Researchers from the University of Southampton and the Institut d’Optique in Bordeaux, France have devised a new approach for controlling light in a silicon chip that could make them programmable.
Silicon photonics are forming the backbone of next-generation on-chip technologies and optical telecommunication, which are aimed at a wide range of emerging applications including optical interconnects, microwave photonic circuits, and integrated optical sensors.
The function of a photonic chip is usually hard-wired, but having reconfigurable optical elements would allow light to be routed flexibly, opening up new applications in programmable photonic circuits.
Traditional spatial light modulators use liquid crystals or micromirrors to provide many independently controllable pixels, and this has revolutionised optics in recent years, with many applications in imaging and holography and adaptive optics.
In their new work, presented in the April issue of the journal Optica, the team makes use of multimode interference (MMI) devices which are usually fixed. However, the team shows that different modes travelling through the MMI can be dynamically controlled using a femtosecond laser. This acts to effectively shape the transmitted light, allowing some modes through and restricting others.
Using a silicon-on-insulator 1 x 2 multimode interference splitter with a projected pattern of perturbations induced by the femtosecond laser, the perturbation pattern achieves routing of light to a single output port with 97 per cent efficiency, essentially making the device programmable.
“We have demonstrated a very general approach to beam shaping on a chip that provides a wide range of useful functionalities to integrated circuits. The integrated spatial light modulator turns conventional silicon photonics components into versatile reconfigurable element,” said lead author Roman Bruck, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southampton.
Practical applications of this technology will include all-optical reconfigurable routers, ultrafast optical modulators and switches for optical networks and microwave photonic circuits as well as wafer-scale optical testing of photonic chips. More work is needed to develop these ideas into practical applications.
Principal investigator Professor Otto Muskens, from Physics and Astronomy at the University of Southampton, said: “There are many new directions to explore, from gaining a deeper understanding to application of the new concepts into real-world devices. This is a potentially disruptive new approach toward field-programmable chips which can enhance and complement existing strategies, or even partially replace current technology.”
The study ‘All-optical spatial light modulator for reconfigurable silicon photonic circuits’ R. Bruck, K. Vynck, P. Lalanne, B. Mills, D. J. Thomson, G. Z. Mashanovich, G. T. Reed, and O. L. Muskens, Optica 3(4), 396-402 (2016) can be viewed at https://www.osapublishing.org/
Bath-based ContinuumBridge has launched an intelligent, connected IoT device called Spur.
This is aimed at service providers in the facilities management, retail, leisure and hospitality industries to provide an intelligent, easy-to-use means for service users to initiate a request or report an issue and provides the user with an immediate acknowledgement.
The physical part of Spur is a call button that integrates a display whose message indicates to the user what they are able to request/report and then provides instant visual feedback confirming the outcome. For example, if installed by a coffee machine the display could say, “Push here if this machine requires more coffee” and then after pressing the button the display could change to say, “More coffee for this machine has been requested”. Similar scenarios can be applied in other situations, such as reporting that a printer or photocopier is out of toner, or that a toilet needs cleaning. Multiple call options are possible by cycling the e-ink display, for example, requesting waiter service or asking for the bill in a restaurant, and perhaps subsequently rating the customer experience.
“During Spur’s development we worked closely with our customers and are confident that it meets genuine needs. The capability that lies behind the button provides numerous benefits for both the service provider and end‑user or customer,” said Peter Claydon, CEO of ContinuumBridge. “
The technology uses 868MHz wireless for low power connections, allowing a battery life of up to 5 years. A gateway bridge, which only requires a power outlet, provides connectivity between the wireless buttons and a server using a cellular modem so there is no need for network connection. Service providers access the server through a fully programmable but easy to use web portal using the Wisp technology developed by ContinuumBridge. This provides comprehensive reporting that is available through the web site or via email, SMS or data-sharing with a third party database. The whole Spur solution is safe-guarded with state-of-the-art, end-to-end security.
“We were trying various wireless technologies such as Z wave, Zigbee and WiFi for the battery life and the range of the radio,” said Claydon. “A mesh is OK if you have lots of them but try telling an installer that. So we worked backwards from those requirements. The e-ink display is great for low power, so we’ve uses a standard 868MHz radio with our own lightweight protocol so that you only turn the radio on when someone presses the button and once an hour to check for updates. At 10 pushes a day that gives us a 5 year battery life and 300m line of sight connection or three floors of an office building from the 868MHz radio,” he said.
“The gateway is the same bridge that we have already developed which is a Raspberry Pi at heart with the 868MHz radio and a 3G cellular modem so you don’t have to get into someone’s IT infrastructure and the bandwidth required is so low,” he added.
Spur is undergoing trials now in the UK and volume production will commence in mid-2016. ContinuumBridge is looking for distribution partners throughout Europe with North American and other geographies anticipated in the future.
Leading cloud computing technology developers are coming to Bristol this week for the UK’s first Voxxed Day conference.
The conference cover the latest trends and technologies in cloud computing and development, from Infrastructure and Platforms (e.g. IaaS & PaaS) , Big Data and Analytics, Java and JVM languages, Continuous Delivery and Deployment, Microservices and Containers, Functional Programming, Internet of Things, DevOps, Performance & Optimisation, Architecture & Security and Development Methodologies.
The region has a well established base of companies making world-class cloud technology with a global reach – including industry leaders like Oracle, HP, IBM, Cray and Amazon as well as fast growing startups such as ClusterHQ, JustOneDB and ForgeRock. Many of these companies have started to work together as part of the HBB Cloud Special Interest Group (SIG) to help develop the region as a globally established centre of excellence for cloud computing.
Phil Bates was a key influencer in bringing Voxxed Days to Bristol. As the leader for Oracle’s cloud development centre in Bristol, and one of the champions for the cloud technologies cluster around Bristol and Bath, he said;
“A Voxxed Days event at the Watershed is great news and a recognition of the strength of the software development community in the area, particularly with respect to cloud computing and big data / analytics. Oracle has significant and expanding cloud and business intelligence/analytics product development teams in Bristol. The south-west is a great place to develop technology and conferences like Voxxed Days provide a great opportunity for developers to share expertise, learn from each other’s experience and get a handle on what’s next in Java, Cloud and Big Data/Analytics.”
Each Voxxed Days is spearheaded by local communities so each event retains a unique regional flavour, whilst being part of the overall Voxxed movement. “I’m delighted we can add Bristol to the list of cities hosting Voxxed Days events in 2016,” said Mark Hazell, Director of VOXXED, the equivalent in Europe of the Java One conference in the US. “Voxxed Days is all about sharing expert software development experience directly with developers on the ground. Attending the event will equip developers from the area with the kind of knowledge that will improve their day-to-day efforts The Bristol area already stands out as a great location to be a developer, with it’s vibrant communities and willingness to share, and we’re please that Voxxed Days will help grow that effort.”
“High Tech Bristol & Bath CIC was set up to support the cluster around the city regions and high profile events like this are excellent vehicles for doing that. They afford fantastic opportunities for knowledge sharing and developer engagement, together with providing a real boost to our international profile as a great place to be an engineer in the high tech industries,” said Dr John Bradford, High Tech Bristol & Bath.
The company, a spin-out from the University of Bristol’s High Performance Networks group, is an internationally renowned team for their expertise in software-defined networking and network virtualization, focusing on the design, development and marketing of open networking solutions.
Zeetta has developed a unique open networking platform called netOS based on industry-standard hardware and powerful orchestration software which manages, automates and monitors the whole network while significantly reduces its costs. This offers a “USB-like”, plug-n-play management of different types of connected network devices and enables the construction of virtual “network slices”, for example separate logically-isolated sub-networks for the deployment of business-to-business or business-to-consumer services, such as Ultra HD wireless video distribution, city-wide Wi-Fi, IoT and other applications. This is being used for the Bristol is Open network across the city.
The funding, which is being provided by existing investor IP Group and new investor, Breed Reply, means that Zeetta can significantly accelerate its growth plans. This will enable the company to expand its commercial and technical teams and target new markets.
Zeetta Networks has been a virtual member of the Bristol SETsquared Centre since September 2015 and they will be looking to take up residence in the Bristol SETsquared Centre, housed in the iconic Engine Shed, as soon as possible.
“Since the formation of our company last May we have achieved many impressive milestones including considerable revenues from our first customers and grant funding from the European Commission through our participation in the REPLICATE lighthouse project. The investment from IP Group and Breed Reply cements the confidence of the market in our technology and our team,” said Vassilis Seferidis, CEO of Zeetta Networks.
Breed Reply, Reply’s advanced incubator, funds and supports the development of start-ups on the Internet of Things (IoT) in Europe and the USA. Based in London, with operational offices in Italy and Germany, Breed Reply supports entrepreneurs and young talent by quickly bringing new ideas to the market. This is done via funding at seed and early stage level; considerable support with significant know how transfer of business, managerial and technological expertise; and medium-term involvement to establish start-ups in their market. In the IoT sector, the main areas Breed Reply focuses on are fitness and wellness, healthcare, smart home, manufacturing, transportation and energy.
Bristol is building on its strength in driverless car technology, hosting a £5.5m project to test out communications systems for driverless cars, while Bristol companies are involved in projects around the country.
The three year FLOURISH project links several members of the current VENTURER driverless car project with Airbus, Age UK and artificial intelligence experts React AI to develop innovative new tools to improve the understanding of user needs and expectations of connected and autonomous vehicles. It will be based in the Bristol City Region and will test capabilities in both urban and suburban networked environments.
The UK is rapidly becoming one of the best places in the world for companies to develop their Intelligent Mobility business,” said Roland Meister, Head of Transport at Innovate UK. “Driven by our work with the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles this competition has connected together the UK’s fantastic automotive industry, the research base, the insurance sector, public authorities with high growth businesses working in human behavioural science, telematics, information technology, communications, simulation, advanced sensor systems and machine learning.”
Importantly, FLOURISH will address vulnerabilities in the technology operating connected vehicles, with a focus on the critical areas of cyber security and wireless communications. The consortium will seek to develop tools that enable vehicle manufacturers and transport authorities to provide a safe and secure ‘V2X’ communications network that combine vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) technologies.
“FLOURISH is an exciting addition to our portfolio of research in the field of connectivity for autonomous vehicles,” said Professor Andrew Nix, Dean of Engineering at the University of Bristol. “I particularly welcome the opportunity to work closely with Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council on the real-world testing of autonomous vehicles. This will leverage existing investment in the Bristol city region to expand our validation and test capabilities in both urban and inter-urban networked environments.”
Dr Robert Piechocki, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Communication Systems and Networks research group and the University’s project lead, added: “Autonomous cars will rely on secure and dependable wireless connectivity to enable advanced automotive safety features. The FLOURISH project is a unique opportunity to showcase our research that will underpin mobility services of the future.”
Dr Theo Tryfonas, Senior Lecturer in Systems Engineering and a member of the project team, commented: “The security and trustworthiness of wireless connectivity, as well as the privacy of the relevant data in terms of location, personally identifiable attributes of users etc. will be a factor of paramount importance for their successful operation and integration with society.”
The project will bring together industry and academic experts in the fields of wireless connectivity, cyber security, data innovation, human factors and social research.
Fusion Processing, based at the EngineShed in Bristol, is part of the £2.2m Insight project to develop driverless shuttles with advanced sensors and control systems and trial them in city pedestrian areas, with a particular focus on improving urban accessibility for disabled and visually-impaired people.
Researchers from the universities of Bristol and Keio with industrial partners have unlocked 80 THz of fibre-optic bandwidth that will enable future exascale data centres and transform 5G networks.
Dr Georgios Zervas, Senior Lecturer in Optical and High Performance Networks in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, said: “The technology and system proposed and prototyped will unlock the new frequency band and networks to support future exascale data centres, ‘zero-latency’ tactile optical internet, internet of everything, smart cities, fog computing and big data infrastructure among others. This is the outcome of a recent collaboration between Bristol, Keio and other Japanese institutions that brings together people with complementary yet common vision and pioneering concepts.”
The technology fabricated and tested is based on cascaded arrayed waveguide gratings (AWGs) and is designed to potentially construct a 1600 x 1600 wavelength router that can guide data at the speed of light. Specially designed quantum dot chips are used for light sources which were originally developed by NICT in Japan.
This single passive optical system can interconnect over one million end points such as, broadband home users, IoT devices, data centre servers, while offering at least ten Gb/s per end point. Critically it is also future proof since it’s transparent to any communication signal and it can also potentially consume zero power due to its passive nature.
Hiroyuki Tsuda, Professor of Faculty of Science and Technology at Keio University, added: “The enabling technologies for the new frequency band are the quantum dot based optical devices and the silica planar lightwave circuits designed for the new band.
“The collaboration between the University of Bristol who has extensive knowledge of the network architecture, and our Japanese research group with device technologies will create an ultra-high capacity, power-saving optical network system, in particular, for data centres.”
‘Full-mesh T- and O-band wavelength router based on arrayed waveguide gratings‘ by Nazirul A. Idris, Ryogo Kubo, Georgios Zervas, Hiroyuki Tsuda et al is published in Optics Express [open access]
A consortium of leading researchers, care providers and robotics experts have received a major award of over £2m from Innovate UK to develop a modular robotic solution for the home to revolutionise long-term care by giving people the choice to stay independent in their own homes as they age.
The CHIRON project is developing a connected system of modular robotic components, which can be adapted to different assistive tasks. CHIRON’s various components will be designed to be mixed and matched. This will enable the person using CHIRON to undertake a wide range of domestic and self-care tasks independently, which for some people could mean that their carer would then have more time to spend providing valuable social companionship. The project will create a prototype that will lead to the development of a commercially viable product.
The CHIRON consortium is led by Designability, formerly the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering and now a national charity specialising in assistive technology to enhance people’s lives. The key technology partners are Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) and Shadow Robot Company, experts in conducting pioneering research and development in robotics. Award winning social enterprise care provider, Three Sisters Care will bring user-centred design to the core of the project, with Telemetry Associates providing project management support. Smart Homes & Buildings Association, specialists in telecare and assisted living, will bring sector knowledge to the project to support commercialisation.
The project will draw upon the consortium’s expertise of working with end-users, clinicians, and health and social care providers, to develop an effective robotic solution that offers adaptability to a person’s changing needs.
Designability Director, Professor Nigel Harris said: “We are tremendously pleased to contribute to this work, focusing on the Long Term Care Revolution. This project is all about technological innovation and perfectly compliments other work that looks at social innovation.”
Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult centre to drive innovation in multi-billion pound market.
Compound semiconductors such as gallium arsenide (GaAs) and gallium nitride (GaN) are central to development of the 5G network, new high-efficiency LED lighting, power electronics for the next generation of electric vehicles and new imaging techniques for a variety of uses from security to health diagnostics, with the global market for compound semiconductors expected to be £125 billion by 2020.
The centre is backed by wafer maker IQE and Cardiff University who set up the £20m Compound Semiconductor Centre, which will form a key resource to the new Catapult. The partnership will help transform leading edge research at Cardiff University’s new Institute for Compound Semiconductors (ICS) to be built on the University’s new £300m Innovation Campus.
The Catapult for semiconductors will be the 11th Catapult centre. Catapults already exist in:
- cell therapy
- high value manufacturing
- offshore renewable energy
- satellite applications
- transport systems
- future cities
- precision medicine
- medicine technologies
They are overseen by Innovate UK and join entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists with state-of-the-art facilities that allow them to create new products and services.
A new application programming interface (API) created by Bristol City Council will provide easy and free access to a huge wealth of transport data in one place, making it possible for innovative technologies to be developed.
The Bristol API (Transport) supports the Council’s approach to opening up data sets, as it already does through the Bristol Open Data portal and is being further developed by the Bristol Is Open project. The wider aim is to work with the tech community to explore ways to use and present the data framed around relevant and actual transport challenges in the city.
A transport-themed Challenge Event at Watershed on Saturday 23 January from 10:00-17:30 is offering £1,000 worth of customised app design assets from creative agency Big Mallet for the best application using the API from app and software developers, as well as the broader tech community.
The new web-based service has been specifically designed to provide information such as live bus and train times, stop locations, route maps and other data. Developers interested in building apps, websites, connected devices or even customer information displays will be able to use transport data for Bristol and the West of England region completely free for the next year.
The Bristol API is not restricted to public transport as it also gives instant updates on occupancy in local car parks as well as electric vehicle charging locations. It is currently possible to provide live statistics on bicycle dock availability in London and New York, meaning the API will be attractive to developers who have global success in their sights and further adding to the benefits of The Bristol API.
The council’s City Innovation team appointed UrbanThings earlier this year to develop the API. UrbanThings is the company behind the successful BusChecker app, which has been downloaded more than two million times worldwide and has received significant critical acclaim. The Innovation team are therefore confident that this collaboration will be hugely beneficial for Bristol citizens and businesses.
“The introduction of the Bristol API (Transport) is a huge step for Bristol City Council and could improve predicted timings as well as help with journey planning for the public,” said Stephen Hilton, Director of Bristol Futures. “Using data in this way shows how the council is actively trying to tackle the challenges in the city by collaborating with the tech community and leaders in the industry such as UrbanThings.”
“UrbanThings is delighted to be harnessing the Internet of Things to empower intelligent mobility,” said Director of UrbanThings Carl Partridge. “We were delighted to be selected to provide this cutting-edge API and we’re hoping that developers and engineers are inspired to build some amazing innovations. We look forward to working with them to further enhance the API and help Bristol become a world-leading Smart City.”
The UK government is to launch a new framework to allow small digital developers in the regions, especially the SouthWest, to bid for work. This is a major opportunity for small companies to bid for government contracts, and there is a deliberate focus on regional companies.
In February 2016, the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) will replace Digital Services 2 (DS2) with Digital Outcomes and Specialists (DOS). All suppliers who are currently on the DS2 framework will need to apply to Digital Outcomes and Specialists, and small suppliers that found DS2 too time-consuming are being encouraged to apply for the new framework.
The aim of the Digital Marketplace is to make the commissioning process simpler, clearer and faster. Buying and selling through the Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework will reduce the time and cost traditionally associated with procurement and allow buyers and suppliers to talk to each other so they can decide whether there is a good fit.
This will be broken down into four separate categories, the first being suppliers who can provide teams to build and support a digital service. A digital outcome could be a discovery phase to create an information systems vision of an NHS department. This can include performance analysis and data, security, support and operations, testing and auditing or user research. The second category is Digital Specialists who can work on a service, programme or project. A digital specialist’s work must have deliverables and a defined scope. This could include a business analyst, content designer or copywriter, cyber security specialist, developer, technical architect or product manager.
The other two categories are aimed at suppliers who can offer user research-related services, from user research studios to user research participants.
One way the application has been simplified is that the majority of the evaluation of suppliers won’t be carried out at the application stage as it was with DS2. As each buyer has specific requirements, they’d prefer to evaluate suppliers themselves. As a result, under the new framework, most of the supplier evaluation will be done by buyers when suppliers respond to a brief for a specific piece of work. However, buyers may use the information that suppliers provide on their services in their application to help them evaluate. There will also not be a cap on the number of suppliers on the framework, so there are significant opportunities for smaller companies in the region to benefit from government contracts.
The draft Invitation to Tender (ITT) documents were published last week (as detailed in the High Tech Newsletter), including the framework agreement, supplier declaration and the service description questions. The Digital Outcomes and Specialists framework is now open for applications, and suppliers can create an account in the main navigation on the Digital Marketplace homepage.
Bristol is aiming to create a 3D-printed large-scale city model that can have real-time data and sophisticated analytics projected onto it, for example, showing real-time pedestrian and traffic flows; the energy use of buildings or even the air quality at different times of the day or night and at different times of year.
The really ambitious part is to make the model into an immersive digital environment that will use virtual and augmented reality and haptic touch technologies to allow people to ‘leap-in’ to the city model. Bristol citizens will be able to experience new developments before they are built and see how they impact on the city’s systems. This will allow different scenarios for future developments to be explored as if they are real, and for the impact on energy, transport, air quality, noise, light and other factors, to be fully understood.
Bristol is well placed to develop a city ‘Brain’ as a large investment has already been made in hardware and software in Bristol is Open to create a city research and development platform.
Bristol can pioneer this approach thanks to its credentials as a high tech and sustainable city, says Stephen Hilton, Director of Bristol City Council’s Bristol Futures team, with two leading universities and businesses at the cutting edge of developing technologies that utilise data, augmented reality, sensors, analytics, visualisation, virtual environments and interactive digital media.
The project was announced at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, and Bristol City Council is now seeking £10-15m investment to build the full model in such a way that it can be openly shared with cities around the world.
… as Bristol is Open boosts partners
Smart city networking testbed Bristol is Open has added two new partners, bringing projects from Rolls Royce and technology licensing firm InterDigital.
As a Project Partner in the UK’s first interactive Data Dome, Rolls Royce will investigate the use of the fully immersive hemispherical display system in the 100-seat facility, for high-end visualisation of its products and associated big data. The first visualisation is of the Trent XWB, the world’s most efficient aero engine.
“Visualising and creating value from a wealth of data is really important to us, and this partnership provides us with a great opportunity to tap into the Bristol and Bath area’s rapidly growing innovative digital media capabilities. It’s also a great opportunity to engage and inspire young people with immersive sound and vision experiences of our products and show them how exciting engineering can be,” said Paul Stein, Chief Scientific Officer at Rolls-Royce.
Housed inside At-Bristol Science Centre’s Planetarium, the Bristol Data Dome is the only projection environment in the world connected to a city-scale high performance network and a high performance computer and is one of the highest definition digital projection environments in the UK today.
“Our world is overwhelmed by data, making a lot of it inaccessible and unintelligible. Visualising data in a shared environment like the Bristol Data Dome enables people to identify new patterns, and jointly examine new ways of seeing the world, the city, and products and services,” said Paul Wilson, Managing Director of Bristol Is Open. “Rolls-Royce has understood this, and been quick to spot the opportunity the Data Dome provides. We’re very pleased to announce this partnership with them, and to exploring similar partnerships with others.”
Mobile technology research and development company InterDigital licenses key patents for wireless systems and has also joined Bristol is Open.
“Bristol Is Open is an exciting initiative with a vision that aligns perfectly with InterDigital’s 5G and IoT focused research and development efforts. Collaboration on this innovative project serves as another positive example of InterDigital’s strong and open innovation model,” said Alan Carlton, Vice President of InterDigital Europe.
The December issue of High Tech News is now out, with the latest news from the Bristol and Bath region and a roundup of some of the key events over the year. This definitely highlights the significant scale of activity here and in the wider area. Sign up for free and download it here .
This has been, on the whole, a great year for technology in the Bristol & Bath region. With new entrants such as Cray and Oracle, large investments in existing startups such as ClusterHQ (p6) and Ultrahaptics (p3), and new venture funds (p3), there is a distinct feel of optimism. All of this is charted in the roundup that starts on page 6 and shows the strength of the technology development throughout the region in the last year.
There have been significant changes though: we had to say goodbye to NVIDIA, and we didn’t win the national centre for smart city research, but this has opened up new opportunities across the region. A new smart Internet Lab at the University of Bristol (p4) and new partners for Bristol is Open highlight how strong the technology is in the region, and this was demonstrated at the recent UN Climate Change conference with the launch of the Bristol Brain (p5).
This optimism is also bringing new conferences to the region, with a cloud technology conference called Voxxed days coming to the UK for the first time in Bristol in February (p14).
Awards season is also upon us, and the region is hosting not one but two in the middle of February, with nominations closing in the first week of January. The Sparkies (p14) and the Edge Awards (p15) are celebrating all the great technology, innovation and people in the region, and the emergence of two such award programmes highlights how far the region has come in a few years.
Invest in Bristol and Bath are also looking for Ambassadors region to help boost the profile of the region (p12), and there are opportunities for small companies in the regional to access government contracts thorough a new Digital marketplace (p13). For more information about the High Tech activity in the region, please sign up for the newsletter.
Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) replicate biological processes to generate energy, and researchers at UWE in Bristol have embedded the technology in a pair of socks. The key is that the MFC takes in urine and produces enough energy to power a wireless transceiver, creating a personal area network (PAN) link without having to use batteries. This is the first self-sufficient system powered by a wearable energy generator based on microbial fuel cell technology and the research paper, ‘Self-sufficient Wireless Transmitter Powered by Foot-pumped Urine Operating Wearable MFC’, is published in Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.
The paper describes a lab-based experiment led by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre at the University of the West of England. The Bristol BioEnergy Centre is based in Bristol Robotics Laboratory, a collaborative partnership between UWE and the University of Bristol.
|Researchers at UWE have developed socks that convert urine into energy to
power a wireless transceiver for a personal area network without batteries
Soft MFCs embedded within a pair of socks was supplied with fresh urine, circulated by the human operator walking. Normally, continuous-flow MFCs would rely on a mains powered pump to circulate the urine over the microbial fuel cells, but this experiment relied solely on human activity, which is a key step forward (pun intended). The manual pump was based on a simple fish circulatory system and the action of walking caused the urine to pass over the MFCs and generate energy. Soft tubes, placed under the heels, ensured frequent fluid push–pull by walking. The wearable MFC system successfully ran a wireless transmission board, which was able to send a message every two minutes to the PC-controlled receiver module.
“Having already powered a mobile phone with MFCs using urine as fuel, we wanted to see if we could replicate this success in wearable technology. We also wanted the system to be entirely self-sufficient, running only on human power – using urine as fuel and the action of the foot as the pump,” said Professor Ieropoulos. “This opens up possibilities of using waste for powering portable and wearable electronics. For example, recent research shows it should be possible to develop a system based on wearable MFC technology to transmit a person’s coordinates in an emergency situation. At the same time this would indicate proof of life since the device will only work if the operator‘s urine fuels the MFCs.”
The challenge now is how the MFC cells are refuelled with urine.
Microbial fuel cells (MFCs) use bacteria to generate electricity from waste fluids. They tap into the biochemical energy used for microbial growth and convert it directly into electricity. This technology can use any form of organic waste and turn it into useful energy without relying on fossil fuels, making this a valuable green technology. Parts of this work were funded by the UK Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The research is important in other areas of robotics as it would allow autonomous systems to generate power from waste materials to operate for days or even months at a time.
Leading UK chip designer EnSilica has set up a new regional office and design centre in Bristol (UK) to be its centre of excellence for analogue design.
The office and design centre will be headed by Nick Weiner, EnSilica’s Director of Analog and Mixed-Signal Design who joined the company earlier in 2015. Well known within the industry as a founder of Bristol companies Phyworks (sold to Maxim in 2010) and Xintronix (sold to FTDI in 2013), Nick has many years of experience in analogue and mixed-signal IC design management and business development. Nick has specialist knowledge in products developed for the fibre-optic communications, including industry-leading FTTH transceivers, 10Gbps transceivers and signal integrity ICs. He will lead the company’s team of Bristol-based design engineers and project support staff.
“The opening of our regional office and design centre in Bristol (UK) is a further strategic step in the ongoing development of our semiconductor design and supply business,” said Ian Lankshear, CEO of EnSilica. “Not only will it bring us closer to customers in the area but it will also further extend our existing turnkey ASIC, FPGA and embedded design capabilities, providing us with a more flexible and scalable analogue and mixed-signal IC design resource for customer projects that require larger teams to accelerate timescales and deal with increasingly complex projects.”
The Bristol office will also support local silicoon comapnies using EnSilica’s IP designs and complements its existing headquarters facility in Wokingham and verification centre of excellence and design centre in Bangalore, India.
Analogue and mixed-signal IC design company Moortech in Plymouth is looking for a Senior Analogue IC Layout Engineer with a proven track record and a Degree (or equivalent qualification) in Maths, Science or Electronics.
They are also recruiting for a Senior Analogue IC Designer with a Degree or equivalent in Maths, Science, or Electronics.
A reviewer from Forbes is blown away by the MinRig Bluetooth speaker technology developed in Bristol: http://www.forbes.com/sites/marksparrow/2015/10/12/minirig-portable-speakers-that-are-made-in-england-and-always-will-be/
The company behind the technology were covered in our Music special feature in June.
Banksy’s Dismaland exhibition drew global attention to the SouthWest and the tech cluster here, and local tech CEO Rupert Baines draws some key lessons from the event of the summer on page 14 of the latest High Tech Sector Group newsletter.
This comes as Bristol and Bath continues to cement its position as a leading tech cluster in Europe, from the new Cray supercomputer research lab (p2) to recent smart city project wins and a significant bid in the pipeline (p2). The region has a real opportunity to develop the next generation of hardware and software technology for smart living (page 3) both in Europe and around the world. This is boosted by the latest smart home research centre at the Bristol Robotics Lab (page 9) using networking technology from local startup ContinuumBridge. Blu Wireless Technology is also seeing its technology being adopted in multiple projects across Europe (p6).
Quantum technologies continue to be a strong force in the region, with a new deal with Oxford Instruments, another local company, and researchers heading over to see the latest quantum computing technology from D-Wave in the US.
We welcome back the TEDx Bristol conference next month, and are delighted to see the BrisTech developers conference added to the array of technical conferences in the region such as Intelligent Test (page 13). There is also increasing interest in various coding schemes around the city and a need for mentors and volunteers, from Digimakers <local> and Code Clubs (page 12), and GeekGirls are looking at how all this fits together (page 14)
The June newsletter for the High Tech Sector group is out now.With a preview of the VentureFest event at the Engineshed on 9th June, the latest in music technology being developed in the region and how the changing landscape of the global electronics industry is changing, there is 16 pages of activity and innovation in the region.
A tiny village outside Bath has become the first in the country to have high speed fibre broadband installed from scratch.
The village of Claverton has just 70 houses and no broadband infrastructure, so it was not on the list for broadband access, despite being in a valley just a few miles outside Bath and almost next door to the city’s world class university. One of the reasons for this is the financial modelling used by infrastructure provider Openreach, which assumes a 20% takeup of services. The cost of installing fibre across 4km to reach the village for just a few houses was uneconomic.
The residents of the village didn’t take no for an answer, and as this included several technology and telecoms executives and lecturers from the nearby University of Bath they investigated many different options over the last few years, including a mesh network over the hill to a connection point. Two years ago they started negotiations with Openreach, and part of this was to change the financial model. To do this, the village has partly funded the installation. All the houses in the village were part of the scheme, on the basis of paying what they could afford. Several home-based businesses contributed more, but access was not dependent on the contributions. Instead, this demonstrated to Openreach and service provider BT that the demand for the service was much higher than the expected 20% and as a result reduced the amount the village contributed. However, there was a clear argument that having high speed fibre broadband increased the value of their homes, and so far the uptake is 40% and rising.
Twelve fibres were installed on the aerial route alongside the copper phone cable, connecting to a new box in the village with Huawei’s termination equipment. Just one fibre is lit for broadband, and as this is shared between just 70 homes rather than the usual 200 to 300 there will not be a problem with contention. This also leaves the village well placed for the next generation G.fast rollout of speeds of 400 to 500Mbit/s in 2016 and 2017.
“We realised the high costs involved meant Claverton would not be upgraded as part of BT’s normal commercial fibre broadband roll-out for some time, so we set about working with the company to jointly solve the problem,” said Dr Rodger Sykes, chairman of software startup Thalia. “It has been hard work over three years to get to where we are today both for the residents of Claverton and the BT people involved, but we have worked together very well. Claverton residents really appreciate the benefits superfast broadband can bring and are excited at the thought that this project provides everyone in the community with the kind of speeds we could only dream about having in the past. It is significant that almost every Claverton household has made a contribution to the village’s superfast broadband fund. Because of the distance the village is from the local telephone exchange and a roadside cabinet, most residents were previously getting download speeds of less than 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps), but now our internet experience has been transformed.”
BT also invested in the project alongside Openreach. “The people of Claverton are true national trail-blazers and are setting the pace for rural communities through their collaboration with BT,” said Bill Murphy, managing director of next generation access for BT, who was at the village for the launch of the service “Elsewhere, we’re working in partnership with local authorities and communities to make high-speed broadband available in the more challenging areas of the UK. There are many examples of us doing so, but this is the first village to work with us on creating an entirely new broadband network for the local community. Given the focus on delivering superfast broadband in this region, it is no wonder the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Wellbeing report last year listed the South West as best UK region for household broadband access.”
A very interesting interview with Paul Oldham, Bristol-based regional director of the Business Growth Fund which is funded by the high street banks but independently run.
Some of its key investments have been in tech in the South West such as Corsham-based cloud IT services provider Skyscape (£4 million) and microwave smart antenna designer Sub 10 Systems (£2.5 million) in Newton Abbot. Although Sub 10 merged with Californian Fastback Networks in March this year, the fund has kept its investment in the combined venture. The new HQ will be in California and the Sub 10 site will be the new European headquarters.