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23 June, 2011 - 11:03 By News Desk

Cambridge real-time tracking firm gains traction with EEN help

Enterprise Europe Network’s Technology Adviser Manager for the East of England, Andrew Goldsbrough

When Andy Thurman and his colleagues at Cambridge-based Omnisense developed their groundbreaking real-time tracking technology, they knew that finding partners with existing market penetration would be the key to fully exploiting its potential.

A referral to the Enterprise Europe Network resulted in Omnisense not only finding a new partner in Spain but also receiving matched research funding from the Eurostars programme.

“We’ve been developing the sparse wideband technology behind our Trace Locate Anywhere product, or TLA for short, for 10 years now,” says Thurman. “It provides reliable real-time tracking of people, animals or assets to within half a metre.”

The company is working in such diverse sectors as horseracing, healthcare, livestock monitoring, asset recovery, transport, energy, defence and security. But Thurman adds: “Our real breakthrough has been the development of a realtime tracking technology that does not require massive investment in infrastructure, unlike traditional wireless and other technologies.”

According to Thurman, the patent-protected technology uses unique algorithms in its software location engine to process the signals sent by each of the transceiver tags. This allows the operator transceiver handsets to act as both the tracking devices and as the send-and-receive stations.

Because the TLA system can be up and running in a matter of minutes to offer real-time monitoring, Thurman believes the technology will be invaluable for emergency responders; for example allowing incident commanders to track firefighters as they move through a burning building. He said: “The technology is tried and tested in many sectors, but we wanted to find new partners in additional sectors. I was told about the Enterprise Europe Network while discussing the technology at a London Technology Network event.

“I was referred to Business Link, which put me straight in touch with the Enterprise Europe Network’s Technology Adviser Manager for the East of England, Andrew Goldsbrough.”

As Goldsbrough explains, the Enterprise Europe Network can help UK firms find the right partners for collaborative research and development projects. He said: “We work with organisations to develop a technology offer document that explains what the technology does, its features and benefits, together with what sort of partner is being sought and why.

“Once the briefing has been agreed, it is published to the Enterprise Europe Network database in Brussels, from which over 572 partner organisations in 45 countries take a feed. So, the briefing cascades throughout Europe and beyond”

Depending on the partner organisation, the briefing will be included in newsletters, websites and mailings and, in many territories, such as the East of England, the local Enterprise Europe Network team will proactively seek partners using its own contact database.  Goldsbrough said: “In this case it was our network partner ACC1Ó in Barcelona that identified the prospective partner for Omnisense.”

Thurman was delighted with the speed and simplicity of the process. “We worked closely with Andrew to create a five-page briefing that was sent out over the network. Our briefing was anonymous and Andrew acted as a gatekeeper, so we only received responses from genuinely interested potential partners.

“Of those responses, three were of sufficient interest for us to enter into discussions, before choosing to partner with Barcelona-based Sensing and Control.

“They have all the features we were seeking in a partner, including a strong applications base to complement our technology platform and an existing client roster in the airline sector, which we agreed provided a suitable environment for us to make sales and showcase the TLA range.”

Active in diverse markets, Sensing and Control could contribute its research and development team and commercialisation and engineering expertise in the field of wireless communication sensors.

According to Sensing and Control’s director of research & development, Richard Croyle, the two firms’ competencies were a perfect match. “We had been actively looking for the correct technology to partner our distributed system application base and Omnisense fitted that need perfectly.”

Having been introduced to Sensing and Control via the Enterprise Europe Network, the next stage was to thrash out a suitable vehicle for collaboration.

During this process, it was determined that the companies represented a strong fit for the evaluation criteria for a Eurostars grant application to contribute to financing of the combined TLA product development. So, again with the Enterprise Europe Network’s support, they joined together to apply for a Eurostars grant.

Goldsbrough explained: “Eurostars is a joint initiative between the EU and 32 participating countries. It is a funding and support programme aimed specifically at small to medium sized enterprises working with at least one other SME partner from at least one other participating country.

“In the UK, the programme is administered by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), with whom the UK partners of the Enterprise Europe Network collectively collaborate to raise awareness of the Eurostars programme amongst the UK SME community.”

The bid for funding by Omnisense and Sensing and Control was successful. Because the programme requires matched funding, the next stage for the Anglo-Spanish partnership is to ensure that the necessary funding is in place.

Richard Croyle says: “We are particularly pleased to have succeeded in gaining the Eurostars funding grant and, with the ongoing support of the Enterprise Europe Network, we’ve gained the opportunity to offer our Spanish and European sales channels a unique new product.”

• Photograph shows: Enterprise Europe Network’s Technology Adviser Manager for the East of England, Andrew Goldsbrough.

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