professional journal.



This year marks the 150th anniversary of our first publication and, as you would expect, we will be revisiting many past editions during the next 12 months.



Our light-hearted foray into 1976 was chosen as a year that would be within living memory for many readers. But we could (and by the end of the year will) have taken a journey back to examine some of the defining challenges and achievements of UK engineering and technology, seen through the contemporary eyes of our predecessors on the magazine.



Back through the dawn of space exploration in the 50s and 60s to the dark days of World War II, when all that stood between us and the Nazis were the Spitfires and Hurricanes designed by the nation’s aerospace engineers.



Back to the earliest days of the car and the aircraft, and further still to the era when the great Victorian engineers forged the iron and steel foundations of the UK we know today.



All the above, and much more, is what we will celebrate this year — not the anniversary of a single publication but a century and a half of UK engineering and technology achievements.



Most importantly, we aim to celebrate the fact that this fine tradition of innovation is alive and well, and there will be plenty of looking forward, too. As the year unfolds we will ask leading experts to predict what the future holds for the car and the plane, the factory and the TV set, the power station and the operating theatre.



Look out for our special 150th anniversary badge throughout 2006. We hope that by the end of the year, you will have come to associate it with a fascinating, and inspiring, journey into the past and the future.


Andrew Lee, editor