Brain-computer interface tech scoops inaugural E&T innovation prize

A neurotechnology platform that uses artificial intelligence to translate brainwaves into control signals has been named as the first winner of a new E&T-backed prize for Innovation of the Year at the IET’s 2018 Innovation Awards in central London.

NeuroConcise, whose technology can be embedded and concealed in any standard headgear and gives the user a high degree of interaction without physical movement, was one of 14 category winners in this year’s IET Innovation Awards announced on Wednesday night. Others included inventions to improve healthcare treatment, repair power networks, alert the need for structural repairs and generate renewable energy.

All were in the running for the E&T trophy, judged by a panel of the magazine’s editors including editor in chief Dickon Ross (pictured above, left) with NeuroConcise’s Damien Coyle and Damien Coney, plus awards host Sally Phillips. 

The NeuroConcise platform uses a brain-computer interface that translates changes in the brain associated with imagination of movement or perceiving a stimulus into commands that allow the user to specify actions or communicate without moving. The technology has already enabled a person with spinal injuries to compete in the Cybathlon championship for athletes with disabilities and has the potential to determine consciousness in patients in a persistent vegetative state.

It also won the Start-Up category, whose judging panel said they were “particularly impressed with the innovation and its promise to help improve the quality of life of ‘locked-in’ patients.”

The full list of 2018 IET Innovation Award winners are:

IET and E&T innovation of the year and start-up category: NeuroConcise Ltd, for its wearable, AI-enabled neurotechnology platform that translates brainwaves into control signals.

Communications: Wave2Wave Solution, for its Robotic Optical Management Engine (Rome), which automates the configuration of physical fibre-layer connections in data centres and optical networks.

Cyber security: Dstl, for its Cyber Red Team Training Game, which exploits gamification science, requires no IT to run and has no security classification requirement.

Emerging technology design: Sonobex Limited, for development of noise-control technologies using acoustic metamaterials.

Healthcare technologies: University College London, for work on tracking viruses in space and time.

Information technology: University of Cambridge for a virtual 3D space that detects defects in concrete bridges and maps them onto ‘digital twins’.

Intelligent systems: Viper Innovations Ltd, for CableGuardian, a device that uses intelligent algorithms and Internet of Things architecture to provide real-time system fault information in a power network.

Manufacturing technology: Temboo, for code-generation technology that simplifies updating of legacy systems.

Model-based engineering: Orbital Marine Power Ltd, for the hydrodynamic modelling techniques used in its floating tidal turbines.

Power and energy: Orbital Marine Power Ltd, for its floating tidal turbine, which has generated reliable electricity for 365 continuous days since its installation.

Sustainability: Arup, for their bladeless ventilation system, which saves up to 65 per cent electricity consumption compared to mechanical fans.

Technology transfer: Power & Water, for sustainable water treatment that uses electrolysis and ultrasound and removes the need for hazardous liquid chemicals.

Transport: Jaguar Land Rover, for its work on smart and intelligent surfaces, integrating the customer interaction surface with structural electronics.

Young innovators: Creavo Medical Technologies, for compact magnetometers that analyse the heart’s magnetic field.

IET President Mike Carr OBE commented: “Our Innovation Awards put the achievements of the most outstanding engineering and technology inventors around the world into the spotlight and play a critical role in helping them advance their vital work.

“Innovation is an essential foundation for the growth of the global economy and for raising the standard of living in all communities. It is a key differentiator that makes companies and projects successful and, in keeping with the IET’s mission to inspire excellence in engineering and technology, we are immensely proud to recognise, celebrate and show our support for these exceptional achievements.”

Research carried out by the IET in conjunction with the Awards found that the global food and water crisis, providing easy education access for all and ending loneliness are among the key challenges which UK engineers believe they can contribute to tackling over the next 10 years.

A survey of 400 practising engineering and technology professionals revealed a strong sense of responsibility towards the environment, with 78 per cent saying they believe they could find renewable alternatives to tackle plastic, while 66 per cent said that developing urban infrastructures to cut carbon emissions will be a reality by 2028.

Similarly, 44 per cent say they could create innovative systems to help solve the global water crisis, with 65 per cent saying that engineering can increase productivity in farming to aid world food shortages.

Engineers also believe their profession will have a dramatic impact on society’s wellbeing. Three quarters say we should find solutions for an ageing society to help the government, industry and society work together. Wearable technology will also enhance healthcare, with 85 per cent of engineers predicting this will be a reality within 10 years and 45 per cent believe technology will advance and help tackle loneliness.

One in 10 engineers also believe that dramatic leaps will be made in technology, believing that more affordable and easier space travel could mean more of us can visit the moon in the next 10 years.

However, alongside the sector’s clear ambitions for society, the results also revealed some ongoing concerns in the sector.  Over a third (37 per cent) cite social mobility as one of the main adversities and 35 per cent fear the sector is still not doing enough to attract more women to the profession.

The research found little to alleviate concerns about Britain’s skills gap. Nearly half (47 per cent) of engineers who took part believe Brexit will likely cause the problem to increase, with fears they will no longer easily be able to employ skilled workers from overseas. A similar number said their employer will not be able to create jobs in the event of a hard Brexit scenario.

Those polled agree a smooth transition post-Brexit is needed to sustain a strong industrial sector. Almost three quarters (73 per cent) said the Government needs to provide more clarity on how Brexit will affect industry and 81 per cent believe the government will need to ensure that a strong UK and EU relationship continues.

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