The first RAEng 1851 Royal Commission Enterprise Fellowships have been awarded to four graduate entrepreneurs with disruptive early-stage engineering innovations tipped to shake up major industries around the world.

The winners include the inventors of a bioengineered water filter to catch dangerous pollutants that slip through the net of standard water treatment; a smart camera to assess the behaviour of pedestrians, cyclists and traffic to improve transport planning; and a pioneering 3D sensing material that could replace all electronic controls, from videogame controllers to car dashboards.

The creator of a a pioneering wristband to help users keep calm or stay alert that is set to undergo a major trial with Disney to improve children's sleep was also recognised.

The new award is presented by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, which was founded by Prince Albert to organise the Great Exhibition, the world’s first trade fair, and then instructed to use the profits to ‘extend the influence of science and art on productive industry’. The award has been established to help develop the skills and innovations of high-potential engineering entrepreneurs based in the UK who do not have the experience or support from employment with a university or well-established company to get their product to market.

As well as receiving up to £50,000 to aid further development of their technology, the graduates behind the inventions will now become members of the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub, a one-stop-shop for exceptional UK-based entrepreneurs looking for support to commercialise technology. As part of their membership, they will receive mentoring and networking opportunities with the Academy’s pool of over 300 leading UK engineers, including Sir Robin Saxby FREng, former chief executive of British technology giant, ARM and Professor Neville Jackson FREng, CTO of global UK engineering firm Ricardo. Each awardee will also receive intensive business training and access to further investment opportunities to help bring their products to market.

All of the technologies have mass-market potential. The bioengineered water treatment membrane is up to 100 times cheaper and takes 1,000 times less energy to produce than existing water treatment technologies and could dramatically reduce the cost of cleaning polluted water across Europe.

The new sensing material is also a potentially transformative technology because it is cheaper and easier to produce than traditional electronic controls. It can be moulded rather than assembled in parts and, because it can sense a greater range of touch motions, it opens up the possibility of all-in-one 3D electronic controls for everything from cars to computers.

Nigel Williams, Secretary of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 said: “RAEng 1851 Royal Commission Enterprise Fellowships hope to fulfil Prince Albert’s vision to ‘extend the influence of science and art upon productive industry’ by helping research innovations achieve their commercial potential. We have seen some ground-breaking inventions this year that could change the nature of the human-computer interface, improve transport systems for us all, and improve the safety of our utilities.”

Ana Avaliani, Head of Enterprise at the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “These graduates were chosen because they have ideas with incredibly disruptive potential but they are very early-stage and need support to get them to market ahead of the global competition. The aim of the RAEng 1851 Royal Commission Enterprise Fellowships is to ensure that UK industry, economy, and public can all reap the benefits of the advances made at our research institutions.”

Full list of this year’s Royal Academy of Engineering 1851 Royal Commission Enterprise Fellows:

  • Ming Kong, Tangi0

    The many switches, joysticks, buttons and wheels that enable humans to interact with electronic products are often unwieldy, difficult to use and expensive to make, requiring thousands of complex sensors within each one.

    Ming Kong has invented a new sensing method based in a soft, hyper-sensitive material that can sense a greater range of touch motions than traditional electronic product controls. It can be moulded out of one material into a 3D shape, rather than assembled in parts. The technology aims to make controls more intuitive; while touchscreens and buttons require you to move a virtual object in 3D space with 2D controls, Tangi0 enables users to physically perform the desired on-screen movement on a flexible, soft 3D object. The material can detect an incredibly diverse range of different hand movements, removing the need for multiple products to control different electronic functions, and improving control.

    Tangi0 could ultimately replace conventional controls such as the trackpad, the car dashboard and even gaming handhelds with a sculptural, all-in-one 3D sensing material.

    Ming Kong has previously won the James Dyson Fellowship award and is already in talks with major automotive and consumer electronics firms.
  • Yang Lu, Vivacity Labs

    The future market in intelligent transport systems is estimated to be worth £900 billion by 2020. A large part of improving the effectiveness of transport involves harnessing real-time data on commuter behaviour to design responsive, adaptable transport networks that can predict and prevent congestion and accidents before they arise.

    Yang Lu, who received a Masters in Engineering from the University of Cambridge, has developed an intelligent camera that gives real-time insight into traffic and commuter behaviour. By combining machine learning with the latest advances in high performance computing, the system produces a unique method of classifying and identifying images in real time.

    It is the first camera that can accurately identify cyclists among other traffic, enabling transport operators to observe how cyclists use a city in real time. This means cities can more effectively target investment in cycling, and create cyclist-responsive smart traffic lights and smart signage. It also has potential applications in everything from real-time traffic counting to crowd management and security.

    The company is now working with several major transport operators and already has over 100 cameras in use across Britain.
  • Henrik Hagemann, CustoMem

    300,000 hectares of land are contaminated with water pollution in the UK and it will cost Western Europe €350 billion to clean up sites with contaminated water. Existing water treatment procedures either require excessive energy or hazardous chemicals and cannot filter out some micro-pollutants, including arsenic and heavy metals.

    Henrik Hagemann is developing a pioneering cellulose membrane that is engineered to selectively filter out specific pollutants that cannot currently be captured. It is 10x cheaper to produce than competing nanomembrane treatmentsand the production requires 1,000 times less energy.

    CustoMem aims to sell membrane cartridges and reusable water treatment units to major manufacturers, such as textile and mining companies who are facing regulatory pressures, providing a cheap, sustainable way to eliminate contamination from their supply chains.

    The firm has already partnered with a UK water treatment company to remove heavy metals from old mining sites in Wales and are at an advanced stage of talks with another major retailer. The technology has raised £128,000 in grant funding and a commercialisation manager from BP has already joineits advisory board. The firm has also won multiple awards at the world’s largest synthetic biology competition at MIT.
  • Jack Hooper, doppel

    Jack Hooper is Co-Founder and Commercial Director of doppel, a company that has developed a pioneering wristband that keeps you calm and focused.

    The wristband creates a silent rhythmic pulse that you feel on the inside of your wrist as a heartbeat like vibration. Like listening to music, a fast rhythm helps you to feel more alert; a slower rhythm is calming. The technology, which is inspired by psychophysiology (the study of the relationship between the mind and the body), is designed to change mood for specific scenarios such as high-pressure environments, high-intensity exercise and  rest and recuperation.

    During independent controlled tests by psychologists, the technology was found to dramatically improve focus. The technology has undergone hundreds of user trials and users reported the ability to concentrate for longer periods, remain calm under pressure or maintain motivation during fitness training. The wristband offers a radical alternative to traditional energy supplements, meditation and music as a way to achieve deeper focus, greater concentration, or calmness under pressure.

    doppel has already secured over £110,000 on Kickstarter alongside a further 1,000 pre-orders and now hopes to sell over 10,000 units across the US by January 2017. It is targeting a £6 billion market in wearable technology in the US alone.

    The company is now set to undergo a major trial with Disney to improve children's sleep. There are future applications for mood alteration including among those suffering from ADHD, anxiety or depression.  

Notes for editors

  1. About the Enterprise Hub. The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub is a national resource for the UK’s most promising engineering entrepreneurs. The Hub forms part of the Academy’s commitment to stimulate excellence and promote creativity and innovation in engineering. The Hub does this by making awards to exemplars of excellence and innovation in engineering who will be the founders and leaders of tomorrow’s high-tech companies. The awards include provision of money-can’t-buy bespoke support and one-to-one mentoring from its Fellowship, which comprises many of the country’s most successful engineers from across academia and industry, including prominent entrepreneurs and business leaders such as Mike Lynch OBE FREng, Sir Robin Saxby FREng, Anne Glover CBE HonFREng and Ian Shott CBE FREng.

    Enterprise Hub
  2. About the Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering.

    We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

    We have four strategic challenges:
    - Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
    - Address the engineering skills crisis
    - Position engineering at the heart of society
    - Lead the profession
  3. About the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 gives fellowships and grants for top level science and industrial research, as well as industrial design. Some 25 awards are made each year which, together with a number of special grants, approach £2m in value. 

    Originally set up to stage the Great Exhibition, the Royal Commission was kept in being to invest the Exhibition's substantial profit.  It first acquired the site in South Kensington on which the three great museums, the Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College and other Colleges now stand, and it continues to own and manage the freehold of most of this estate.  When the development of the estate was largely complete, in 1891, the Commission then set up the education and research awards programme which runs to this day, and has previously supported 13 Nobel Prize winners.
    Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851

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