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27 January, 2014 - 23:00 By Tony Quested

Sky’s the limit for Cambridge University researcher

Dr Sithamparanathan Sabesan

An invention by a Cambridge University researcher has been identified by the Royal Academy of Engineering as having such fantastic commercial potential that it is paying and supporting him to become an entrepreneur instead of continuing academic research.

Dr Sithamparanathan Sabesan’s innovation is a goods tracking technology that could save airlines millions of pounds a year by enabling fully automated self-check in.

Dr Sabesan has been awarded funding and will receive money-can’t-buy mentoring as part of the Academy’s Enterprise Fellowships scheme to help turn his technology into a viable business.

As reported here last week, Dr Sabesan has developed a battery-less radio frequency identification (RFID) system that will allow airlines, retailers and other businesses to inexpensively track the locations of merchandise and passenger luggage over a wider area and with much greater reliability than conventional systems.

The PervasID system can successfully detect items with near 100 per cent accuracy, and a single reader can cover an area up to 400 square metres. It can also scale up to accommodate much larger deployments and has already been deployed in several field trials.

The system has the potential to save airlines millions of pounds annually through allowing frequent fliers access to fully automated self-check-in, and to enable high-value goods retailers to benefit from secure self-service checkouts.

Dr Sabesan and his colleague Michael Crisp also won the Royal Academy of Engineering's ERA Foundation Entrepreneurship Award for the system in 2011. The system was developed in collaboration with Michael Crisp, Richard Penty and Ian White at Cambridge University.

Dr Sabesan will receive up to £85,000 of funding to spend the next 12 months exclusively developing a spin-out business based on his innovation. As part of the Academy’s new Enterprise Hub, he will also receive one-to-one mentoring from some of the UK’s top technology entrepreneurs.

Arnoud Jullens, head of enterprise at the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “UK universities produce some of the greatest innovations in the world, but getting them out of the lab and into the marketplace remains a huge challenge.

“Business-minded academics need investment and support from experienced industry practitioners to exploit their research, which could become the commercial success stories of tomorrow, and this is exactly what the Academy’s Enterprise Hub provides.”

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Dr Sithamparanathan Sabesan

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