Previous blogs have outlined why we consider Emerging Technologies exciting and "impossible". Here we get closer to the reality of creating the industries of tomorrow through the companies working at the forefront of these advances.
Ambition drives progress
Some of the companies which have made the most progress have combined incremental progress with ambitious goals and, to great effect. Take Gas Sensing Solutions, a Glasgow based company which specialises in the monitoring of gases, often in hostile environments where electricity supply is impossible and changing batteries a difficult or dangerous. So, harvesting energy from the environment is an obvious route to take and the company took advantage of our Energy Harvesting competitions to develop an autonomous CO2 sensor.
Demand for energy was reduced substantially by adopting a different way of measuring gas concentrations and, the light available indoors was taken as the maximum available in many of the situations in which sensors are used. This twin track approach led to a 5000x reduction in energy demand which meant that sufficient energy could be gleaned from a solar panel.
Two solar arrays on this small chip, eliminating the need for energy from a light bulb! However, this solar panel is not like those you see on roofs but is the size of a match head and came from another UK company: Solar Press!
Another company at the leading edge of energy harvesting is Perpetuum, a spin out from the University of Southampton in 2004 and now a global leader in vibration energy harvesting. The company has a strong focus on the rail sector where its Rail Harvester product offers a perpetual power solution, optimised for the vibration spectra typically found in a rail environment. This allows train operators to monitor the state of wheel bearings and replace them before they fail. It also saves money compared with the previous approach of replacement at fixed intervals and Perpetuum’s revolutionary technology is now deployed and operational on the UK, Australian and Swedish national passenger rail networks.
Like many companies exploring the potential for new technologies, the more progress they made, the greater the opportunities which emerged. Having solved the challenge of monitoring the bearings, Perpetuum is now promoting the concept of a fully condition monitored train offering improved comfort for passengers, greater reliability and security.
Life sciences emerging technology
In the life sciences, progress is no less dramatic. Printing tissues and mini-organs has recently been achieved by using modified ink-jet printer technology in the field of bio fabrication. This novel method of direct printing live cells opens up a new paradigm in tissue science for drug discovery and therapeutic applications. Funded under Innovate UK’s Emerging Technologies programme the project aim is to develop the first commercial bio printer capable of printing human embryonic stem cells without damage. Based on the valve-based printing methods pioneered at Heriot-Watt University the project also relies heavily on Renishaw’s strong track record in Additive Manufacturing including the world’s first 3D printed cycle:
The crossover of expertise and knowledge
This project exemplifies another feature of many ‘emerging technologies’: the interdisciplinary nature of the work and the crossover of expertise and knowledge from one branch of science or industrial sector to another.
A recent example was the presence of Warburtons at Innovate 2015, the annual showcase for our work. When asked why they were attending, they replied that, if they went to food events, they inevitably met the same suppliers to the food sector with the same solutions but delegates at Innovate 2015 represented technologies and sectors way outside their experience. And it works; attending the same event two years ago resulted in five new collaborations!
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