Dr James MacFarlane's Advanced Airborne Radiation Monitoring system

Radiation drone and electrical cream applicator win prize

A drone for monitoring nuclear accident sites and a skin cream applicator that uses electricity to increase absorption have won a funding prize.

The two projects are joint winners of this year’s ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs Award and will each receive a £15,000 development fund for their innovations, along with a £5,000 personal award and mentoring from fellows of the academy.

Inventor of the drone Dr James MacFarlane, from the University of Bristol, and inventor of the anti-ageing skin cream applicator Dr David Heath, from the University of Strathclyde, will also be inducted into RAEng’s Enterprise Hub, which provides support and networking opportunities.

Professor Sir Richard Brook, chairman of the ERA Foundation, said: “This year’s winners have pushed the bar even higher in terms of the sheer quality and ingenuity of their projects. Both winners have already invested so much time and energy in their projects, and they now have a superb opportunity to take them to the next level.”

MacFarlane and his team developed their Advanced Airborne Radiation Monitoring (AARM) system to safely and remotely assess radiological hazards by integrating an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a lightweight gamma spectrometer and other positional sensors to provide real-time information on the source, intensity and location of radiation.

The light weight, low cost system is able to capture high resolution images and could be used for hazard response operations, but also routine monitoring of nuclear sites and naturally occurring radioactive materials at mining operations and oil and gas facilities.

Field demonstrations of the prototype system have already been performed at a Uranium mining site in Banat, southwest Romania, and validated against traditional surveying methods.

Macfarlane said: “The AARM system has had a great reception within the nuclear industry, which reiterates to us that there is a real need for the capability it provides in the nuclear energy sector.

“Our technology is not only timely and novel, but will also be a massive benefit in the day-to-day processes of the nuclear industry. With the support of the Enterprise Hub and my two mentors, I look forward to the deployment of the AARM system in the UK in the very near future.”

The skin applicator designed by Heath is designed to overcome the problem that anti-aging skin cream products are unable to effectively penetrate the uppermost layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, which limits the speed and effectiveness of their results.

His new, painless home applicator device uses electric current, like that used in pain relieving TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)  machines, to stimulate deeper layers of the skin to increase absorption of the key ingredients of the formulations at these levels.

The new applicator technology will be licensed to retailers, and has the potential to be used in other applications in the future, such as the treatment of stretch marks and acne scars.

Heath said: “Breaking into such a huge and established market is both an exciting and challenging prospect. The experience of my mentor, Dr Jeremy Burroughes, will be invaluable in this respect, and gaining this recognition for my technology from the Royal Academy of Engineering stands me in excellent stead to take it to market.”

Dr Mark Symes, of the University of Glasgow, receives this year’s runner up prize of a £2,000 grant for his integrated platform to monetise intermittent renewable energy.

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