Three candidates emerge for the UK’s premier engineering prize
28th April 2014 – OptaSense – the UK company creating the ‘Earth’s Nervous System™’; Cobalt – an SME using cutting-edge materials science to fight terrorism; and Rolls-Royce – the engineering giant behind the world’s first vertical take-off system for a supersonic fighter jet, have been revealed as this year’s finalists for the UK’s most prestigious engineering award.
Synonymous with spotting the ‘next big thing’ in the technology sector, the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award is the UK’s longest running national prize for engineering. It identifies outstanding innovation with proven commercial promise and tangible societal benefit.
This year, judges have shortlisted three outstanding candidates from the UK’s thriving engineering sector. Finalist OptaSense, has developed technology that can turn any existing fibre-optic cable into a highly sensitive real-time microphone. With millions of miles of fibre optic cable underground and undersea around the world, the ability to turn this into a ‘listening device’ has enormous potential in terms of security monitoring, and many other applications. It is already being used to improve the safety of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), for example, and to save the lives of soldiers deployed in hostile environments.
John Robinson FREng, Chair of the MacRobert Award judging panel, said, “Each of this year’s finalists has demonstrated excellent innovation and technical expertise but, perhaps more importantly, the significance of how this is being applied for the benefit of society is exceptional. These three UK organisations, each of a different size and stage of business development, truly represent the breadth of the UK’s engineering capability and its global importance. They are excellent examples of the economic importance of the nation’s engineering sector, which the Academy continues to emphasise through its Engineering for Growth campaign.”
The 2014 finalists:
OptaSense – creating the ‘Earth’s Nervous System’
OptaSense, a QinetiQ-owned company, has developed technology that can turn any existing fibre-optic cable into a highly sensitive real-time microphone. With millions of miles of fibre optic cable underground and undersea around the world, the ability to turn this into a ‘listening’ device has enormous potential in terms of perimeter security monitoring, fracking safety, traffic management, rail protection and more.
Sensitive enough to detect footsteps, vehicles, digging, or even a helicopter passing overhead, the technology is already being used as a means of advanced security monitoring for perimeters and assets, such as in the military where it is saving soldiers’ lives, and in the oil and gas industry where it can prevent illegal ‘hot-tapping’ of oil pipelines and precisely detect and locate leaks, saving millions of pounds per incident.
The technology can also be used to monitor the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process, which is increasingly used to recover oil and gas from shale. Fracking has proven controversial due to concerns about current limitations in understanding what effect it has on the surrounding rock, but OptaSense’s down-hole monitoring system improves operators’ awareness of potential issues in real-time for rapid response, and can detect seismic activity in or close to the wellbore enabling safe shutdown if required.
Magnus McEwen-King, Managing Director of OptaSense said “We are extremely pleased to be nominated as a finalist for such a prestigious engineering innovation award. The technical team at OptaSense have pioneered the development of distributed acoustic sensing and are recognised as world leaders in this field. We firmly believe this British technology will become the Earth’s Nervous System protecting the majority of the global energy and transport arteries ensuring a safer and more efficient movement of people and product around the world.”
Notes for Editors
1. About the MacRobert Award. First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award is widely regarded as the most coveted in the industry. Founded by the MacRobert Trusts, the Award is now presented by the Royal Academy of Engineering after a prize fund was established with donations from the MacRobert Trusts, the Academy and British industry. For more information, visit: www.raeng.org.uk/prizes/macrobert
Previous winners include EMI Ltd, who in 1972 developed the CT Scanner, a vital medical device that can now be found in almost every hospital in the developed world. In 2002 Cambridge Display Technologies won the MacRobert Award for its light emitting polymer displays, which are now used extensively in televisions and smart phones. Last year’s winner was software company RealVNC, which judges predicted could be a billion dollar company within five years.