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1 June, 2017 - 07:00 By Kate Sweeney

Darktrace and Raspberry Pi in the running for MacRobert Award

Darktrace Cambridge

The Cambridge technology cluster has demonstrated its unprecedented health by Raspberry Pi and Darktrace being named as two of the three finalists for the UK’s top engineering accolade – the MacRobert Award.

The winner of the MacRobert Award, announced by the Royal Academy of Engineering on June 29 at a gala event in London, will win £50k. The other contender taking on the Cambridge duo is London-based Vision RT.

Many previous MacRobert Award-winning engineering innovations are now ubiquitous in modern technology, transport and healthcare. 

The very first award went jointly to Rolls-Royce for the Pegasus engine used in the iconic Harrier jets, and to Freeman, Fox and Partners for the Severn Bridge. 

In 1972 the judges recognised the extraordinary potential of the first CT scanner developed at EMI – seven years before its inventor Sir Godfrey Hounsfield received the Nobel Prize.

MacRobert Award winners are chosen by a panel of Fellows of the Academy, using a comprehensive selection process.

From Cambridge University IP, Darktrace has developed pioneering, autonomous machine learning software designed to detect and defend against cyber security threats from within computer networks.

The Enterprise Immune System self-learns the normal ‘pattern of life’ of every user and device within a network, and uses that understanding to identify and autonomously respond to threatening anomalies in real time. It acts as a cyber immune system that can immediately detect and neutralise emerging threats, such as ransomware, data theft or prohibited access. 

Like the human immune system, the Enterprise Immune System does not need any experience of past attacks to understand that an anomaly is potentially threatening. No other software can currently achieve this without some level of human input to define the boundaries of the system or certain aspects of the network. 

Just four years after launch, the Enterprise Immune System is defending IT systems in over 60 countries for customers including government agencies, international banks, healthcare providers and telecoms operators.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation, through its low-cost, easy to use, credit card-sized microcomputers, is redefining how people learn about and engage with computing. 

The inexpensive micro PC can be used as the control centre of just about anything, from creating video games to robots, multi-room sound systems, pet feeders, or even scientific experiments. It has inspired a new generation of makers and brought computer programming into classrooms in a fun and engaging way. After initially setting out to help increase the number of computer science applicants to the University of Cambridge, the Raspberry Pi team has sold over 14 million devices through exceptional engineering and public outreach. 

Not only have they put the power of coding into the hands of people all over the world, they have also created a whole new class of computing device that has revolutionised the way engineers design control systems in industry.

Vision RT began in an attic in 2001 and today all the top five ‘Best Hospitals for Cancer’ in the US use its technology. Vision RT has developed AlignRT, a guidance system for radiotherapy that helps doctors target cancerous tumours with pinpoint accuracy, reducing harmful collateral damage during treatment. 

Nearly 1,000 systems have been sold around the world including to the UK National Health Service. 

Dr Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award judging panel, said: “This year’s MacRobert Award finalists are making a real impact in cyber security, STEM education and cancer treatment. 

“Each of them demonstrates engineering innovation of the highest calibre, but what I’m most proud of is that while they benefit people all over the world, their roots have remained firmly in the UK, bringing significant wealth into our economy.

“Those with hardware have chosen to manufacture everything here, not for noble reasons but because it makes good business sense, cementing the UK’s global reputation as a leading innovation nation.”

Cambridge has ‘form’ in the MacRobert Award. Dr Andy Harter received it in 2013 for the achievements of RealVNC, which created Virtual Network Computing – technology that allows remote access to computers; it is being used in more than a billion devices.

Two years previously, Microsoft Research Cambridge won for its human motion capture in Kinect for Xbox 360. Cambridge wireless business CSR won in 2005 for its single chip BlueCore™ family.

Other Cambridge winners have been CDT for light emitting polymers in 2002 and Johnson Matthey for an emission control device for trucks and buses in 2000. That was JM’s second award, having been honoured in 1980 for developing catalytic systems for motor vehicle exhausts.

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