Exciting new high-tech product concepts - from cancer-detecting needles and anti-counterfeiting films to new ways to use ozone to preserve packaged foods - have been unveiled, following their development from university research projects into marketable ideas by unique collaborations between designers and academics.
The unveiling of the concepts at the Design Council's headquarters marked the culmination of the latest phase of the Design Council's mentoring programme for universities. The programme, funded by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), links universities with designers to help find user-centred commercial applications for new technologies, and create compelling materials and prototypes to attract investment to take the nascent concepts to market. Investors, venture capitalists and others have been invited to the event to examine the ideas and meet the teams with a view to brokering investment which will see the technologies further developed and introduced to the market.
The technologies and their applications / products include:
- Anti-counterfeiting technology which exploits some of the properties of the natural wing structure of butterflies, and can be used to ensure authenticity of high value goods such as pharmaceuticals and aircraft parts
- A novel treatment for the common medical condition 'Tinnitus' (ringing in the ears) which uses certain frequencies of light to stimulate areas of the brain resulting in relief for 40% of users
- An 'intelligent needle' which uses laser light to analyse the chemical fingerprint of tissues in situ and in real time, allowing detection of cancers without the need for removing tissue samples / biopsies
- An 'inflatable operating theatre' - a low-cost, portable and realistic training environment for trainee surgeons and medics, which creates a much more authentic feel to surgical technique tuition, whilst freeing up 'real' operating theatres for use on patients
- A novel way of creating the decontaminating gas ozone within pre-sealed food packaging to ensure freshness and prolong shelf life, without the need for large equipment or expensive gas storage/handling facilities
- A new innovation in capturing solar energy for domestic water heating, which is low cost and much more easily and cheaply retro-fitted to homes than conventional solar panels
- A low-cost, cheap an efficient process for coating super-thin films onto surfaces, in the production of fuel cells, catalysts and solar cells.
The Design Council recruited seven universities - University of Exeter, University of Glasgow, University of Reading, University of Leicester, University of Ulster, University of Bristol and Imperial College London to join the mentoring programme in July 2011.
Each university brought forward four technologies developed by their academics, which they thought might have commercial potential, or which they felt should be attracting more investor interest. Each was assigned a 'design mentor' to help them through the process of identifying the commercial potential of the technologies, what the real-market applications could be, developing and visualising these, and in some cases creating prototypes to demonstrate how products could look and feel.
"The transition from the lab to the market is tough and design - which is often overlooked during the critical early stages - is a significant factor in shaping user-friendly marketable products and services for the future," said Ellie Runcie, Head of the university mentoring programme for the Design Council. "New UK companies, even whole industries, could result from the technologies we're unveiling today, and that could mean a major boost to economic growth, jobs and a better quality of life."