Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

Innovations

The staircase that puts a spring in your step

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 11 August 2017

Engineers from Georgia Tech and Emory University have designed a staircase that takes the load off when climbing up to bed. The energy-recycling steps store up the energy of people heading downstairs and use it to give them a boost on the way back up.

Loaded with springs and equipped with pressure sensors, steps sink to meet those below when they detect footsteps. The step then locks into place, storing the energy generated by the user’s bodyweight compressing the springs inside.

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Plant-inspired robot creeps towards success

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 7 August 2017

Edging along fences and creeping up walls, climbing plants send out tendrils in search of the sunniest spots in the garden.

In the lab, researchers have replicated the movements of nature countless times. Robots can walk, run and jump. They have even learned how to swim. Now, a team of mechanical engineers from Stanford University have taken inspiration for their latest robot from climbing plants. Following the lead of creepers such as ivy, the soft robot shoots out a tendril to ‘grow’ itself forwards.

The concept behind the idea is very simple and uses a process called ‘eversion’. The robot itself is a tube of soft plastic, folded inside itself. (Think of those slippery ‘water snake’ toys from the 90s!). As pressurised air fills the tube, the folded material turns the right way out, propelling the tip forwards.

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Smart specs offer sight to those with visual impairments

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 3 August 2017

Dr Stephen Hicks started OxSight from his lab at the University of Oxford. He set out to develop a wearable prosthetic for people with visual impairments. Twelve months later, the product is getting ready to go to market.

Unlike many start-ups and spin out companies, Oxsight has a very specialised audience. The product’s target audience are those registered as legally blind. Its unique selling point is that the smart specs’ technology can allow people to see again.

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Patient safety and digital technologies: A software engineer’s adventures in healthcare

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 28 July 2017

As a society, we increasingly rely on digital technologies in most aspects of our life, such as social media and online banking. These technologies have had a significant impact on our personal and business interactions.

However, what can be less obvious is the extent to which digital technologies underpin critical services, whose failure can lead to human harm. These ‘safety-critical systems’ have traditionally been dominated by aviation, rail and nuclear power generation; all industries with an impressive track record in achieving high levels of safety.

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Artificial Intelligence speeds up Pixar’s movie-making

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 14 July 2017

Have you ever settled yourself down in front of an animated movie and marvelled at how the 3D figures are brought to life?

From Sulley’s wind-ruffled fur as he strides across the ‘Monsters’ University’ campus to the heart-wrenching fade-out of Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong, in ‘Inside Out’, it’s the play of light across these 3D scenes that brings the characters so vividly to life. Each moment is painstakingly animated, textured and rendered to give a carefully crafted illusion of reality.

In these more recent productions, a technique called ‘ray tracing’ maps out each ray of light in a scene, giving rise to the shadows, reflections and 3D appearance of characters. Even with the help of vast banks of powerful computers, the rendering process takes hundreds of thousands of computing hours, and films can take years to finish.

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Insect inspired: nanopillars help orthopaedic implants resist infection

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 10 July 2017

Inspired by insect wings that kill bacteria on contact, Indian researchers have developed a method to treat the surface of titanium orthopaedic implants at nano-scales so that they resist bacterial infection — a complication that often develops following surgery.

Orthopaedic implants like hip joints, knee joints, plates and screws can be treated to resist bacteria without the use of antibiotics, says a paper published online in Scientific Reports (23 January).

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Fresh Check: The smart solution to food spoilage

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 7 July 2017

People around the world throw away more than 1.3 billion tonnes of out-of-date food each year. At Fresh Check, we’re guilty of wasting both food and money by throwing away food that is past its use-by date. In fact, almost everyone we’ve spoken to has walked the fine line between saving money and food poisoning a few times, or at least had an argument about it with their families, friends or flatmates! The same is certainly true for us, and it was from this frustration that Fresh Check was born.

Our simple technology started as a smart solution to detect food spoilage which centred on visualising harmful bacterial contamination with a blue to orange colour change. The material remains blue in safe settings and turns orange in areas that might cause harm. Since developing the initial technology our product and business model have grown and changed, but we’ve always stuck to the detection of poor hygiene. Now we look not only at food packaging, but have developed a blue to orange colour-changing spray for use in restaurants, hospitals, food producing plants and at home, to warn users of any health risks.

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Nanofilter: A move to impact millions of lives

  • Posted by QEPrize Admin
  • 4 July 2017

I invented a low-cost water filter called Nanofilter®, which cleans contaminated water in order to make it drinkable. Right now, about 12,000 people use the filter every day and the plan is to impact millions of lives.

Growing up, my community in Tanzania didn’t have clean drinking water, and I will never forget how horrible that was. As a child, I would get worms because the water I drank was so dirty, and I wished someone would make it easy for us to access clean water. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and help solve the problem facing my community: I did a PhD in Chemical Engineering and invented the Nanofilter®.

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