Finding the ‘next big thing’ in engineering



26 January 2017


The closing date for applications to the UK’s top engineering innovation prize is fast approaching.

With the coveted gold medal and a cash prize of £50,000 at stake, the MacRobert Award is the most prestigious national engineering prize on offer. First presented by the MacRobert Trusts in 1969, it is also the longest running prize of its kind.

Each year, an expert panel of judges from the Royal Academy of Engineering handpicks an outstanding innovation to be honoured by the Award. In order to be worthy of such an accolade, nominations must prove themselves to be of tangible benefit to society as well as a commercial success.

Renowned for recognising the ‘next big thing’ in engineering, many MacRobert Award-winning technologies have become household names. The very first award was presented jointly to the team behind the Rolls-Royce Pegasus engine, famed for enabling the Harrier jets’ iconic vertical take-off, and to Freeman, Fox and Partners for the design of the Severn Bridge.

In 1972, the judges again recognised the extraordinary potential of a new invention, bestowing the prize on the first CT scanner. The electrical engineer behind it, Sir Godfrey Hounsfield, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine seven years later.

Setting the standard in 2016

The 2016 MacRobert Award was presented to a team of engineers from Blatchford, world leaders in prosthetics, for the development of the Linx, the most advanced prosthetic limb. Complete with integrated robotic control of both the knee and foot, the team created a system in which joints ‘talk’ to each other. Just like the nerves in a human foot, the network of smart sensors in the limb monitor and adapt to the wearer’s movement and environment. A central computer then acts like the brain, allowing the limb to respond instantly to tricky terrain. This gives the wearer greater stability, confidence and freedom.

Also in the running for last year’s award were Siemens Magnet Technology and Jaguar Land Rover. The UK’s largest automotive manufacturer, Jaguar Land Rover was nominated for the design and development of their world-class ‘Ingenium’ engines. The entire suite of engines combines almost 200 innovative ideas and was designed and manufactured in the UK. Their greenest to date, the new family of engines lowers fuel consumption and running costs without impacting performance or driving experience.

Siemens Magnet Technology were recognised in the top three innovations for their game-changing 7 Tesla (7T) magnet. 140,000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field, the ultra-powerful magnet enables high-resolution MRI scanning of the human body. With such high-quality images, it is possible to provide earlier diagnoses for neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis. The scanner, called the Magnetom Terra, could also aid in the development of drugs and treatments for early stage diseases.

The MacRobert Award is presented and run by the Royal Academy of Engineering, with support from the Worshipful Company of Engineers. Winners are selected from a shortlist by a panel of Fellows of the Academy, who deploy a rigorous and comprehensive selection process.

Applications for the 2017 MacRobert award close on 31 January, and the winner will be announced on 29 June 2017 at the Academy’s Awards Dinner.

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