The 2021 E&T Innovation Awards was hosted by TV presenter Fran Scott

E&T Innovation Awards: The winners

Image credit: Christian Trampenau, Dreamstime

At last a celebration where awards were physically presented, glasses raised and, most importantly, people met. It may have been a window of opportunity in the pandemic, but it was one that was grabbed by all those that attended the E&T Innovation Awards presentation evening on 25 November 2021.

Held at the IET’s home of Savoy Place in London, the event saw 17 awards presented – some in person, some virtually – in a hybrid event that had the advantage of effectively opening its doors to everyone who was interested in celebrating the best projects on the planet. Winners came from around the globe.

This year’s Awards programme was the first to embrace E&T’s critical targets – the societal challenges that it is incumbent on engineers and technologists to solve. Woven into the categories was recognition for those who are tackling climate change, diversity, ethics and more. The result was a stellar range of winners, all making positive contributions to the global community.

Here are this year’s recipients.

Difference-Maker of the Year

Esther Ngumbi

This year’s recipient was born in a rural farming community along the Kenyan Coast.

Education for girls was considered unimportant and there were no societal role models to inspire girls to reach for the stars.  However, her parents were teachers and struggled and sacrificed to raise enough money to pay for their children’s school fees.

She studied hard so that one day she could rescue her family and community from poverty and be a role model to many young African girls in similar situations. She went through high school and eventually college, obtaining a Bachelor and Masters of Science at Kenyatta University.

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On August 6 2011, she attained what at times seemed to be an elusive dream: a doctorate degree in Entomology from Auburn University and became the first woman in her community to obtain a PhD degree. It was during that day that she told herself that she would do whatever needed to give girls more opportunities to break the poverty barrier, obtain an education and achieve greatness.

Esther and her parents founded the Dr Ndumi Faulu Academy, a school for children in Kenya, in 2012.  In 2014, she created Oyeska Greens, a startup that teaches smallholder farmers in and around her community how to use updated technologies and methods in agriculture.

Aside from operating two non-profits, she works as an Assistant Professor, Entomology and African-American Department, at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science named her the 2021 recipient of the Mani L. Bhaumik Award for Public Engagement with Science, an annual honour recognising a scientist who has made significant contributions to public engagement with science.

The E&T Difference Maker of the Year Award is the highest accolade presented at the E&T Innovation Awards and the winner was selected by the E&T Innovation Awards Advisory Board.

Intelligent Systems, Sponsored by MathWorks

Roke – STARTLE For Maritime (S4M)

STARTLE for Maritime (S4M) has been designed to assist the Royal Navy in understanding the evolving situational awareness (SA) picture around a ship. By using an existing ship’s sensors, it enhances existing SA methods and brings additional, novel ways of employing AI to rapidly scan the SA picture for potential air and surface threats such as fast-moving missiles before scrutinising any suspicions in more detail.

Using a set of rules that encompasses subject matter expertise and naval doctrine, it compiles a body of evidence that supports any threat detections raised, reporting them to the operator.

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STARTLE is a software architecture for detecting and assessing threats in everyday real-world situations and is applicable to a wide range of applications including cyber defence and vehicular autonomy as well as the naval application.

Going beyond traditional techniques, it mimics the mammalian fear response that ensures survival in a dangerous world. Here, parts of the limbic system of the brain are conditioned by previous experiences to continually monitor and very rapidly evoke a ‘startled’ reaction when triggered. When this reaction is produced, the animal uses its senses and cognitive abilities to assess the threat facing it. The STARTLE architecture applies this efficient biological mechanism in the context of machine intelligence.

The judges said: “This is a compelling use of an intelligent system to identify threats within large volumes of information to allow people to focus on the most important events in a complex situation. Startle has performed well in real-life testing and there is strong potential for application of this technology in other situations and industries.”

Future Power & Energy, Sponsored by National Grid

Tsinghua University – Large capacity DC breaking technology

Tsinghua University is developing technologies that will help exploit the advantages of a DC grid. With its flexible access methods, good controllability and reliability of system support, DC grid has become an effective energy supply, particularly when there is a high-proportion of renewable energy. The DC circuit breaker is the core equipment to quickly break the fault current after a short-circuit fault occurs to ensure safe and stable operation. It is also the main means for switching the operation mode and restructuring the grid.

Tsinghua University has successfully developed an IGCT-Plus device with turn-off capability of 10kA. Problems of voltage balance and bidirectional current flow in series connection of large-scale power electronic devices are overcome, and a composite modulated power electronic switch suitable for breaking large currents above 30kA has been invented. As well as this, a current commutation method for the hybrid DC circuit breaker based on the vacuum mechanical switch conducting current and the coupling negative voltage device commutating current is proposed.

These steps take the lead in developing a series of original DC circuit breaker products with advanced performance, realising multi-scenario engineering applications.

The judges said: “This entry successfully merged existing technologies with extensive research evidence for an efficient, scalable and patentable improvement in DC breaker technology, which should allow for larger-scale DC transmission through electrical power networks.”

Dual category winner: Tech For Good, Sponsored by GCHQ, and Digital Health & Social Care

HR Wallingford – D-MOSS Dengue Fever Early Warning System

Dengue fever is the fastest-spreading mosquito-borne viral disease in the world today, prompting the World Health Organisation to include the virus in the world’s top 10 public health threats.

D-MOSS, the Dengue MOdel forecasting Satellite-based System, is the first functional dengue fever early-warning system that uses satellite Earth observation data, in-situ observations and seasonal climate forecasts to issue regular forecasts of dengue fever. It has been tested in Vietnam, which has seen cases rise ten-fold in two decades to over 200,000 a year. Until D-MOSS was developed, Vietnam had no system in place to forecast the probability of dengue outbreaks. Control of the disease was done after outbreaks had occurred. The forecasts provided by D-MOSS have helped the Vietnamese government to implement early actions at community, district and national scales, at a variety of lead times.

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D-MOSS has been created by pioneering and applying the latest research in statistical epidemiology, hydro-meteorology and informatics. Analysis of a history of satellite data and innovative modelling of water availability uncovered new links between parameters describing surface water and cases of dengue fever. These were exploited in the creation of a statistical ‘super-ensemble’ model incorporating hydro-meteorological, environmental and epidemiological variables (such as precipitation, El Niño, soil moisture, land cover and observed dengue incidence). The model works as part of a machine-learning algorithm driven by seasonal climate forecasts from the UK Met Office and live satellite Earth observations to forecast dengue fever monthly (or weekly) up to six months into the future.

The judges said: “The winner was chosen for their pioneering healthcare technology, specifically for their innovative processing of data from a number of digital sources in order to offer a wide societal impact. The potential wide reach of this innovation can impact and improve the quality of life for large populations globally.”

Sustainability and Climate Change, Sponsored by Emerson

Innovyze and Fairfield Control Systems – Glasgow’s Smart Canal

Europe’s first-ever ‘smart canal’ has been constructed using the 250-year-old Forth & Clyde Canal and 21st-century technology to mitigate flood risk and provide land. This pioneering digital surface water drainage system unlocks 110 hectares identified for investment, regeneration, and development for over 3,000 new homes and businesses.

Predictive meteorological technology provides advance warning of heavy rainfall. The system lowers the water level by up to 100mm to create the necessary capacity for surface water run-off. Using a secure, resilient, autonomous and proactive technology, the innovation uses a strategy to control water level both within the canal spine and at each water-management area by raising and lowering the water level in response to predicted weather patterns.

Water quality, flow and level is collected by the integrated control system and combined with data from the Met Office which is transferred to Innovyze’s ICMLive software, where it is used within a data model to optimise the operations that control the level of the canal in real time. The Integrated Control System takes commands from the data model and automatically operates feeder and discharge water control structures.

The judges said: “A timely innovation with immense potential for positive, sustainable impact. A well-crafted submission which highlighted the potential of this innovation to bring new life to legacy assets. An impressive opportunity for much-needed future skills development and the broader application of this technology to address climate-related issues.”

Dual category winner: Communications & IT, Sponsored by GCHQ, and Smarter World

Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics – AerialRadioOverseer

A radio-monitoring system measures the strength and direction of radio signal so operators can optimise operations and detect illegal radio activities. Traditional systems are operator-dependent and can be inefficient and inconvenient in remote and hazardous environments.

AerialRadioOverseer is an AI-enabled unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) radio-monitoring system. It consists of a UAV, a radio-monitoring subsystem, and a ground-control subsystem. It is easy to use and can work anywhere with low human intervention. Only the monitoring parameters of the ground-control subsystem have to be set by the operator.

AerialRadioOverseer has three novel functions that cannot be realised by traditional systems. It can perform aerial radio monitoring that obtains three-dimensional direction results of radio signal and an accurate coverage result of the base station. Moreover, it can perform remote radio monitoring. The UAV flies in a wide area to perform radio monitoring, and can fly close to and timely track the radio signal source. Furthermore, AerialRadioOverseer can perform intelligent radio monitoring – intelligent planning of the UAV’s trajectory improves the monitoring efficiency.

The judges said: “The innovative AI-enabled radio-monitoring system can be used to optimise radio transmissions from mobile base-stations as well as determine the locations of illegal radio stations. Moreover, compared to existing systems it is highly portable and can be easily deployed in rugged environments.”

Manufacturing 4.0

Cambridge Precision Limited – Creating a Cobotic Hub

CPL pioneered the development of a cobot/five-axis ‘set and run’ system working with supply partner Mills CNC and is the first precision engineering company in the UK to be using Doosan cobots in this way.

Running a machine requires supervision, but not all jobs (once prototyped and streamlined) are demanding or challenging for the engineers. This project aimed to free up the skills of the engineering team and keep them challenged, and improve quality of high-quantity, lower-complexity projects.

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What makes this project special is the integration of two complex digital machines (cobot and multi-axis machining centre), the design of loading benches to enable the manufacturing process and the creation of automated support and audit checks to allow 24/7 operation.

The combination of cobotic functions, human skill and latest-spec multi-axis machining centres to output complex prismatic components is a manufacturing first in the UK and has allowed the company to support its client base, expand business and increase productivity and income.

The judges said: “Cobot is an excellent example of new technology to lever quality, productivity, cost reduction, customer satisfaction and capacity – all that any manufacturing engineer could wish for. It is a good quality and well-articulated entry, ticking all our boxes for manufacturing excellence.”

Trust and Truth

Seldon – Seldon Alibi

Seldon Alibi is an open-source Python library designed to offer clear, unbiased insights into the workings of machine-learning models, ensuring decisions are accurate and ethical. Traditionally, machine-learning models have been deemed ‘black-box’ technologies, with inadequate explanation of, or justification for, their decision-making processes. This risks leaving businesses vulnerable from a regulatory compliance perspective. Using Seldon Alibi, business executives with minimal coding expertise can now understand the decision-making process of highly complex machine-learning models, enabling greater confidence in the model’s predictions, as well as the justifications behind them.

Alibi provides trust scores, so that a machine-learning classifier’s predictions can be trusted. Relying on the classifiers’ uncalibrated prediction probabilities is not optimal and can be improved upon. The innovation is unique in that it supports the widest possible range of models that use black-box methods. Alibi also incorporates open source to increase capabilities for inspecting the performance of models with respect to concept drift and algorithmic bias. It is language and toolkit agnostic, allowing teams to use whatever language, program, framework, and cloud solution that suits their needs.

The judges said: “Seldon’s open-source solutions add real financial value and provide opportunities for businesses to grow. Seldon’s technology ensures decisions are transparent and ethical, and therefore a force for good.”

Protecting Society & Saving Lives

Stantec, Thames Water and The London Fire Brigade – The London Fire Flow

As a firefighter, the more you know about an emergency situation, the safer you are. For the first time, London Fire Brigade know the flow and fire-fighting capacity of every hydrant in the city, allowing them to better tackle blazes thanks to more informed decision-making about where to station appliances, which hydrants to use and the best routing for hoses.

Following a number of major fires in the UK, Stantec became aware that Fire Services rarely have information relating to the available fire flow from fire hydrants, and water companies are not always aware if there is sufficient capacity to meet building fire-flow requirements.

Stantec designed a system for water suppliers and fire services to be able to calculate the firefighting capacity of a water supply system and buildings’ fire flow requirements. A prototype was developed and is called the ‘Fire Flow System’.

The Fire Flow System was developed in an online environment so that data could be shared between Thames Water and London Fire Brigade both in the office and in the field. The system does a number of specific tasks: it creates a digital twin of every building in London and calculates the fire-flow requirements for every building; it then calculates the firefighting capacity for every fire hydrant that could be used to fight fires at every building and, finally, categorises the building by the ability to meet its firefighting requirements.

The judges said: “This a commercial application of urban informatics combining GEO information and hydraulic modelling techniques. They have addressed an available data need for the London Fire Services which could be translated to other regions and counties.”


Element Six – DNV-B1 ‘quantum diamonds’

Quantum-enabled sensing can improve our lives in many areas such as healthcare and navigation. However, quantum states are very fragile, making technological solutions difficult to implement.

Diamond offers a unique solution for quantum technologies as it acts as a host for defects that behave like trapped ions, whose quantum states can be easily manipulated even at room temperature.

DNV-B1 is the first quantum diamond grade providing academia and industry with easy access to materials and therefore lowering the innovation barrier to new technologies. Element Six’s DNV-B1 offers a unique solid-state platform with long-lifetime spin qubits that can be initialised and read out at room temperature, and is an ideal starting material for those who research nitrogen-vacancy ensembles for magnetic field sensing, masers, RF detection and gyroscopes.

By supplying this new grade of material, Element Six has enabled new groups as well as existing companies to accelerate the development of new diamond-based quantum technologies, which are targeting many of the modern challenges for a diverse range of applications such as high-precision magnetic field sensing and communication technologies.

The judges said: “Like the silicon chip, quantum sensing will transform society. The technology requires scalable ways to freeze atoms to absolute zero. The approach used to produce DNV-B1 achieves scalability at room temperature; this will benefit many fields including navigation and medicine.”

Cyber Security

Crypto Quantique – Quantum tunnelling for IoT security

Crypto Quantique’s Q:Architecture is a combination of a silicon chip design block, called QDID, and a software security platform, called QuarkLink.

Every IoT device – anything from cameras to industrial sensors – has one or more silicon chips at its core, typically microcontrollers or other microprocessor-based semiconductors. Crypto Quantique has developed a way for these chips to generate, on-demand, their own unique, random-number identities, by measuring the on-chip quantum effects. The same technology enables the chips to produce cryptographic keys on-demand. These are also random numbers and are needed to secure communications between IoT devices and server-hosted services or applications.

The identities and keys together form a root-of-trust for each device, which is then used by the QuarkLink platform for connecting devices to applications.

The limiting factor in IoT growth has been a compromise between security and scalability, remembering that anything connected to a network can be an entry point for hackers to take control.

Q:Architecture enables companies to achieve IoT device and network security quickly and reliably at scale, without specialist knowledge of the complex cryptography that underpins it.

The judges said: “Crypto Quantique presented a comprehensive and clear entry. The solution showed great commercial and economic potential and helps to solve a thorny real-world problem for enterprises around IoT device management. We also see wider applications for this crypto key generation technique.”

Future Mobility

Furrer+Frey GB – Innovative chargers unlock Very Light Rail

Very Light Rail (VLR) uses the latest automotive battery expertise to deliver an innovative and affordable light rail system. Furrer+Frey worked closely with WMG (Warwick Manufacturing Group) to provide charging technology for the VLR vehicle.

A key goal of Furrer+Frey was to create a charging system which not only provides optimal charging to the VLR vehicle but that is also interoperable with future battery buses in Coventry. This resulted in development of Furrer+Frey’s All-In-One (AIO) charger – a first of its kind in the world – and included a number of innovations. It features a patented charging technology, which can charge the vehicle in a short time (four minutes for VLR) by delivering high power. The power capacity can be upgraded at site simply by adding the required number of plug-and-play power modules without any external modifications or downtime or other modifications.

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The equipment is neatly packed inside a single structure, which means a small footprint of 0.72m2 for the charger – thus saving crucial space for public use. No separate rectifier unit or charger box is needed. It is interoperable with other battery vehicles operating in the region, which means higher use of asset. Additionally, its modular construction includes a ‘mobile’ option: the charger can be installed on a ready foundation within one hour and also comes as a mobile version, which can be installed on a base plate for temporary use until the foundation is made ready.

The judges said: “Super practical solution to a problem which gave clear and relevant examples throughout the engineering lifecycle. It also addresses the need of the growing requirement for electrification, reduces environmental impact and reduces through-life costs.”

Young Pioneer

Shafae Ali, Alfie Mcmeeking Andy Ferdinand, Premal Gadhia and Judith Weill (Imperial College London) – Sustainable footwear

Overconsumption due to fast fashion is accelerating – 23 billion shoes are purchased every year, with 80 per cent ending up in landfill and 20 per cent incinerated. This project aims to address this by developing the most sustainable shoe for 2040; this will be achieved by reducing the number of shoes consumed, making footwear fully biodegradable, and simplifying the manufacturing process. The technologies to enable this are augmented reality (AR), biomaterials and 3D printing.

AR eyewear will be commonplace in the next 5-10 years, enabling the system. Given one shoe can now become any, the ‘base’ shoe has been designed to optimise sustainability and comfort. The team developed the concept of a 3D-printed fully biodegradable nanocellulose footwear with self-healing capabilities to extend its usable lifetime. The shoe is able to regenerate up to 50 per cent of its total surface area through a user-specific microvascular healing structure.

The biopolymer healing fluid is circulated by a biomechanic synced pump system. This was physically prototyped and digitally iterated over 350 simulations. The pump mechanism is a major innovation that has scope beyond the sustainability industry.

This category was decided by a public vote, but when selecting the shortlist the judges said: “This entry received the highest total score from the judges as it has so much going for it. It has the potential to significantly improve the sustainability of the footwear industry and also be a huge commercial success. We like how it has been designed to various cutting-edge technologies such as augmented reality, biomaterials and 3D printing."

Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Impact

SpaceML – Citizen scientists for the advancement of space technology with Nasa

There are few organisations in the world like Nasa, where the opportunity to work can have huge positive impact for the planet. However, opportunities are very selective, often available to researchers with advanced educational backgrounds, with the most common starting positions being post-doctoral positions. And while the funnel of students in advanced STEM fields is already low, its even lower for women and people of colour.

SpaceML helps connect aspiring changemakers with the opportunity to make an outsized impact. It does that by inspiring them through talks, training them, opening opportunities to conduct research in a state-of-the-art field, guiding through generating publications and releasing free open-​sourcing tools, and then giving them the stage to showcase their work in front of Nasa scientists, significantly accelerating the speed of usable research for Nasa and its adoption by scientists. And it does it in an inclusive manner, irrespective of academic backgrounds. With 50+ contributors now, starting from summer 2020, the majority of the students have a high school/undergraduate background.

The judges said: “The winning entry provides the opportunity to participate in space technology development to people of all ages from all backgrounds across the globe, especially to those who thought ‘rocket science’ was something they could never do. The innovative approach opens the door for international diversity of thought and breaks down barriers often associated with space-related technologies that discourage people from participating in engineering and technology.”

Future Unicorn, Sponsored by Arrow Electronics

Donisi Health – Contact-free bio-sensing and diagnosis

This project involved development of a laser-based sensor that can, from a distance, measure nano-vibrations occurring in our body, which are translated into simultaneous sensing of many vital biosigns at once. After analysing them with AI algorithms, it produces a medical-grade diagnosis related to cardio-pulmonary diseases such as pulmonary congestion, arrhythmia, congestive heart failure and more. The goal is to perform in-home care, which will change our lives without changing our lifestyle. This technology has recently received medical FDA approval for its bio-sensing capabilities.

The developed sensor is based upon a laser and a camera with its special optics. The laser illuminates the subjects within a given field of view and the camera analyses the temporalspatial changes of the back- scattered light patterns. From this analysis, the nano-vibrations occurring in the tissue of the inspected subject are extracted and from this many vital-bio signs are sensed at once, leading to performing accurate medical diagnosis. The measurement is done continuously, from a distance, and it is being agnostic to the measurement conditions.

The judges said: “This innovation has great health and social impact benefits. A great foundation: 26 granted patents, 10 years of internal research, five years of commercialisation. Its route to market and working with large providers (B2B), which take time to develop. However, a strong B2C approach may generate early adoption.”

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