Demand

Not your neurotypical consultant: demand for autistic tech experts surges

Autistic adults often experience difficulty in finding work, but IT consultancy and social enterprise Auticon reports a rise in demand for their skills

Launched in London last year, Auticon is a social enterprise that exclusively helps adults with autism find work in IT. It offers support from ‘job coaches’, and has links with major firms across the country.

According to figures from the National Autistic Society, only 16 per cent of autistic adults are in full-time paid employment, despite 77 per cent of those who are unemployed wanting to work.

Auticon currently employs 15 full-time autistic IT consultants in the UK. But the company says demand for these skills is higher than ever, and so has launched a campaign to find more applicants.

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“We saw that so many talented individuals, who wanted long term employment and had so much to offer, were missing out,” said Auticon UK CEO Ray Coyle.

“We have had great responses from major blue chip clients, who really value the skills our consultants bring. So great, in fact, that we are now unable to meet demand. We are calling out for autistic adults, who have an interest in technology, to apply.”

Auticon UK CEO Ray Coyle

The surge in demand – from companies ranging…

How Smart is the Grid?

Marketing and advertising groups often have a tendency to capitalize on technological trends faster than engineers and users can settle into the technology itself. Perhaps it’s no surprise that it is difficult to hold back the motivation to get a product to market and profit. Right now the most glaring example is the practice of carelessly putting WiFi in appliances and toys and putting them on the Internet of Things, but there is a similar type of fiasco playing out in the electric power industry as well. Known as the “smart grid”, an effort is underway to modernize the electric power grid in much the same way that the Internet of Things seeks to modernize household appliances, but to much greater and immediate benefit.

A Cutler-Hammer industrial breaker ominously predicts the coming confusion in the smart grid arena.
Photo by Bryan Cockfield

To that end, if there’s anything in need of modernization it’s the electric grid. Often still extensively using technology that was pioneered in the 1800s like synchronous generators and transformers (not to mention metering and billing techniques that were perfected before the invention of the transistor), there is a lot of opportunity to add oversight and connectivity to almost every part of the grid from the power plant to the customer. Additionally, most modern grids are aging rapidly at the same time that we are asking them to carry more and more electricity. Modernization can also help the aging infrastructure become more efficient at delivering energy.

While the term “smart grid” is as nebulous and as ill-defined as “Internet of Things” (even the US Government’s definition is muddied and vague), the smart grid actually has a unifying purpose behind it and, so far, has been an extremely useful way to bring needed improvements to the power grid despite the lack of a cohesive definition. While there’s no single thing that suddenly transforms a grid into a smart grid, there are a lot of things going on at once that each improve the grid’s performance and status reporting ability.

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)

The most widely used grid control system is known as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, or SCADA. This is an industry-standard across a wide range of technologies which has been adapted for use on the grid. This allows power system operators to see which breakers are open or closed, which generators are online, what the voltages are at various points, where problems in distribution lines might be, etc. It allows dispatchers to get a high-level view of the grid and to take some control over…

AMD’s Radeon GPUs are rare because they’re good at mining bitcoin copycats

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies may enable online threats like ransomware to spread, but they are also fueling demand for powerful and efficient new graphics cards.

It’s difficult to find an RX 500-series Radeon graphics card at retail or online right now in part because people are seeking them out to mine certain bitcoin-like cryptocurrencies, chip manufacturer AMD explained to CNBC. In April, AMD released its latest round of Polaris-powered GPUs which can render graphically intensive scenes without drawing excessive amounts of power. That combination of number-crunching capabilities and energy efficiency has attracted consumers who want to “mine” altcoin cryptocurrencies, which are alternatives to bitcoin.

“The gaming market…

The Biggest, Strangest ‘Batteries’

What if you need a battery? A really big one — big enough to run a city?

It’s a question that inventors have been tackling for decades. No one wants the fridge, or the hospital, going on the blink when demand surges or the power plant needs repairs.

It turns out to be a surprisingly tricky question to answer. Today, with the rise of green energy sources like solar and wind, the need for industrial-scale energy storage is becoming ever more vital to make sure there’s power even after the sun sets or the breeze dies down.

It’s usually (but not always) still too impractical to string together enough traditional batteries — those powered by chemical reactions, like the ones in smoke alarms and Teslas — to do the job. Instead, with remarkable ingenuity, technicians have relied on a host of physical forces and states such as temperature, friction, gravity and inertia to keep energy locked up for later release.

That’s why in Wales a power company engineered a special lake on a mountaintop. And in Germany a utility pumps underground caverns full of compressed air. Here’s how those and other systems — all in use today — work.

Back in the 1970s, a German utility wanted to build a flexible storage plant that could respond to sudden peaks in electricity demand, since its conventional plants — mainly coal — weren’t designed to dial up or down quickly.

It didn’t have the hilly terrain needed for a hydroelectric plant, which can start operating much more quickly when demand surges. But here’s what it did have: ancient, underground salt deposits.

Borrowing a technique commonly used to store natural gas and oil deep underground, it piped water into the salt beds to dissolve the salt and create two caverns roughly a half-mile below the grassy fields in Huntorf. The plant, which opened in 1978, uses electricity from the grid, when it’s cheap because demand is low, to compress and store air in the salt caves.

Then, when electricity demand surges, a motor pushes the air to the surface and into a combustion system, where it burns natural gas that spins a turbine to produce electricity. Compressing the air allows it to deliver more oxygen to the turbines, making them more efficient.

A similar plant opened in 1991 in McIntosh, Ala. Several energy companies, mainly in the United States and Europe, are exploring mining their salt deposits for storage as well.

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Out in the desert of Tonopah, Nev., about 200 miles northwest of Las Vegas, an enormous spiral of mirrors surrounds a concrete tower roughly 55 stories tall. Topped with a 100-foot heat exchanger formed of tubes, it’s not a relic of some mystical pagan rite, but the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Facility.

It is the world’s first utility-scale concentrating solar power plant that uses extremely hot salt to extend the use of solar energy way past sundown.

Rather than using solar panels to produce electricity, the plant has more than 10,300 billboard-size mirrors that focus the sun’s heat on the heat exchanger, melting the salt into millions of gallons of 1,050-degree liquid that is stored until electricity is needed. The salt, which can stay liquid at higher temperatures than some other fluids like water, then flows through a steam-generating…