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Here's How Engineers Plan to Stop the Flow of Niagara Falls

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When you want to stop Niagara Falls from flowing, install a cofferdam. The New York State Parks Commission is hoping to do just that as early as 2019.

At a public meeting yesterday, the commission discussed details of a proposal to build two new bridges to replace the existing structures, which date to the turn of the 20th century. The current bridges, which stretch from the mainland to Green Island and from Green Island to Goat Island, are in bad shape: They were temporarily closed in 2004 so that trusses could be installed to stabilize them and allow access to Goat Island, but pieces continue to fall into the water below.

The parks commission determined in 2015 that rehabilitation of the bridges wouldn’t be possible—both the initial construction methods (reinforced concrete with earth-filled arches) and extensive deterioration meant new bridges would be necessary. And to build new bridges, they’d have to dry up the American side of the Niagara River, which sends as much as 150,000 gallons of water per second over the American and Bridal Veil Falls.

To accomplish the dewatering, a temporary cofferdam would be installed, probably at the upstream end of Goat Island. It would stretch from the island—which sits at the edge of the falls and divides the American side from Canada’s Horseshoe Falls—over to the mainland and divert flow from the river entirely to the Canadian side. (Only 15 percent of the falls flow to the American side; 85 percent gushes toward Canada.) 

Once the area is dry, the project could proceed in one of two ways. In the first, the Falls would be water-less from August to December. During that time, the existing structures would be demolished and workers would install piers, according to ABC News Buffalo; water flow would begin again at the end of December, and the next year, workers would resume construction on the bridges. The process would be completed in two years. The second option, which would last a year, would require a nine-month dewatering starting in April and round-the-clock construction.

The commission has been looking at rehabilitating or replacing the bridges since 2009, but the project doesn’t yet have funding and isn’t approved. It estimates that construction costs will range from $21.37 million to $37.32 million, depending on the design chosen, and notes that the state parks department "will need to secure special capital funding from state and/or federal sources prior to advancing this project to the construction phase."

If it does move forward, the work will begin in 2019. It will be the second time the American side of the falls has stopped flowing thanks to humans: In 1969, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers diverted the flow of the river to the Canadian side using a 600-foot cofferdam constructed of 27,800 tons of rock. The goal? To study the accumulation of boulders and rock from rock slides at the bottom of the falls. The dried-up falls drew many tourists, and after six months of investigation, a decision was made to leave the falls as they were. The cofferdam was removed in November of that year.

You can read the full PDF report of the proposal here.

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Honda Debuts a Rain-Proof Disaster Robot That Can Climb Ladders
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A new Honda robot could signal the future of disaster response technology. According to IEEE Spectrum, the Japanese company recently debuted a prototype for a cutting-edge disaster-response robot agile enough to climb ladders, ascend stairs, maneuver over pipes, and move through narrow spaces, among other capabilities.

Honda unveiled the prototype for the E2-DR at September’s IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Vancouver. The slow-moving humanoid robot looks like a beginning skater stepping onto the ice for the first time, stepping cautiously up stairs and through small spaces, but the fact that it can navigate these kinds of obstacles is a feat. Scaling ladders and walking up and down stairs are usually no easy tasks for robots, and both are among the challenges featured in the annual DARPA Robotics Challenge obstacle course—which is infamous for making very, very expensive robots fall all over the place.

Designed to inspect, maintain, and provide disaster response in places like factories and power plants, the E2-DR is 5.5 feet tall, weighs around 187 pounds, and can run for about 90 minutes at a time. Crucially, it’s less than 10 inches thick back-to-front, allowing it to squeeze through small corridors laterally.

The robot can reverse its knees to allow it to keep them from bumping against stairs as it walks, and its hands can grip ladders and rails. It can also open doors and climb on all fours. It’s equipped with rangefinders, cameras, and 3D sensors so that it can be piloted remotely.

Because it’s designed to work in disaster zones (like within the Fukushima power plant) the robot has to be able to withstand water, debris, dust, and extreme temperatures. It’s already been able to climb up and down a ladder in the face of 1 inch-per-hour rain, according to Honda.

IEEE Spectrum notes that we haven’t seen it fall, and falling down is, despite how silly it looks in testing, an important thing to test before sending robots into the field. In unpredictable settings and rough terrain, it’s likely that a robot is going to misstep and fall down at some point, and it needs to be able to not just withstand the fall, but get itself back up.

The E2-DR is just a prototype, and Honda will continue to work on it for the foreseeable future. For now, though, it’s made an impressive start.

[h/t IEEE Spectrum]

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This Just In
Want to Become a Billionaire? Study Engineering
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If you want to get rich—really, really rich—chances are, you should get yourself an engineering degree. As The Telegraph reports, a new analysis from the UK firm Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment finds that more of the top 100 richest people in the world (according to Forbes) studied engineering than any other major.

The survey found that 75 of the 100 richest people in the world got some kind of four-year degree (though others, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, attended a university but dropped out before graduation). Out of those who graduated, 22 of those billionaires received engineering degrees, 16 received business degrees, and 11 received finance degrees.

However, the survey doesn't seem to distinguish between the wide range of studies that fall under the "engineering" umbrella. Building a bridge, after all, is a little different than electrical engineering or computing. Four of those 100 individuals studied computer science, but the company behind the survey cites Amazon's Jeff Bezos (who got a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton) and Google's Larry Page (who studied computer engineering at the University of Michigan and computer science at Stanford) as engineers, not computer scientists, so the list might be a little misleading on that front. (And we're pretty sure Bezos wouldn't be quite so rich if he had stuck just to electrical engineering.)

Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment is, obviously, a sales-focused company, so there's a sales-related angle to the survey. It found that for people who started out working at an organization they didn't found (as opposed to immediately starting their own company, a la Zuckerberg with Facebook), the most common first job was as a salesperson, followed by a stock trader. Investor George Soros was a traveling salesman for a toy and gift company, and Michael Dell sold newspaper subscriptions in high school before going on to found Dell. (Dell also worked as a maitre d’ in a Chinese restaurant.)

All these findings come with some caveats, naturally, so don't go out and change your major—or head back to college—just yet. Right now, Silicon Valley has created a high demand for engineers, and many of the world's richest people, including Bezos and Page, earned their money through the tech boom. It's plausible that in the future, a different kind of boom will make a different kind of background just as lucrative. 

But maybe don't hold your breath waiting for the kind of industry boom that makes creative writing the most valuable major of them all. You can be fairly certain that becoming an engineer will be lucrative for a while.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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