‘Anti-rubbernecking' shield among projects bidding for commercialisation
Technology billed as ‘the most advanced mobile anti-traffic screen in the world;’ an optical device that converts a standard projector into a 3D movie player; and an ultrasound sensing glove for the visually-impaired could all soon be set for market launch.
Engineering students at Cambridge University recently unveiled their design projects at a showcase event and teams behind some of the more promising are already searching for funding to commercialise their inventions.
Dr James Moultrie of the University’s engineering department said: “Some ideas have real commercial potential and they will be seeking finance to take them further.”
One of the projects falling into this category is ‘Touchsight,’ which aims to help the visually impaired ‘sense’ their surroundings.
Products with electronic sensing systems for the blind do exist but very few have achieved widespread popular appeal and most are instantly noticeable and potentially stigmatise the user, according to Samaan Rahman, one of the four members of the Touchsight team.
Rahman's team came up with a revolutionary glove-based system, which combines ultra-sound with sensory feedback. The product is unobtrusive and enables the user to ‘sense’ their immediate surroundings. Trials with blind users have resulted in extremely positive feedback and a demand for the product to be taken all the way to market, Rahman said.
“Analysis carried out by the team has shown the product to be technically feasible as well as financially viable,” said Rahmann. “Furthermore, from the invaluable feedback given by user groups, we are confident that we have a product with the potential to improve the quality of life for many people.”
Another team, the inventors of Axi-Shield, plan to closely examine the commercial possibilities. The ‘anti-rubbernecking technology’ is a versatile mobile accident screen capable of fast and safe deployment on major roads.
The team behind say it could reduce the likelihood of secondary accidents caused by ‘rubbernecking’. It could, they say, be deployed from a standard transit van in under five minutes to provide rapid protection around an accident scene.
Rubbernecking costs an estimated £27m annually in the UK, through time lost and through further accidents resulting in secondary fatalities. The UK Highways Agency has been trialling a system developed in the Netherlands. But Axi-Shield says that early evidence indicates a cheaper more flexible solution, which can be rapidly deployed, is needed. Axi-Shield addresses this gap and the student team believes it represents the most advanced mobile anti-traffic screen in the world.
Meanwhile, there are a growing number of movies being produced in 3D formats, according to one of the University teams, but they can only be watched using expensive and high-tech equipment.
The MyMax system is an optical device which, when added to the front of a standard projector, enables these films to be viewed in all their 3D glory. This simple solution makes 3D cinema in the home a reality. “Developing MyMAX was a technical and business challenge, particularly as we were all too aware that the market for such a product is time-limited,” said team member Sarah Edmund.
The design show is held each year for an invited audience of local industrialists and designers. Students put together displays to explain the technical and business ideas behind the products, together with design details and prototype models of the products themselves. Ten teams of four students each spent many months researching the market, designing and testing their product and preparing a business plan.
Cambridge manufacturing students are much sought-after for demanding jobs, not only in manufacturing industry but also in other branches of engineering, consultancy or commerce and a whole range of unrelated fields. Students are well placed to start their own companies and many have gone on to do so, including Lily Cheng, who went on to form successful wireless recharging company, Splashpower and Nicos Raftis, who later formed NS Research, a developer and manufacturer of automatic nitrox blending systems for the scuba diving industry.
Other projects exhibited at the show include intelligent crash protection for snowboarders, an ultrasonic cleaning device, heated clothing and an interactive punch bag. If you are interested in finding out more about any of the projects, please contact Dr James Moultrie - jm329 [at] eng.cam.ac.uk