Bristol information day on ENIAC innovation programme

February 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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The European ENIAC Programme launched its 4th call for proposals (ENIAC Call – 2011) on On February 23rd, and the Technology Strategy Board are investing over £1m into this year’s call. The programme is aimed at companies engaged in research or design for microelectronics, nanoelectronics, micromachined systems (MEMS), System in Package (SiP), and System on Chip (SoC) design.

To help South West companies prepare of their proposals, the Electronics Knowledge Centre, in partnership with the NMI and the Microelectronics iNet, is holding an information day in Bristol on March 17th at the University of the West of England (UWE). This event will provide companies an opportunity to learn about the ENIAC programme, how to apply, and how to find the right collaborative partners.

The event will also include the opportunity for companies to “pitch” their capability, particulary if they are looking to participate in the programme. This will be followed by a brokerage session, giving companies the opportunity to discuss project ideas during private “one to one” meetings.

March 17th

University of the West of England, Bristol
Speakers from: ENIAC JU, Technology Strategy Board, University of Sheffied, Philips BV

in association with NMI and the South West Microelectronics iNET

Registration fee: £15 + VAT (Members)

£30 + VAT (Non Members)

Click here to Register or for more details

SW Microelectronics iNet

SW innovators at heart of £18m digital collaboration project

February 23, 2011 by · 1 Comment
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The government is to invest £7 million in strategic research and development projects and ground-breaking trials to improve co-operation between infrastructure providers, content producers, users and software developers including key innovators in the South West.

Bristol research group 3C Research, computer giant HP, The Met Office in Exeter and we7 in Oxford are all part of the  Collaboration Across Digital Industries (CADI) scheme run by the Technology Strategy Board.

The investment follows a competition for funding managed by the TSB which sought to encourage new collaborations between people and organisations from areas of the online world that are looking for better ways to cooperate in delivering digital services.   The collaborators in each project will address two or more of three major challenges – developing an internet trusted by users, evolving hardware and software infrastructure, and proving new business models for digital content and services.

“Co-operation between infrastructure providers, content producers, users and software developers is vital if we are to extract true economic value from the Internet,” asid Nick Appleyard, the Technology Strategy Board’s Head of Digital. “Such   innovative, collaborative thinking will help to create a world-leading platform for UK business in the future and will allow the UK’s digital economy to grow and thrive.”

Other companies running project include AIMES Grid Services CIC, Avanti Communications, Cybula, Mirriad, Steepest Ascent and Totally Radio.  The total value of all the projects, including contributions by the industrial partners involved, is £13.75 million.

The CADI funding competition will see a total of £18 million invested by the Technology Strategy Board over 12 months with a second round of funding will open in March 2011.

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New collaboration updates

February 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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New collaborative opportunities are available

Bristol Robotics Lab to host Robot World Cup

February 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Bristol is to host the world’s most advanced autonomous robots next year at the FIRA RoboWorld Cup 2012.

The competition will take place at the Bristol Robotics Lab (BRL), a collaboration between the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England, from 20-25 August 2012.

The FIRA RoboWorld Cup, founded in 1996, is a way of inspiring interest in robotics and through the competition, teams are encouraged to develop systems and build on their scientific and engineering skills. Technology developed for the tournament requires a holistic view, combining mechanical, electronic and software engineering, integrating advanced AI, automated control and image processing technology.

Alongside the games, a major scientific conference, the FIRA/TAROS Congress, will bring together the leading experts in robotics in the UK and worldwide. BRL won a competitive bid to host these events as the largest multi-disciplinary robotics facility in the UK with an international reputation in advanced robotics research.

The tournament includes several events:

  • MiroSot, a micro-robot soccer tournament, using teams of miniature robots;
  • SimuroSot, a simulated soccer tournament played on computers; and
  • HuroSot, a five-a-side soccer game played by humanoid robots, which have two legs and mimic human movement. The robots are up to 150 cm high and weigh up to 30 kg. The pitch measures approx 430 cm by 350 cm.

“We are really excited to win this bid to host these two events,” said Dr Guido Herrmann, conference chair and Senior Lecturer in Dynamics and Control in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bristol. “The robot games are a way of encouraging younger researchers to get involved in something that will test their abilities and show what autonomous robots can do. Teams work together to design and build the robots, and by pooling their knowledge in this challenge they are able to push the boundaries of robotics.

“BRL have already formed a team to take part in HuroSot, made up of students and staff and they will be working on the design of their robots over the next 18 months,” he added. “We are looking forward to welcoming teams from around the world, and welcoming the world’s leading experts in robotics to Bristol in 2012.”

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SW hosts Sustainable Design conference

February 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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A landmark conference on Sustainable Design and what it means for their business and industry as a whole is being held in the SouthWest. It will be a key opportunity for designers, businesses and the public sector to fully understand what sustainable design is, how it can be harnessed, how design professionals can extract maximum benefit from it, and how to communicate this value to clients.

The Somerset Design Enterprise Network is hosting the Sustainable Business by Design conference on 22nd March 2011, at Somerset College,  run in association with the Creative Industries iNet and also funded by The Design Programme, Design Council, Somerset Design Enterprise Network, South West Design Forum, Arts Council, ADK Design, Business Link and Exeter College.

Speaking at the event will be a range of industry experts, including David Kester, Chief Executive of the Design Council, and Mark Shayler, Design Advisor & Eco-Designer, as well as Lynne Elvins, a Design Consultant and Advisor on Sustainable Innovation and John Boult, Associate Professor Design Strategy at Brunel University and Designer.

“Somerset & the South West has a vibrant business and design community, and its clear that early adoption of sustainability can provide a competitive advantage and offer commercial opportunities,” said Andrew Knutt, Chair of the Somerset Design Enterprise Network. “Design plays a key role in helping industry achieve this and our ‘Sustainable Business by Design’ programme will explore and demonstrate how organisations can improve their brands, products, processes and services.”

To register attendance and find out more information please visit

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Turing Centre report highlights lack of information

February 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Boost for SW Innovation News

One key finding of today’s report into the £200m development of Turing Centres is the lack of information for small and medium sized businesses, which SW Innovation News was set up to tackle.

“One other concern was the lack of knowledge in the business world regarding existing UK capabilities,” says the report. “Businesses will benefit from an online catalogue, maintained by the TSB, of centres that are ready and willing to work with business, in particular SMEs, in specific technology areas.”

This approach has been tried before with the Faraday Partnerships and the KTN Directories but has had limited success.

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Turing Centres to drive UK innovation

February 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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A network of Technology Innovation Centres took a step forward with a government report that recommends they are named Turing Centres after the British mathematician and ‘father’ of computing, Alan Turing.

The scheme will be managed by the Technology Strategy Board to create six to eight centres, each backed with up to £10m a year and based on existing areas of expertise.

The TSB is looking at areas such as:

  • High value manufacturing;
  • Energy and resource efficiency;
  • Transport systems;
  • Healthcare;
  • ICT; and
  • Electronics, photonics and electrical systems.

While the centres would be based on existing research centres in areas of critical mass, there is a risk that centres that do not become part of the network could fail. “We expect that some existing research centres that are part funded by the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) may become a part of new Technology and Innovation Centres (TICs), but many will not,” said the report. “There is a risk of losing much of the expertise built up with public resources over recent years. The Government should have, by now, set out further details of what will be done to support existing centres that are losing RDA money in March 2011. The Government should ensure that in the short-term any changes do not reduce the overall research and development spend in the regions. In the long-term it should be the Government’s objective to increase the overall research and development spend at both the regional and national level.”

The Turing Centres will provide small and medium sized businesses with access to world-leading technology and expertise, as well as reach into the knowledge base for world-leading science and engineering and be able to undertake collaborative applied research projects with business, particularly small companies.

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picoChip powers next generation small cellular basestations

February 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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A chip and software from picoChip in Bath are being used for a new next generation small cell basestation developed by Airspan of the US.
The picoArray technology has been used to implement LTE and other wireless processing in Airspan’s new multi-standard ‘small cell’ basestation, the AirSynergy. This provides high-performance data capacity to densely populated urban hotspots for the next generation LTE phones and is easy to deploy in metropolitan areas on buildings, strand-mounted from utility poles or on lamp posts.
AirSynergy is designed for deployment at “non-telco” locations such as city centers and business districts. With a small size and embedded wireless backhaul/relay through Airspan’s iBridge system, AirSynergy is aimed at rapid and cost-effective deployment in sites where traditional base stations cannot deliver the capacity required.
“LTE carriers need to fill service gaps in their networks with small cell base stations, such as AirSynergy, to deliver the promised download speeds and capacity to their customers. Picochip is helping us to make this possible,” said Paul Senior, CTO, Airspan. “We needed a cost-effective solution with low power consumption and high RF performance; Picochip, as a leading technology supplier for small cells, was the obvious choice.”
Picochip recently also made the first announcement of end-to-end interoperability between an LTE femtocell and commercially available user equipment (UEs), in partnership with Wavesat and Continuous Computing.

“This year will see the femtocell market expand from its foundations in residential applications, to include metropolitan and rural deployment, in 3G and LTE,” said Nigel Toon, CEO of Picochip. “Airspan’s selection of Picochip for LTE is a strong validation of our leadership and a continuation of our long standing relationship. For LTE to deliver its potential, the network must be optimized around high performance small cells, with a dense deployment of cost-effective solutions like AirSynergy.”

SW Microelectronics iNet

Bristol appoints its first Business Fellows to build links with industry

February 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Research and Enterprise Development at the University of Bristol has announced its first Business Fellows – five research scientists at Bristol who will take the lead in supporting a culture of collaboration between academics and industry.

The first Business Fellows are:

Dr Jenny Jennings in Veterinary Pathology and Infection and Immunity, Faculty of Medical and Veterinary Sciences

Simon Mcintosh-Smith in the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering

Dr Tom Scott in the Interface Analysis Centre, Faculty of Science

Dr Bo Su in the School of Oral and Dental Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Dr David Matthews in the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medical and Veterinary Sciences

Fellows are expected to commit half a day a week to the role, supporting their colleagues and stimulating business collaborations in ways that do not impact on their teaching, research and administrative work. The University has been working with London Technology Network (LTN) which has experience in helping science-based university researchers to increase their interactions with business. The new Fellowships involve intensive training and mentoring provided by LTN, who will also facilitate interactions with industry around specific projects.

Bristol Fellows will take part in training programmes and activities alongside researchers from other universities in the spring of 2011.

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Work starts on Large Animal Centre

February 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Work is starting on a state-of-the-art surgical facility for the treatment of large animals such as sick horses and farm animals, which will be unique to the region and will provide the best possible medical and surgical treatment for all patients as well as researching new procedures and approaches.

The Large Animal Centre, to be known as the Alborada Building, is part of the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences at Langford. The Donkey Sanctuary, a UK based charity working to improve conditions for donkeys and mules internationally, have provided the funding for the internal work of the Large Animal Centre.

The new surgical facility, as well as treating sick horses and farm animals, will also provide space for teaching advanced clinical techniques to an increasing number of undergraduate and postgraduate students. The investigation, diagnosis and treatment of patients at the Large Animal Centre have several important welfare considerations and the collective clinical expertise provides a central referral service to practitioners.

“The Large Animal Centre will house surgical and treatment facilities that will be unique to the region and confirm the University’s Veterinary School as a centre of excellence for the treatment and care of horses and farm animals, the training of undergraduate and postgraduate veterinary surgeons, and the development of welfare research,” said Professor Jo Price, Head of the School of Veterinary Sciences. “The wider horse and farm animal population also has much to gain from the development of clinical facilities and expertise at the new centre.”

University of Exeter joins SETsquared

February 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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A key strength of the Southwest, the SETsquared Partnership of the Universities of Bristol, Bath, Surrey and Southampton, has been joined by the University of Exeter.
SETsquared is one of the UK’s most successful and long-running university-enterprise collaborations and runs innovation and enterprise centres across the region, developing routes to market for academic research, raising investment and creating jobs through its support for high-tech, high-growth early stage companies – both university spin-outs and companies in the wider community. Over the last five years the Partnership has supported around 650 companies, helped raise more than £150m in capital and created over 1,000 new jobs.
Exeter already has solid links with Bristol and Bath. Its activity in climate change, functional materials, systems biology and translational medicine adds strength to the Partnership’s research base. Exeter also has strong networks and support facilities for high-tech companies and will be a proactive partner in SETsquared’s incubation and business-creation agenda.

The SETsquared Partnership has nearly 7,500 academics at the five universities, which are jointly responsible for nearly nine per cent of the UK’s research budget.

“In these difficult times, the contribution universities make to the economy is key. The SETsquared Partnership has been very effective and expanding our membership will strengthen the role we can play. Exeter is an outstanding research-based university and is strongly engaged with the business community. It is an excellent fit with SETsquared’s existing members,” said Neil Bradshaw, Director of Enterprise at the University of Bristol and a member of the SETsquared Management Group.

“It is excellent news that the University of Exeter has now decided to become a member.  It produces outstanding research and is strongly engaged with its regional business community,” said Ron Humphreys, Director of Bath Ventures. “We look forward to working together to bring further beneficial impact to the economy and wider society through our business support facilities and our combined research portfolio.”

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Bristol engineering students receive prestigious awards from Boeing

February 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Six students from the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering have been awarded prizes from global aerospace giant Boeing for their innovation in integrated aerospace systems.

Bridget White and Joshua Shimmin both received scholarships for their final year of study whilst James Wilcox, Samantha Huntley, Sky Sartorius and Ben Buxton all received awards for their final projects which ranged from intelligent vehicles to fluid mechanics, helicopter design and ultrasound radio echoes.

“These students have excelled and are worthy winners of these awards.  They have demonstrated the significant prerequisites for becoming the engineering leaders of the future,” said Shane Bennison, Director of Engineering for Boeing Defence UK and the company link for the University of Bristol.

One of the winners, James Wilcox, was awarded the best MEng project in Electrical and Electronic Engineering for his project entitled ‘Fully autonomous Scalextric vehicle using MEMS inertial sensors’.

Dr Mike Barton, project supervisor and Senior Lecturer in Microelectronics in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, said: “James designed and built instrumentation to be mounted inside a Scalextric car to allow it autonomously to negotiate a track at optimum speed while transmitting telemetry data via Bluetooth – and he achieved a working demonstration on time.”

Professor Nick Lieven, Dean of Engineering, added: “Once again our students have shown that they are highly capable individuals who have demonstrated a talent for engineering.  They are without doubt amongst the best engineering graduates in the world and it is to their credit that they have been recognised for their achievements during their studies.”

The awards were funded by Boeing along with a contribution to support the student robot test arena and the University of Bristol Aeolus wind powered car project.   The support to these students, facilities and projects are hugely important to help inspire the interest of future students and ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of advanced engineering.

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SW company drives mobile multimedia on the new Samsung Galaxy tablet

February 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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A chip and system developer in Chippenham is providing the technology for a new generation of mobile multimedia on the latest smartphones and tablet PCs from Samsung being shown at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.

IPWireless, which has over 100 engineers in the region,  has teamed up with US company AmDocs to run various multimedia applications on the Samsung Galaxy S phone and Galaxy Tab tablet PC, which are both running the Android operating system.

The technology, called Integrated Mobile Broadcast (IMB), has been endorsed by the GSMA and means mobile operators can use dormant 3G spectrum by overlaying a highly economical content delivery network on top of their existing 3G network. IMB-enabled networks bypass increasingly congested and allow popular content and applications to be streamed simultaneously to an unlimited number of devices: approximately 40,000 short form videos, 44,000 full length music tracks, 1,700 TV shows, or over 100,000 video advertisements can be sent in a single day. However, it needs a new generation of technology to do this, and IPWireless is working with companies such as Amdocs and ST-Ericsson, which has chip design in Bristol,  to develop the whole system. Meanwhile operators Vodafone in Newbury and Orange in Bristol and O2 in Slough are running trials of the technology which could allow video to be sent to phones and tablets more cost effectively.

The company has some good connections already – last month it launched a ‘dongle’ for the Apple iPhone and iPad to connect to such services. It also last year set up a research lab in Chippenham with Sony America.

“IMB has the potential to deliver the multimedia experience consumers want at an economic model that makes sense for operators,” said Rebecca Prudhomme, vice president of product and solutions marketing at Amdocs.  “Amdocs and IPWireless bring advanced application features that enable service providers to move beyond Mobile TV and offer innovative and intelligent new broadcast services that will lead to an enhanced consumer experience.”

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SW grants re-open

February 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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The Grant for Business Investment (GBI) scheme has reopened to applications in the SouthWest after an announcement that they would close to new applications from 1st February.

The Grant for Business Investment is a discretionary grant that supports businesses with investment projects which will increase productivity, skills and employment. It is specifically targeted at those businesses with high skills and salaries that contribute above industry average benefits to the economy and does not support projects which offer a purely local consumer-type service, so should be aimed at innovative technology projects, although the focus seems to be more on capital equipment.

In the South West GBI grants are funded by the European Regional Development Fund (which is also backing the iNets), and the outgoing South West RDA has applied for and received its own State Aid notification enabling it to continue to receive applications for the time being. This is not the case anywhere else in the country, says SWRDA

“We have worked hard and very closely with the Department for BIS and the European Commission and the decision to reopen GBI is a real boost to the region and will be supported by many small and medium sized businesses throughout the South West,” said Richard Hoskin, SWRDA’s Business Investment Manager.

For most of the SouthWest outside Cornwall, applications are for 20% of the capital costs of the project for a small company (under 50 people) and 10% for a medium sized company (up to 250 people) and can range from £10,000 to £1m. Details are here.

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SW Microelectronics iNet

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Ubiquisys drives femtocells forward

February 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Ubiquisys in Swindon is providing the technology behind 20 new femtocells at this year’s Mobile World Congress. The new femotcells – small 3G basestations that can be used in the home and to help improve coverage – include home units with integrated Wi-Fi and applications, units for the office that form self-organising networks (SON), and outdoor models that can bring coverage to rural areas via satellite and extra capacity in metropolitan environments.

They all use the Ubiquisys Femto-Engine system which allows hardware makers to produce many different designs based on the same software, and the technology is now deployed in volume by several mobile operators across the world, including SoftBank Mobile in Japan and by SFR in France.

“The key value in femtocells is their intelligence, not their miniaturisation. This intelligence, the ability to listen and make autonomous decisions in real-time, opens the door to a new generation of low-cost cells of all sizes that actively complement traditional macro networks,” said Chris Gilbert, CEO of Ubiquisys. “By encapsulating that intelligence in software, we have released a wave of innovation from leading device manufacturers as they work with operators on new femtocells for new environments.  This is just the start of the proliferation of intelligent femtocell technology.”

Public Wireless in the US is demonstrating six outdoor small cell platforms with the Femto-engine, while Ubiquisys partner and investor SerComm has developed 15 distinct models, covering residential and integrated devices, enterprise, metro and rural. Femtocells developed by the two companies have already been commercially deployed in hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses. The range includes 8-call standalone residential models, femtocells integrated into home gateways, USB clip-on femtocells and 16-call enterprise versions with extended range.  Another box maker, Tecom in Taiwan, has shown the first model in its femtocell roadmap. The FT1020 residential femtocell supports eight individual calls and high speed data up to 14.4Mbit/s while using less than 5W of power.

SW Microelectronics iNet

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Spacecraft that think for themselves

February 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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The world’s first control system that will allow engineers to programme autonomous satellites and spacecraft to think for themselves has been developed by scientists from the University of Southampton.
Professor Sandor Veres and his team of engineers have developed a cognitive software agent control system called ‘sysbrain’ that uses natural language programming (NLP) to ‘read’ special English language technical documents on control methods. This gives the vehicles advanced guidance, navigation and feedback capabilities to stop them crashing into other objects, as well as agent-based control with mission execution capabilities and the ability to recognise and reconfigure faults. This approach can be applied to other automated systems.
“This is the world’s first publishing system of technical knowledge for machines and opens the way for engineers to publish control instructions to machines directly,” said Professor Veres, who is leading the EPSRC-funded project. “As well as spacecrafts and satellites, this innovative technology is transferable to other types of autonomous vehicles, such as autonomous underwater, ground and aerial vehicles.”
To test the control systems that could be applied in a space environment, Professor Veres and his team constructed a unique test facility and a fleet of satellite models, which are controlled by the sysbrain cognitive agent control system.  The ‘Autonomous Systems Testbed’ consists of a glass covered precision level table, surrounded by a metal framework, which is used to mount overhead visual markers, observation cameras and isolation curtains to prevent any external light sources interfering with experimentation. Visual navigation is performed using onboard cameras to observe the overhead marker system located above the test area. This replicates how spacecraft would use points in the solar system to determine their orientation.
“We have invented sysbrain to control intelligent machines. Sysbrain is a special breed of software agents with unique features such as natural language programming to create them, human-like reasoning, and most importantly they can read special English language documents in ‘system English’ or ‘sEnglish’,” said Professor Veres. “Human authors of sEnglish documents can put them on the web as publications and sysbrain can read them to enhance their physical and problem solving skills. This allows engineers to write technical papers directly for sysbrain that control the machines.”

NLP programming of spacecraft

SW Microelectronics iNet

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MITIE launches £10m fund for entrepreneurs

February 10, 2011 by · 1 Comment
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Support for innovation can come from unexpected places. Bristol-based outsourcing conglomerate MITIE has launched a £10m fund to help entrepreneurs with good ideas get customers.

Better known for cleaning windows and hospitals and gritting roads, the company has helped create 90 business over the last 23 years with only five failures, says John Telling, group corporate affairs director and nephew of the founder. MITIE  takes a 51% share and the businesses can access the groups 26,00o customers.  The group is particularly targetting information technology and new systems to increase the efficiency of managing the different companies.

“With a rapidly changing landscape in the UK public sector, the fund will be particularly targeted at teams that have considerable public sector experience and innovative business ideas to support the Government’s focus on efficiency and deficit reduction,” said the company, although there are definitely opportunities for private sector entrepreneurs as well, says Telling.

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INets collaborate in Innovation Lab

February 10, 2011 by · 1 Comment
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The five new iNets in the SouthWest have collaborted in an Innovation Lab to identify four key projects to support.

The four projects are:

  • ‘SwapShop’: developing an online space for sharing ideas and building trust and familiarity
  • ‘Action Not Talk’: an online space to develop relationships and proactively support projects
  • ‘Low Carbon OneStopShop’: collating information about the commercial benefits of implementing low carbon projects within companies, particularly small ones, and taking this on the road across the region
  • ‘SME Skunkworks’: Finding ways to help small companies make time for innovative thinking

All five iNets will be supporting the projects in different ways and making use of their companies’ expertise to take them forwards.

SW Microelectronics iNet

INets launch to stimulate SW innovation

February 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
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Five iNets have been officially launched in the SouthWest to encourage innovation. The five cover Microelectronics, Biomedical, Environmental Technologies, Aerospace and Advanced Engineering and Creative Industries, and one of the aims is to have more cross-disciplinary working (see Innovation Lab story).

“It’s very easy for small companies to be left behind in innovation,” said Baroness Hanham, undersecretary of state for Communities and Local Government which oversees the European funding in the projects. “We are very good in this country at innovation and then hiding it under a stone and there is so much innovation going on here.”

The iNets are backed by £12.5m from the outgoing South West Regional Development Agency, £6.1m from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and other partner investments.

“We are committed to creating real opportunities for people in the South West, and it is easy to see from the entrepreneurs and businesses what a difference a support network like this can make to the local economy,” said Baroness Hanham. “The iNets project is helping local businesses realise their potential through sharing expertise and knowledge and opening up life-changing opportunities for many people.”

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Imaging beauty down to 1nm in Bristol

February 9, 2011 by · 1 Comment
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Scientists at the University of Bristol now have a new tool that will yield yet more and unprecedented levels of information without disturbing the physical state of the object under scrutiny.

Monmorillonite particles, cut apart to reveal that one of them is hollow.

Physicists at Bristol’s Interface Analysis Centre have been using the Helios dualbeam instrument, which “unlocks the key to a whole new world,” says Centre Director Dr Tom Scott. The dualbeam looks at surface structures with a resolution of less than a nanometre – the equivalent of ten millionths of the thickness of a human hair.  The resolution of the images produced is just one nanometre, one millionth of a millimetre.

The dualbeam uses a focused ion beam (FIB) and a high spec field emission scanning electron microscope (SEM) with gallium ions derived from a liquid metal ion source that are directed at the surface in a tightly controlled beam . The ion beam can be precisely controlled to remove material from tightly defined areas – essentially performing micro and even nano-surgery on almost any material.

Unlike other techniques used for dissecting materials, the dualbeam can extract information and capture images without causing any detectable damage except over a tiny area.  It can also deposit materials such as gold and platinum, known for their conductivity, on to the surface structure, providing insights into the composition and behaviour of materials.

For physicists looking for quantum wells, biologists looking at the structure of membranes in the ears of tree crickets, and engineers keen to understand the nanostructure of exotic alloys, the dualbeam is invaluable.

A nano-wire made using ion beam milling for gas sensing applications. It also happens to look like a small-scale version of the Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol

“It makes things possible which were previously considered impossible, it’s at the heart of what makes science beautiful,” says Dr Scott.  “It can do things in such a precisely defined way to such a high degree of accuracy that it really is incredible.  In fact, it’s difficult to comprehend just how small a scale this thing works on.”

Some of the project proposals under consideration that would make use of the dualbeam include an examination of the ears of Indian tree crickets, where the dualbeam could be used to slice and view in three dimensions reconstructions of cricket ears.  The findings could ultimately inform medical advancements in hearing devices for humans.

The dualbeam could also be used in quantum cryptography, to devise ways of transmitting messages in a way that is resistant to attempts to tap into the source, using emitters constructed from a single photonic light source so small and so intricately encoded as to be virtually undetectable.

In biochemistry, researchers are looking at making actuators – “gold sandwiches” with a polymer filling which could swim through the bloodstream, collecting information that could be used to inform medical approaches to human disease.

Dr Scott is keen to seek out other collaborations that will test the boundaries of every discipline:  “The dualbeam instrument is a clear example of the University’s commitment to groundbreaking developments in research,” he said. “If we are going to be the leaders in the UK and internationally in terms of research we need to be pushing the boundaries of what is technically possible, and this new piece of equipment will certainly enable us to do that.”

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