Which one will win? The 3D display that helps to fight terrorism or the self-cleaning windows that help the environment? The invisible software that saves business billions of pounds or the fuel injection system that slashes emissions? Which is the most successful and most useful to society?

The four finalists for the Royal Academy of Engineering’s prestigious MacRobert Award this year contain such a wealth of innovation that it is impossible to call the winner. But in just three weeks’ time the judging panel must make that decision as HRH the Duke of Edinburgh presents the £50,000 prize at the Academy’s Awards Dinner in London on Thursday 10 June.

In the running for the 2004 Award are:

Delphi Diesel Systems for the E3 electronic unit injector advanced fuel system. The E3 will enable diesel engines to meet not only the next European and American emissions standards but also the stringent future emission controls Euro V and US07. Precise control of fuel injection means reductions in harmful exhaust gases, nitrous oxides and soot plus lower fuel consumption. Delphi’s advances have been made using a two-valve injection system instead of the conventional single valve and it is half the weight of competing products. They sold 50,000 units in 2003, mostly to Volvo, and are planning to produce 100,000 systems this year as new customers come on board in the US, Europe and Asia.

Team members: Barrie Barker, Robert Cross, Andrew Male, David Jewell and Simon Backhouse, all based at Delphi Diesel in Stonehouse.
Contact: David Draper, Chief Engineer, tel. 020 8982 2010

IBM UK for its ’WebSphere MQ’ software product set, a little-known yet pioneering ’middleware’ IT infrastructure component. WebSphere MQ software enables applications on any of over 40 separate computer platforms to communicate and handle data transfer seamlessly, enabling businesses to integrate their many IT applications and operate in today’s increasingly competitive, 24x7 interconnected world. WebSphere MQ software saves the expense of custom coding, which was previously the only way to connect such systems. IBM’s endlessly adaptable ’connection’ software is used by most of the top global banks (e.g. in providing Internet banking services) and across most industries to ensure that transactions complete without error, even when computers go offline.

Team members: Tim Holloway, Peter Lambros, Peter Niblett, Graham Spittle and Dr Tony Storey FREng, all based at IBM UK Labs at Hursley Park, Winchester.
Contact: Clare Chamberlain, Corporate Communications, tel. 020 7202 3259

Pilkington plc for Pilkington Activ™, the world’s first self-cleaning glass. Window-cleaners worldwide will lament the development of this low-maintenance glass but it has the huge environmental benefit of slashing detergent use. A special coating of microcrystalline titanium dioxide catalyses the breakdown of organic material in sunlight. The same coating also makes water sheet out all over the surface, so rainwater can just wash away the dirt. Pilkington has developed a reliable process to apply the coating very precisely when the glass is still at over 650°C. The coating must be only 15nm thick and accurate to within 1nm to avoid distortions in the glass.

Team members: Dr Kevin Sanderson, Simon Hurst, Tim McKittrick, David Rimmer and Dr Liang Ye, all based at the Pilkington European Technical Centre in Lathom, Ormskirk.
Contact: Philip Webb, Press Officer tel. 01744 692184

Sharp Laboratories of Europe for Look no glasses!, their electrically switchable 2D-3D displays, can be used in the front line of the ’War on Terror’. Airport security staff can now see the realistic 3D images from their X-ray equipment without wearing uncomfortable glasses. Sharp’s technology gave us affordable 3D for the first time last year in the NTT DoCoMo mobile phone - it sold more units in a week than all previous 3D displays combined. To date, more than 3 million 2D-3D phones have been sold. The display achieves 3D using the Parallax Barrier effect to direct discrete images on an LCD screen towards each eye. The user’s brain recombines these images as a 3D picture. Uniquely, the Parallax Barrier can be switched off leaving a conventional 2D display.

Team members: Dr Grant Bourhill, Adrian Jacobs, Dr Graham Jones, Jonathan Mather and Robert Winlow, all based at Sharp Laboratories on the Oxford Science Park.
Contact: Dr Grant Bourhill, Director Optical Imaging, tel. 01865 747711

“We have a tough task now to decide which of our fantastic finalists will win the MacRobert Award,” says Dr Robin Paul FREng, Chairman of the judging panel. “We were impressed with the quality of entries this year – these four companies represent the very best of British ingenuity and inventiveness and their early commercial success reflects their vision.”

Notes for editors

  1. The MacRobert Award, first presented in 1969, honours the winning company with a gold medal and the team members with a prize of £50,000. The presentation of the Award recognises the successful development of innovative ideas in engineering. It seeks to demonstrate the importance of engineering and the role of engineers and scientists in contributing to national prosperity and international prestige.
  2. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering