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Design input accelerates new technologies' route to market

Thermo-chromic window films which regulate room temperature; a heart and breathing rate monitor which could revolutionise the monitoring of babies during childbirth; and improved tests for food sensitivities and allergies are among innovations developed at The University of Nottingham highlighted by the Design Council's Innovate for Universities initiative.

Innovate for Universities will bring teams of designers into the technology transfer offices of universities to help scientists and technologists accelerate the development of astonishing new applications for their research.

The six participating universities won their place through a competitive entry process. They are Nottingham, Aberdeen, Cambridge, Leeds, University College London and York. Each has nominated four fledgling technologies that will be supported by intensive design mentoring for 12 months.

The 24 new technologies include innovations addressing vital issues such as chronic disease, crime and the environment. Those from The University of Nottingham include:

  • Solar thermo-chromic films being developed by Professor George Chen and his collaborators offer the potential to reduce a reliance on air conditioning by utilising unique window coatings that change colour in reaction to external temperature. Internal room temperatures can then be controlled without significant reduction in visible light transmission. The technology could be used in new builds or retrofitted to existing windows.

  • Heartlight is a unique combined heart and breathing rate monitor currently in development by Dr Barrie Hayes-Gill and Professor John Crowe, of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and their teams. The platform sensor technology, which can be used on any part of the body, will potentially lead to new or improved monitoring products across a number of sectors including clinical, domestic, health & safety, sports & leisure and also veterinary. It could eventually replace the traditional stethoscope method of monitoring heart rate during childbirth, which is open to human error, interrupts resuscitation and can fail to detect sudden and serious changes to a baby's medical condition.

  • The Mixed Reality Lab within the School of Computer Science has developed a powerful Mixed Reality Architecture (MRA) system that can be utilised to enable geographically dispersed co-workers to interact as they would in a normal office environment. By joining spaces as opposed to individuals ad-hoc interactions can be supported as well as pre-organised meetings.

  • A potential increase in food sensitivity and allergy in the population requires improved tests so that conditions can be detected and managed. Dr Marcus Alcocer of the School of Biosciences is developing a comprehensive new test system that will accurately and reliably profile any allergy across a large range of food groups from a single blood sample.

Dr Susan Huxtable, Director of Technology Transfer at The University of Nottingham, said: "We are very pleased to have won the opportunity to participate in this exciting initiative. We anticipate that the input to our projects from the design consultants will accelerate their development and significantly increase the potential for commercial success."

David Kester, Chief Executive of the Design Council, said: "In the UK we have a world-class science base with researchers working at the forefront of new thinking, plus an equally potent design capability with the skills to translate ideas into products and services that meet the needs of tomorrow's consumer. Innovate for Universities is about combining both these elements early and smartly so we commercialise our technologies around the needs of real people and create enduring new solutions and businesses."

David Secher, Chairman of Unico, the professional body for commercialising research, said: "Until now, technology transfer offices have not routinely employed designers to help develop their ideas. Innovate for Universities will allow designers, through their strategic advice and ability to understand user needs, to enhance the economic and social impact derived from translating research into public benefit."

Lord Drayson, Minister for Innovation, said: "This exciting Design Council project will offer innovators in universities really practical advice to help bring their innovations to market."

Innovate for Universities is based on a successful Design Council support service for high-tech start-ups that is part of its national Designing Demand business programme. It has proved that when designers are involved at the early stages of science and technology-based product development, commercial propositions that meet a market need emerge more rapidly. It is funded by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

Innovate for Universities will culminate in a showcase of the resulting innovations and products in June next year.


Contact: Dr. George Rice
University of Nottingham

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