US microcontroller maker Microchip is in talks about acquiring CSR (Cambridge Silicon Radio) which recently opened its expanded WiFi design centre in Bristol
The first offer was rejected and Microchip has until 25th September to finalise any deal.
CSR developed a very interesting mesh overlay for Bluetooth that allows smartphones and tablets to easily control many Bluetooth devices in the Internet of Things.
Microchip uses the MIPS cores from Imagination Technologies (also with a design centre in Bristol) while CSR uses the XAP and ARM processors so there would be an interesting mix of technologies. Microchip’s recent acquisitions include flash memory maker Silicon Storage Technology (SST) and WiFi specialist ZeroG in 2010 as well as networking chip maker SMSC in 2012. Microchip also announced a deal in May with Taiwanese Bluetooth chip maker ISSC Technologies that will close in the third quarter this year.
The £125m centre will recruit 30 high-calibre R&D employees and focus on researching ICT chips, software, and analogue chip technology. This is to complement its existing Ipswich-based optoelectronics R&D office. All together, the number of UK-based R&D jobs will increase to 140 by the end of 2014, and as previously announced will reach 300 by 2017. The new Bristol R&D centre is expected to open later this year.
” The UK is forward-thinking, progressive, and fosters innovation,” said Guo Ping, Huawei Rotating and Acting CEO. “This creativity is a major asset to our R&D efforts and gives us the perfect platform to continue pioneering the new, ground-breaking technologies that are building the future. We are committed to working with our customers and partners in the UK to leverage our global presence and customer-centric approach to innovation, bringing value to the UK ICT industry and helping its products and technologies go global.” Huawei first opened its operations in the UK in 2001 and now has 15 offices and over 900 employees in the UK, planned to rise to 1,500 by 2017.
Huawei has set up 18 joint customer development centres across Europe and now has over 7,700 staff in the region.
“The ancient ‘Silk Road’ connected China and Europe for the first time. Today, the ‘Silicon Road’ of the ICT industry makes the connection even closer,” said William Xu, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer. “Europe enjoys a long tradition of innovation and has high-calibre talents and open business opportunities. As a key player in Europe’s innovation ecosystem, Huawei has been jointly innovating and openly collaborating with carriers, partners, and academic institutions to achieve win-win outcomes. These initiatives have improved the competitiveness of the ICT industry in Europe and support EU Commission’s objective of building a single digital market and to create a better connected Europe.”
“Huawei now has over 7,700 employees in Europe, 850 of which are engaged in R&D activities. In the next five years, Huawei will hire 5,500 additional employees in Europe and the number of R&D employees increasing to more than 1,700,” he added.
Currently Huawei has established 28 customer centres around the world, 18 of which are located in Europe, in areas such as wireless access, network communications technologies, business support systems, energies, and industry solutions. Vodafone, BT and other leading carriers granted Huawei several innovation awards based on these JICs.
“Technology is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK, which is why I am determined to make Britain the centre of tech industries,” said George Osborne, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer. “When I went to China, I visited the Huawei headquarters and met with CEO and Founder, Mr Ren, to highlight the opportunities in Britain. I am delighted that today Huawei are announcing a new R&D centre in the UK. The decision of the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker to innovate in Britain is testament to the outstanding quality of our highly skilled workforce and further evidence that our long term economic plan is working.”
Pulsic shows first complete automated layout tool for transistor-level analogue and custom digital designs
Bristol-based design tool developer Pulsic has launched a patent-pending technology that for the first time creates multiple electrically-correct layouts directly from schematics, allowing designers to quickly explore multiple results concurrently.
The company is demonstrating the Animate tool for the first time at the Design Automation Conference in San Francisco this week.
Existing approaches to automating analogue and custom digital integrated circuit (IC) designs have attempted to improve on portions of the design flow, but have not managed to generate “manual-quality” layout without significant user intervention. Pulsic has drawn on over a decade of experience helping leading-edge customers such as memory chip designers with physical design challenges to deliver a completely automated solution that overcomes the problem for analogue and custom-design layout.
Animate is the first complete automated layout system built from the ground up for transistor-level analogue and custom-digital design. It offers designers a simple, easy-to-use layout solution that delivers multiple layouts from a schematic using automatic constraint extraction and considers place and route concurrently, producing optimal-quality results. Animate automatically generates constraints based on netlist topology analysis, eliminating the need for time-consuming manual constraint entry and management.
Unlike any other analogue layout system, Animate uses a novel patent-pending technology it calls PolyMorphic Layout with a database and algorithmic architecture that derives many potential layout variations for a design. These variations crystallize into multiple, complete, DRC/LVS-correct layouts in minutes. Designers can explore these complete layout options in a fraction of the time needed to produce just a single layout option by hand. As Animate produces layout results quickly, parasitics are available for simulation early in the design process, further speeding the entire design cycle. Animate places and routes simultaneously, ensuring that each process is informed by the other and that “manual-quality” results are achieved.
“As geometries shrink, and as leading-edge processes such as FinFETS reach the market, manual analogue design is no longer sufficient,” said Mark Williams, co-founder and CEO of Pulsic. “To get routable placement, you need to know what the routing will look like, but if you place and then route, you can’t know this. As DRC rules increase, iterations between layout and design are becoming onerous, but with Animate, you can generate multiple layouts, extract them all, and then choose the optimal one for the desired performance criteria. A much bigger problem space can be explored, with better results”
Designers can use Animate at an early design stage, with minimal constraints, to explore possible layout architectures and extract early parasitics for simulation of layout-dependent effects (LDE). This approach can also provide far more accurate analogue block/design size estimation during floorplanning than has ever previously been possible.
With Animate, transistor-level designers gain not only the productivity of automation, but also the ability to explore many more design options, faster than ever before. The final result is comparable to that of an expert manual layout, but is produced in a fraction of the time.
More details are on the datasheet (registration required)
Bristol and Bath is providing £2m to boost silicon and high tech startups.
Twelve startups and small companies in the region have been awarded close to £2m ($3m) from the West of England Growth Fund, with Blu Wireless Technology awarded £1m for its 60GHz programmable IP development. The Growth Fund administers UK and European matched funds for the region and has already awarded £11.85m to SME companies.
All the companies are in the Bristol or Bath centres of the SETsquared incubator.
Bath businesses receiving funding include app developer neighbourly (£94k), Clean Energy (£27k), Citeab (£26k), Tivarri , Envolve Technologies (£132k) and CloudFind (£90k).
”I’m delighted that our companies have benefited from this investment by the West of England Growth Fund – the grants will now leverage additional multi-million pound private investments into these companies,” said Simon Bond, Centre Director of Bath SETsquared and the University of Bath Innovation Centre.
Members of the Bristol SETsquared Centre in receipt of awards are Digital TV Labs (£233k), Blue Speck Financial (£220k), AptCore (£80k), Nanoscope Services (£40k) and SecondSync (£100k).
“Bristol and Bath has some fantastic tech businesses – in software, internet technology, electronics, semiconductor, biotech and across all sorts of sectors. These awards will make a massive impact into jobs growth here – and SETsquared has a track record of businesses growing steadily without failing, so these are high-value, sustainable jobs,” said Nick Sturge, Bristol SETsquared Director.
Paul Wilson, chief executive of the West of England LEP, says: “Through this fund we have already invested around £14m, which has attracted more than £41 million of private sector investment into the local economy, creating or safeguarding over 1,500 jobs. High tech is a significant area of growth for us – we already compete internationally and our region is nurturing a future generation of high tech businesses.”
Bristol-based wireless startup Blu Wireless Technology has closed a $3.1 million (£2m) funding round to customise and productise its chip design for the next generation of high speed wireless connections.
The funding will allow the company to double in size to 30 staff, and complete the development of its HYDRA programmable baseband IP that supports both 802.11ad next generation WiFi (WiGig CERTIFIED) and 4G mobile network backhaul applications that use the 60GHz frequency band rather than today’s 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, giving much higher speed links.
The funding round was lead by Qi3 Accelerator, who represented a syndicate of over $1.5m (£1m) of London Business Angels private investors, including Wren Capital. A further $0.9 million (£0.6m) was invested by the Angel Co-Fund, several additional investors made up the remainder.
Blu Wireless’s baseband technology uses a programmable parallel processing architecture to efficiently support the complex modulation schemes required for emerging multi-gigabit wireless communication standards. The IP is currently optimised for chipsets used in both advanced WiFi and 4G small cell deployments, and can be simply scaled to support the anticipated future standards as they move to 20Gbps and beyond.
The firm is already working with several of the world’s leading chip and system companies in these markets, says CEO Henry Nurser with the same customers using the IP for both 802.11ad and for wireless backhaul. The IP will be sold under license agreement to chipset manufacturers that compete in, or want to enter, markets that exploit the unlicensed 60GHz frequency band.
“With the completion of this funding round, we will be executing our plan to become the leading supplier of baseband system IP to manufacturers in the 60GHz sector,” said Nurser.
“This is a very exciting sector and we are convinced Blu Wireless will be a global leader in 60GHz technology,” said Tim de Vere Green of London-based Qi3 who will also join the board. “We believe 60GHz applications in both consumer WiGig and telecoms backhaul are set for rapid growth, and Blu Wireless is already working with several of the world’s leading Semiconductor companies in these markets. The thorough due diligence we have conducted has given us great confidence in the team’s technical and management capabilities, as well as their deep knowledge of their target markets.”
Prof Peter Higgs, the scientist who gave his name to the Higgs boson or ‘God particle’, is to be awarded the freedom of the city of Bristol.
The retired Edinburgh University physicist – who went to Cotham Grammar School - predicted the existence of the subatomic particle, which is thought to have been detected by the Large Hadron Collider last year. The school was visited by Prof Higgs in May last year and he will be recognised for his work at a ceremony this week.
“I think it is a wonderful thing and it is great that Bristol has recognised somebody who is clearly an original and creative scientist,” said Dr Malcolm Willis, headteacher at Cotham School.
Almost 40 years after Prof Higgs wrote two scientific papers on his theory, the discovery of a new particle that fitted the description of the elusive Higgs was announced at Cern in Geneva.
Dr Joel Goldstein, from the Cern project and a University of Bristol physicist, said: “Peter Higgs made some very important contributions to fundamental physics in the 1960s and his work really underpinned our current understanding of the way that the fundamental laws of nature work.
“Every physics student in their final year as an undergraduate or when they become a graduate student, learns about the theory that Higgs and his colleagues developed and everyone learns about the particle, so he is one of those big names that everyone has to know about. As a UK citizen, as a Bristolian and as a physicist, I am really very proud of what Higgs achieved and the recognition he is getting.”
Bristol was also the birth place of another famous physicist, Paul Dirac (1902-1984) who was born in the city and developed a key equiation for quantum mechanics.
ST to close its former Inmos design centre Bristol site
Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) is part of a new £1.2m project which aims to ensure future robotic systems can be trusted by humans.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is funding the three-and-a-half-year project, which will explore how robots interact with humans in a safe and trustworthy manner.
Robots are increasingly being developed to serve as active ‘helpers’ in situations where humans require assistance, such as personal care robots which help patients during recovery.
Although there has been some research carried out on safety of robotic assistants during interaction with humans, it is still crucial to understand not only whether the robot makes safe moves, but whether it knowingly or deliberately makes unsafe moves.
If human-robot teamwork is to become viable and productive, the humans involved must be fully confident in the robot’s behaviour.
Experts from BRL, a collaborative partnership between UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol, will work with industry partners and colleagues at the Universities of Liverpool and Hertfordshire on the “Trustworthy Robotic Assistants” (TRA) project.
Bristol University’s Dr Kerstin Eder, the principal investigator for the TRA project at the BRL and Leader of the Verification & Validation for Safety in Robots research theme at the same institute, said: “Safety assurance of robots is an urgent research challenge that must be addressed before many products that already exist in labs can be unlocked for mass production. This requires collaboration of verification experts with roboticists and those who specialize in human-robot interaction, so that a human-centric, holistic approach to safety assurance can be developed.”
‘BERT’, one of the robotic platforms being used on the project, was developed as part of a research project on Cooperative Human Robot Interactive Systems, at BRL. BERT has been used to examine manufacturing scenarios in which BERT collaborated with human colleagues to complete manufacturing tasks, including dynamic component handovers and product manufacture. BERT is based at BRL’s custom robot test and evaluation facility, at UWE Bristol.
Professor Tony Pipe, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at UWE Bristol, said: “Working on this new research project with colleagues across the UK will enable us to tackle the crucial issue of developing robotic systems which can work safely with humans. This is a vital step in developing robots for a whole range of functions for the future, where they will be useful to humans.”
The project involves teams from the University of Liverpool’s Centre for Autonomous Systems Technology (led by Professor Michael Fisher and Dr Clare Dixon), the University of Hertfordshire’s Adaptive Systems Research Group (led by Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn), the BRL, as well as industrial partners, including the British Automation and Robot Association (BARA) and RU Robots Limited.
Professor Michael Fisher, principal investigator at Liverpool and Director of the University’s Centre for Autonomous Systems Technology, said: “The assessment of robotic trustworthiness has many facets, from the safety analysis of robot behaviours, through physical reliability of interactions, to human perceptions of such safe operation.”
Liverpool’s researchers are internationally recognised for their research on logic, formal analysis, and the foundations of autonomy and, both within the multidisciplinary Centre for Autonomous Systems Technology and within the “Trustworthy Robotic Assistants” project, their role is to provide a rigorous formal basis for developing reliable, safe and trustworthy autonomous systems.
A new publication is now covering the high tech activities in the wider Bristol and Bath region from the Future Smart City to the latest chip developments.
HighTech News comes from the High Tech Sector group of the West of England Local Economic Partnership (LEP). The group supports the wide range of activities in microelectronics and embedded software and systems and feeds back into the LEP that determines the wider strategies for growth and development in the region. The West of England is the only LEP to have a group specifically focussed on technology, demonstrating the strength and skills in the region.
The six page February issue covers new funding for Future City developments, as well as a proposed £24m growth fund for innovation in the region. New technology centres are being set up by power company TDK-Lambda and subsea technology from GE. Bristol silicon chip maker XMOS is now supplying the widest range of multicore microcontrollers in the industry, while the Universities of Bath and Exeter are collaborating in a joint graphene research centre.
High Tech News is published by SW Innovation News.
While Bristol lost out to Glasgow for the Future City demonstrator project, the TSB judges rated the city’s bid very highly, so much so that they have awarded a £3m ‘runners-up’ prize.
“While there is some disappointment that we did not gain the main prize, Bristol is now the only city in the UK to have won funding from Government to be both a Super Connected City and a Future City.” said Mayor George Ferguson. “Bringing these awards together gives us a pot of nearly £15m with which we can move really quickly to lever-in additional funding and support from business to help deliver our plans.”
“We are fast becoming the UK’s creative capital, a city of experimentation and a city that offers a warm welcome,” he said. “Our achievement in beating more than 30 other cities to win government funding for Future Cities is testament to our ambitions and our strong partnership approach with both the city’s universities, businesses and partners such as Watershed and Knowle West Media Centre.”
A round up of the tech news from the Bristol and Bath region is in February edition of the the new LEP High Tech newsletter
The key investment is £189 million for big data and energy efficient computing to build on the research base’s capacity for analysing big data sets, in areas like earth observation and medical science, but there are other significant areas of funding.
There is a £35 million for centres of excellence in robotics and autonomous systems aiming to bring together the research base and industry. The Bristol Robotics Lab is the largest in Europe and at the forefront of such developments. Science and universities minister David Willetts (right) also announced a £1m Technology Strategy Board competition to help to accelerate the development of concepts where robots are able to interact with each other and humans.
There will also be £25 million of additional funding for the National Space Technology Programme for the development of commercial products and services using space technology and data from space-based systems which can benefit space technology companies in the region such as SciSys in Bristol.
There is also £45 million for new facilities and equipment for advanced materials research in areas of UK strength such as advanced composites, high-performance alloys, low-energy electronics and telecommunications, as well as £28 million to the National Composites Centre in Bristol.
In newer areas such as smart grid, the government plans to invest £30 million to create dedicated R&D facilities to develop and test new grid scale storage technologies, an area where the region is strong withthe Low Carbon South West group.
Bristol has lost out to Glasgow for the £24m Future City demonstrator, with the affluence of the region being a key factor.
“Glasgow has some quite extreme challenges – it has the lowest life expectancy of any city in the UK for instance – and the hope is that if we bring together energy, transport, public safety and health it will make it more efficient and a better place to live,” said Scott Cain, the TSB’s project leader for Future Cities, talking to the BBC.
That view was backed up by Universities and Science Minister David Willetts. “With more people than ever before living in our cities, they need to be able to provide people with a better quality of life and a thriving economy,” he said. “From transport systems to energy use and health, this demonstrator will play a key part in the government’s industrial strategy and give real insight into how our cities can be shaped in the future,” he added.
£300,000 from the EU for two projects as part of its Smart City Programme.
“Industry expectations have been overturned throughout this competition, and this result, too, will surprise many,” said Joe Dignan, Chief analyst for European Public Sector at market researcher Ovum. Initially, the smart money was on Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds + Bradford or Manchester to scoop the prize, given their level of preparation. However, only Bristol joined the shortlist alongside Glasgow, Peterborough and London. Peterborough was considered the wild card, while most felt London had already been given more than its fair share of the public purse in the lead up to the Olympics.
“Glasgow’s success reflects a global trend in the development of future cities being presaged by a major global event. Although it was considered the outsider in this race, its preparation for the 2014 Commonwealth Games was the catalyst to get the right people around the table to look at the performance of the city as a whole,” he added. ” There is no doubt that the judging process was objective and Glasgow’s bid excellent, but one can be sure that Westminster is happy to show its commitment to Scotland at the current time.”
The demonstrator will include better services for Glaswegians, with real-time information about traffic and apps to check that buses and trains are on time. The council will also create an app for reporting issues such as potholes and missing bin collections.
It will use analytical software and security cameras to help identify and prevent crime in the city and monitor energy levels to find new ways of providing gas and electricity to poorer areas where fuel poverty is a big issue.
A new £715K laboratory at the University of Bristol aims to equip scientists in the South West with the facilities they need to carry out the latest techniques in cell biology research.
A £715,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation, coupled with significant investment from the University of Bristol, has enabled the refurbishment of space in the University’s School of Medical Sciences to provide a state-of-the art laboratory space for cell biologists.
The facility will house three research teams, led by Professor George Banting, Professor David Stephens and Dr Jon Lane, who share a common interest in understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie cell function — how the tens of thousands of individual components within a cell work together for the cell to do its job.
Professors Banting and Stephens will use the facility to study how proteins are delivered to the right place(s) within cells, how they are exported from cells, and how cell membranes are organised. This research is fundamental to cell biology as it has implications for a range of disease states as well as for tissue organisation and responses to pathogen (bacterial and viral) infection.
Dr Lane’s lab applies an understanding of membrane and cytoskeletal dynamics to “autophagy” — a process of cellular quality control that is upregulated during cell stress. This process is vital for normal organismal development, but can give rise to degenerative diseases and cancer if it goes wrong.
Professor Leo Brady, Head of the University’s School of Biochemistry said: “Cells are the building blocks of most forms of life. This investment from the Wolfson Foundation helps to keep Bristol at the cutting edge in cell biology research.”
The refurbishment also provides bespoke space for sophisticated microscopy systems that have been purpose built within the Stephens and Lane research groups. These systems complement the excellent imaging equipment available in the nearby Wolfson Bioimaging Facility – this unique facility was funded from a £1 million investment from the Wolfson Foundation and completed in 2008. It is regularly used by around 100 research groups across the University. It is situated is in close proximity on the same floor as the new laboratory space.
Researchers in Bristol are working on a European project to increase the performance of white LEDs by a factor of 10 for brighter car headlights.
The €3.8m GECCO project aims to use vertical structures for the new LEDs. Modern high-performance LEDs already provide a bright light output at high efficiency and are used for automobile headlights. At present though, the production process for these kinds of LEDs is still not cost efficient enough and also the efficiency of these LEDs needs further improvement.
Up to now, LEDs are being constructed in a planar way, meaning in layers and completely flat. The more light is being required, the more wafer area has to be produced, which is an expensive and laborious approach. The aim of the GECCO project is to assemble LEDs in a three-dimensional way so that actually every LED consists of a ‘light emitting tower’ from which the entire vertical surface is emitting light. Obviously the surface of the tower is much larger compared to the ground area of a planar LED. And in fact, it is exactly the gain of light emitting area that leads to a higher light output.
This means the manufacturing of an LED becomes much more cost-effective and as a result replacing ancient electric bulbs, halogen lamps as well as energy saving bulbs to LEDs is getting a lot more profitable. Considering the fact that currently 20 % of electrical energy worldwide is being utilized for illumination, this innovation provides an enormous potential as far as cost-effectiveness is concerned. In addition, LED lighting is particularly important for future electric mobility, particularly for electric cars.
The dimensions of the ‘light emitting towers’ are within the micrometer range. This means approximately one million LEDs fit on an area of one square millimeter. This process requires utmost precision which can only be achieved by applying nanotechnology manufacturing techniques.
The GECCO project is coordinated by Prof. Andreas Waag from the Institute of Semiconductor Technology at Braunschweig.
GKN Aerospace has opened a new engineering and technology center at its site at Filton near Bristol. The centre is GKN’s fourth and will focus on future wing structure design and manufacture. The company expect to increase the engineers on the site from 5 to over 100.
Televisions are increasingly becoming ‘smart’ and connecting to the Internet, but protecting your TV against threats such as malware and viruses has been lacking. Ocean Blue software, a Bristol-based TV software developer that works with TV and set top box makers around the world has developed the first anti-virus protection for your TV using cloud technology.
It has partnered with IT security leader Sophos to develop a cloud-based antivirus solution that can be shipped either as part of the Ocean Blue middleware or as a stand-alone client for solutions with their own middleware.
According to Futuresource Consulting, by 2015 over 80 percent of new televisions and set-top boxes will be Internet-ready. As many of these products will be based on either Linux or Android, they will be capable of downloading and running remote applications. While this connectivity brings many new features, it also exposes these devices to potential viruses and other malware, making antivirus protection essential.
The new Ocean Blue software was a joint effort based on the combined forces of SophosLabs advanced antivirus expertise and the category-leading Ocean Blue Software Television and Set top Box middleware. The end result protects against the maximum number of threats, with the lowest demand on system resources.
“Almost all new connected TV products are at risk from malware” says Ken Helps, founder and CEO of Ocean Blue Software. “This partnership with Sophos will allow us to provide manufacturers with middleware already prepared to defend their products against attack.”
“Most consumers don’t realize that Smart TVs are just as vulnerable to threats as other devices,” said Michael Rogers, Vice president, global alliances and OEM at Sophos. “This partnership with Ocean Blue Software provides tremendous opportunity to allow consumers to take advantage of the features Smart TVs offer, while ensuring their home networks remain secure.”
Safety critical experts are calling for an alternative network for timing alongside the GPS satellite network to avoid catastrophic system failures.
“Many organisations declare they have no dependence on GPS and hence no need for backup. They are wrong,” said Prof Martyn Thomas, visiting professor at Bristol University and one of the founders of consultancy Praxis, now Altran Praxis, in Bath, speaking to the industry at the Safety Critical Systems Club symposium in Bristol. “Ideally we need a global, diverse source of timing,” he said. “The safety community needs to watch out for accidental systems and I believe they are more common than we currently realise.”
GPS is used as a timing system for lots of systems, and if it were to fail, be jammed or hacked would have catastrophic consequences for transport and mobile networks. These would range from errors in navigation to complete system failure (see links below) and could be triggered by a huge solar flare called a Carrington event which is increasingly probable. “We have never really had a massive coronal event in the era of satellites so we just don’t know what the effect would be,” he said. The risk of such a storm in the next decade is over 12% (see more links below).
One possible solution would be eLoran, a land-based, low frequency, high power alternative wireless timing signal that would be difficult to jam and cheap to run, he said. “It would cost just £1m to £2m a year to maintain the system across Europe, it’s a no-brainer but the question is who would pay for it,” he said.
- There’s a 1-in-8 Chance of a Catastrophic Solar Megastorm by 2020 [Space] (gizmodo.com)
- Will GPS Jamming Cause Future Shipping Accidents? (spectrum.ieee.org)
- THIS DOESN’T SOUND SO GOOD: 1 in 8 Chance of Catastrophic Solar Megastorm by 2020. At the time o… (pjmedia.com)
- GPS Signals Are Routinely Jammed (blogs.wsj.com)
- Bristol hosts key security and safety conference (swinnovation.co.uk)
- GPS jamming rife, could PARALYSE Blighty, say usual suspects (go.theregister.com)
Initial tests show promising results for new ultrasonic screening technique
The main hospitals in Bristol are working with the National Physical Laboratory on a initial trial of a new, potentially more reliable, technique for screening breast cancer using ultrasound. The team at NPL are now looking to develop the technique into a clinical device.
“Our initial results are very promising. Whilst it’s early days, we’re very excited about its potential and with the right funding, support and industry partners, we may well have something here which could have a huge and positive impact on cancer diagnosis and the lives of many thousands of women,” said Dr Bajram Zeqiri, who leads the project at NPL.
The project was funded by the research arm of the NHS, the National Institute of Health Research, under its Invention for Innovation funding stream and co-funded by the NPL Strategic Research Programme. University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust is a leading UK centre in breast screening using ultrasound and partnered with NPL on the initial tests. They are now working on a demonstrator and will look to work with a manufacturer to commercialise the technology.
Around 46,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year, mostly using breast screening based on X-ray mammography. Only about 30% of suspicious lesions turn out to be malignant. Each lesion must be confirmed by invasive biopsies, estimated to cost the NHS £35 million per year. Ionising radiation also has the potential to cause cancer, which limits the use of X-rays to single screenings of at risk groups, such as women over 50 through the National Breast Screening Programme.
There is a compelling need to develop improved, ideally non-ionising, methods of detecting breast lesions and solid masses. Improved diagnosis would reduce unnecessary biopsies and consequent patient trauma from being wrongly diagnosed.
Ultrasound ticks many of the boxes: it is safe, low cost, and already extensively used in trusted applications such as foetal scanning. However the quality of the images is not yet good enough for reliable diagnoses.
Part of the problem lies with the current detectors used. Different biological tissues have different sound speeds, and this affects the time taken for sound waves to arrive at the detector. This can distort the arriving waves, in extreme cases causing cancellation them to cancel each other out. This results in imaging errors, such as suggesting abnormal inclusions where there may be none.
The new method works by detecting the intensity of ultrasonic waves. Intensity is converted to heat that is then sensed by a thin membrane of pyroelectric film, which generates a voltage output dependant on the temperature rise. Imaging detectors based on this new principle should be much less susceptible to the effects caused by the uneven sound speed in tissues.
This technique, when used in a Computed Tomography (CT) configuration, should produce more accurate images of tissue properties and so provide better identification of breast tissue abnormalities. The aim of tomography is to produce a cross-section map of the tissue, which describes how the acoustic properties vary across the tissue. Using this map, it is possible to identify abnormal inclusions.
An initial feasibility project has proved the concept by testing single detectors using purpose-built artefacts. These artefacts were designed to include well-defined structures, enabling the new imaging method to be compared with more conventional techniques. The results confirmed that the new detectors generated more reliable maps of the internal structure of the artefacts than existing techniques.
NPL is now seeking funding to develop the work further. They hope to produce a demonstrator using a full array of 20 sensors, which should allow more rapid scanning and move the idea towards a system which might eventually be used clinically. It is hoped that this will provide both a suitable resolution and fast enough scanning to become a viable replacement for current clinical scanners.
- Breast cancer screening benefits are oversold and harms could be greater than thought (dailymail.co.uk)
- What Is Breast Thermography? (everydayhealth.com)
- Breast Cancer Diagnosis (everydayhealth.com)
- Ultrasound for Breast Cancer Detection (everydayhealth.com)
Bristol City Council has been given the green light to push ahead with its open source strategy following a meeting with CESG, the cyber security arm of the UK intelligence services.
The move is a key step in stimulating innovation in software for government systems.
- Cabinet Office shuns open-source in IT-tracking deal (go.theregister.com)
- UK cyber security plan delayed till October (go.theregister.com)
R&D collaboration for aircraft and cars
Aircraft maker EADS and GKN Aerospace are launching a £2m research centre to examine industrialising the next generation of manufacturing process known as Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM), which is essentially ‘printing’ objects in 3D.
The collaboration will be supported by a £1.96m investment provided through a Government Regional Growth Fund grant for the use of ALM in aerospace but also for making parts and accessories for cars.
The project will be based in a new shared facility at Filton in Bristol and is expected to create up to 30 new sustainable engineering jobs and develop a new supply chain of companies in the region.
“Promoting innovation is vital if we are to drive growth in our local communities,” said Business and Enterprise Minister Mark Prisk. “We have received a large number of ambitious and highly competitive bids to the first round of the Regional Growth Fund, which will help a number of businesses across the country, and I am delighted to announce funding for this collaboration between EADS and GKN Aerospace. Aerospace is one of Britain’s international successes and one that we should be proud of. We are number one in Europe and number two in the world with a 17 per cent global market share. I look forward to seeing the collaboration build further on this success, creating more jobs here in Bristol and providing an invaluable boost to the local economy.”
The ALM process grows solid 3D shapes from powdered raw material. The shape is created as a digital model which is split into horizontal slices. A laser or electron beam then traces the shape slice by slice onto a bed of powdered material, heating the material, melting it and bonding it to the layer below. It then quickly cools to form a solid. The process is repeated slice by slice by sweeping a fresh layer of powder over the top each time.
This technology has the potential to advance the design and manufacture of parts in ways that cannot be achieved today, delivering lighter, purpose made parts which use less material, generate less waste and produce lower emissions. Early results indicate that manufacturing waste could be reduced by up to 90% – particularly significant in industries where high-cost materials are used, such as the aerospace sector.
“This collaboration takes a significant step towards bringing this unique technology into industrial reality. As a more efficient, sustainable process, ALM has the potential to revolutionise industrial manufacturing and secure the UK’s position at the forefront of high tech innovation,” said Ian Risk, Head of EADS Innovation Works UK.
- Focus on aerospace sensors technologies -10th March 2011 (swinnovation.co.uk)
- Go on, print me a bike! The technology that enables a computer to run off a full-working cycle (dailymail.co.uk)
- New technology enables creation of bicycle just by printing it on computer (news.bioscholar.com)