Innovation news in brief: Driverless cars; incubation; cyber security

The two-seater electric ‘pods’ that will provide public transport along pedestrian routes

Driverless pods win automotive award for innovation

An innovative project to bring fully-automated, driverless vehicles to the streets of Milton Keynes is the winner of the 2015 Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Automotive Award for Innovation.

The LUTZ Pathfinder project, from the Transport Systems Catapult, has developed pioneering two-seater electric ‘pods’ that will provide public transport along pedestrian routes, for example between train stations and city centres.

This real-world trial is expected to boost the UK’s international reputation for R&D while bringing fully autonomous vehicles one step closer.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “The quality of entries was extremely high and judging was tough but we were agreed that Transport Systems Catapult should be recognised for its work in helping put Britain at the forefront of connected and autonomous vehicle development.

“Technologies such as these represent a huge area of growth for the UK’s automotive industry, with the potential to deliver 300,000 new jobs within the next 15 years. The LUTZ Pathfinder trial is not only an innovation in itself but will provide invaluable data, experience and learning for the whole sector.”

Steve Yianni, Transport Systems Catapult CEO, said: “This is a massive honour for the Transport Systems Catapult (TSC) and for our project partners at Milton Keynes Council, RDM and Oxford Mobile Robotics Group. The TSC only began its operations in 2013, so to have already won such a prestigious national innovation award is a great tribute to the ground-breaking work that our people are carrying out together with our partners in the field of intelligent mobility.”

SETsquared named best incubator in the world

SETsquared, an enterprise partnership of the universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey, has been ranked by UBI Global as the top university business incubator in the world.

From start up 13 years ago, SETsquared has supported over 1,000 hi-tech start-ups to develop and raised more than £1bn of investment, as well as contributing over £3.8bn to the UK economy with further £15bn contribution estimated over the next 10 years.

The partnership currently supports 265 companies across its centres and has created over 9,000 new jobs.

SETsquared, which has risen from the No2 spot on the global list, was ranked alongside some of the world’s best university business incubators, including the Innovation Incubation Center at Chaoyang University of Technology, Taiwan and The DMZ (Digital Media Zone) at Ryerson University, Toronto.

Robin Jackson, centre director at SETsquared’s innovation centre in Exeter, said: “It’s been an exciting year for SETsquared in the South West as we’ve just moved into the new Exeter Science Park based on our experience and success at our home at the University of Exeter Innovation Centre, as well as celebrating the news that the University of Exeter was ranked in the top 100 universities in the world for the first time.

“We’ve also been hard at work building on the success of the student enterprise programmes, which among other accolades, have led to repeat successes in the Microsoft Imagine cup nationally and globally, the continued development of research commercialisation through our Researcher to Innovator and ICURe programmes and connecting the start-up and new product development communities in Exeter through Startup Weekend, Castle Demo nights and the Exeter Initiative for Science and Technology.”

Simon Bond, innovation director at SETsquared, said: “The UK was recently ranked as the second most innovative country in the world by the Global Innovation Index for its performance in infrastructure, market sophistication, knowledge, technology and creative outputs, and SETsquared is very proud to have played our part in putting the UK on the map as one of the top performing countries in the world for innovation.”

Queen's University acknowledged for cyber security research

The Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) in Belfast has won a Queen's Anniversary Prize for its pioneering research and innovation into internet safety.

The Centre, headed by Dr Godfrey Gaston, has a 90-strong team based at the Northern Ireland Science Park in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter and has developed a number of breakthrough innovations, including:

  • Apps-based technology which will improve security for online financial transactions
  • Anti-counterfeit technology to prevent internet fraud
  • Processors to filter internet to homes and businesses, stripping out viruses, malware and malicious content

CSIT has helped to secure almost 1,000 cyber security-related jobs in Northern Ireland, injecting around £38 million a year into its economy.

The University’s vice-chancellor, Prof Patrick Johnston, said: “The need for strong and resilient cyber security technologies has never been greater. CSIT is home to some of the world’s foremost cyber security experts. It is, and will continue to be, at the forefront of efforts to protect the UK from cyber attacks and to maintain the public’s trust that their online privacy and data is kept safe.

The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes are part of the national honours system and recognise outstanding achievement by universities and colleges in the UK.

UK to establish first Dementia Research Institute

The UK’s first Dementia Research Institute will receive up to £150 million to drive forward research and innovation in fighting dementia, the government has announced.

Led by the Medical Research Council, the institute will bring together experts, universities and organisations to drive forward research and innovation in fighting dementia – a disease that affects an estimated 850,000 in Britain, a figure that’s expected to double in the next 20 years.

The institute will have a central UK hub, with links to universities across the country and will build on the centres of excellence in dementia already operating across the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “For far too long this terrible condition has been ignored, down-played or mistaken as a part of the ageing process. When the truth is – dementia is one of the greatest enemies of humanity.

“I have been clear that I want Britain to lead the way in tackling this disease. And we have already taken great strides – since 2010 investment in research has doubled, hundreds of thousands of NHS and care staff have had specialist training and more than 1 million dementia friends have taken part in awareness sessions across the country.

“This institute is another great step – and will allow us to draw together cutting-edge research tools and expertise to defeat this disease once and for all.”

The institute is expected to be up and running before 2020.

Tech North unveils top 10 tech start-ups

Tech North, the government funded initiative to accelerate the growth of the North’s digital economy, has unveiled its top 10 tech start-ups from across the North in its Northern Stars initiative, reports Prolific North.

A total of 23 companies were shortlisted – from a total of more than 100 entries – to pitch to a panel of expert judges.

The top 10 tech startups are:

  • Airstoc (Sheffield) – The world’s first dedicated marketplace for the professional drone industry, connecting customers with operators around the world.
  • EvaluAgent (Teeside) – A suite of cloud-based software modules designed to enhance staff performance in multi-channel contact centres.
  • Formisimo (Manchester) – Provides unparalleled insight into where users struggle to fill out online forms. Their insights drive UX and design changes.
  • Geek Talent (Sunderland) – A data science company with a primary focus on reducing the skills gap between education and employment through digital products.
  • Gnatta (Manchester) – Allows businesses of all sizes to listen and speak to their customers on an individual basis quickly and effectively via one single interface.
  • In-Part (Sheffield) – An online system that strategically matches collaboration and commercialisation opportunities from university technology transfer offices (TTOs) to a network of senior decision makers.
  • (Newcastle) – A music discovery and promotion platform using technology built on top of YouTube and social content.
  • M14 Industries (Manchester) – A platform that allows any one or any company to create their own niche-dating app. The first app on this platform is Bristlr, the ‘Tinder for Beards’.
  • Peak (Manchester) – A data analytics and intelligence company that offers a unique Data-as-a-Service platform.
  • Receptive (Sheffield) – Collates product ideas and feature requests for Software-as-a-Service (Saas) companies based on customer data feedback.

The winners will receive a package of support from Tech North including a place in the Tech North pavilion at TechCrunch Disrupt in December and the opportunity to pitch to investors at Bloomberg in January.

Oxford spin-out glazing a trail

The discovery by researchers at the University of Oxford that it is possible to use extremely thin, flexible, transparent layers of a new smart material to create low-energy high-resolution displays and glazing is to be commercialised by spin-out company Bodle Technologies.

The invention, by a team led by Prof Harish Bhaskaran at the University’s Department of Materials, attracted attention from both industry and investors following the publication of a paper in Nature in 2014.

Prof Bhaskaran said: “This new approach allows us to create materials which can not only manipulate light very cleverly, but are also very cost-effective. We will be creating smart glazing which allows only certain wavelengths of light into a building, giving instant control over both the heat and light being transmitted, and over the appearance of the glass. We will also be working on other applications for these thin film materials including novel reflective displays and security markings.

“This technology is capable of providing vivid colour displays which appear similar to paper, yet with very high resolution. It is also capable of rendering extremely high-resolution videos that can be seen in bright sunlight.”

Oxford Sciences Innovation, a £320m investment company established to provide capital and scaling expertise to Oxford spin-outs, is the lead investor in the new company.

The University’s commercialisation company Isis Innovation supported the team by filing patents, building the business plan and marketing the opportunity.

The research was funded by grants from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.