Royal ceremony at Battersea Power Station marks contemporary software engineering icon - a small business which judges believe “could be a billion dollar business within five years”

HRH The Princess Royal presented the UK’s longest running and most prestigious national prize for engineering innovation to RealVNC, the MacRobert Award winner revealed at a royal ceremony last night.

RealVNC is a small Cambridge software company, which was set up by some of the inventors of remote computer access software and has gone on to work with global technology giants such as Google, Apple, Intel, Sony, Jaguar Land Rover and countless more in using this technology to improve consumer products and services and develop gadgets of the future. Its technology is now used on over a billion devices worldwide, and VNC protocols have even become an official part of the internet.

The ceremony, where RealVNC was presented with the MacRobert Award gold medal and £50,000 cash prize from the Royal Academy of Engineering, took place in one of the world’s most iconic buildings representing great British engineering, Battersea Power Station. Built in the 1930s, it provided a spectacular backdrop of historical contrast for the award, which has this year recognised the promise of digital engineering excellence.

RealVNC was selected for the award in recognition of its outstanding innovation, commercial success and contribution to society, by a panel representing the cream of the crop of modern British engineers and entrepreneurs from a range of disciplines. Pipped to the post were two finalists Concrete Canvas and Oxford Instruments.

RealVNC’s technology gives computer, smartphone, and other device users the power to ‘take over’ another device remotely from anywhere in the world. This means IT workers can solve problems on people’s computers or smartphones without having to leave their own desk, for example.

Unlike competitors, RealVNC’s technology uses clever algorithms to send data only about the parts of a screen that are changing, rather than all of it, which minimises the amount of data sent and ensures that sharp images are sent quickly. This streamlined approach means the technology can be embedded in all kinds of third-party products and licensed out for new services. Its technical engineering is so advanced, it is suitable for any imaginable device with a screen – even those that haven’t yet been invented.

It is now being recognised as a way of harnessing the power of smartphones and computers in an array of other products, including TV set top boxes and even household objects like fans and lamps.

RealVNC is working with Google to provide remote access capabilities for its Chrome products, and a partnership with Jaguar Land Rover is also bringing all the benefits of our smartphones into car infotainment systems. This will be inside new Jaguars and Land Rovers rolling off the production line this year.

RealVNC is also being built directly into millions of Intel chips so laptop users don't even have to download the software, and computers can be controlled remotely even if they are faulty and unresponsive or hibernating. Most distributions of Linux contain VNC technology, while Apple incorporates the software in its Remote Desktop Tool.

John Robinson FREng, Chair of the MacRobert Award judging panel, said: “RealVNC was selected for the MacRobert award because of the engineering excellence and tenacious entrepreneurship required for them to have opened the door to countless new markets for new product and services. For a relatively small UK company with no external investors to have grown to work with the world’s biggest technology companies is truly inspiring.

“The MacRobert Award is designed to recognise thriving UK engineering companies in many different sectors, from ground-breaking start-ups to established world-leaders. We have an incredible research base that leads to successful pioneering companies and RealVNC is an excellent example of innovation and entrepreneurship that the Academy is championing through its Engineering for Growth campaign."

Ian Shott CBE FREng, who is on the judging panel and also chairs the Academy’s Enterprise Hub, said: “The sophistication of engineering behind RealVNC’s technology has given them a game-changing proposition. The company is now on the cusp of fully exploiting this, and I fully believe they could be a billion dollar business with the next five years. RealVNC is an asset to the UK’s exceptional crop of innovative businesses, and the company’s ability to take this innovation and compete on a global scale really sets it apart.”

The award was presented to RealVNC team members: Lily Bacon, Executive Vice President; Adam Byrne, Vice President Strategic Alliances; Dr Andy Harter FREng, CEO; Professor Andy Hopper CBE FREng FRS, Chairman; and Tristan Richardson, Chief Architect.

Previous MacRobert Award recipients include Microsoft Research’s Xbox Kinect, Arup's Beijing Olympic centrepiece 'Water Cube', and Jaguar Land Rover’s Evoque SUV.

Notes for editors

  1. First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award is widely regarded as the most coveted in the industry. Founded by the MacRobert Trusts, the Award is now presented by the Royal Academy of Engineering after a prize fund was established with donations from the MacRobert Trusts, the Academy and British industry. For more information, visit:  MacRobert Award
  2. Previous winners include EMI Ltd, who in 1972 developed the CT Scanner, a vital medical device that can now be found in almost every hospital in the developed world. In 2002 Cambridge Display Technologies won the MacRobert Award for their light emitting polymer displays, which are now used extensively in televisions and smart phones. Last year's winner, Jaguar Land Rover, won the prize its Evoque SUV.
  3. The judging panel for the MacRobert Award 2013 is as follows:

    John Robinson FREng (Chair)
    Chairman, Abbeyfield Society; previously Chairman and Chief Executive of Smith & Nephew plc; Chairman, George Wimpey plc, Railtrack plc, Low and Bonar plc, UK Coal plc and Consort Medical plc; Operating Partner, Duke Street Capital

    Keith Davis
    Chairman, The MacRobert Trust; formerly Director, Strategy & Planning, the Royal Academy of Engineering

    Professor Nicholas Cumpsty FREng
    Emeritus Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Imperial College

    Professor Richard Darton OBE FREng
    Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford

    Professor Sir Richard Friend FREng FRS
    Cavendish Professor of Physics, University of Cambridge; Chief Scientist, Cambridge Display Technology Ltd; formerly Director and Chief Scientist, Plastic Logic Ltd

    Dr Dame Sue Ion DBE FREng
    Consultant; Non-Executive Director, UK Health and Safety Laboratory

    Professor Ian Liddell CBE FREng
    Consultant, Buro Happold Consulting Engineers, Consultant, W I Liddell Engineering Ltd

    Dr Gordon Masterton OBE FREng FRSE
    Vice President, Jacobs Engineering; Deputy Chairman at Construction Industry Council; formerly President at Institution of Civil Engineers

    Peter Saraga CBE FREng
    Chairman of the Advisory Board, Ambient Assisted Living Joint Programme; formerly President of the Institute of Physics

    Ian Shott CBE FREng
    Director, Shott Consulting Ltd

    Dr Martyn Thomas CBE FREng
    Director, Martyn Thomas Associates Ltd
  4. 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.

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