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Cambridge academics to share latest research at Pint of Science festival

Academics from the Department of Engineering will discuss their research findings in pubs across Cambridge next week as part of the popular Pint of Science festival.

Pint of Science brings some of the most brilliant scientists to your local pub to discuss their latest research and findings. You don't need any prior knowledge and this is your chance to meet the people responsible for the future of science (and have a pint with them).

Pint of Science festival organisers

Discussions will be held on everything from the future of energy and transportation to artificial intelligence and climate change. The festival, which takes place on May 15-17, will be held in cities across the UK and around the world.

This year’s line-up includes Dr Hugh Hunt, Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration, on whether it is possible to engineer the climate and cool the planet in the event that we fail to meet CO2 emissions targets. Dr Hunt will be speaking at the Panton Arms on Monday May 15.

Julian Allwood, Professor of Engineering and the Environment, will consider how we can go about developing policies that will mitigate the risk associated with climate change. Professor Allwood will be speaking at The Boathouse on Tuesday May 16.

David Cebon, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, will discuss the ways in which the road freight system can be made more sustainable. Professor Cebon will be speaking at The Architect on Tuesday May 16 and will be joined by Tim Hillel, research student in the Department of Engineering. Tim will demonstrate how we can use new data sources, such as online journey planners and live transport feeds to improve our understanding of passenger behaviour.

Dr Fumiya Iida, Lecturer in Mechatronics, will explain how biology can provide the tools and inspiration for creating practical robotic applications and how the concept of evolution can be used to create autonomous robots. Dr Iida will be speaking at The Castle Bar on Wednesday May 17.

Dr Jenni Sidey, Lecturer in Internal Combustion Engines, will discuss what it means to be a combustion scientist. She will also describe her experience of being put through her paces as one of the final candidates for the Canadian Space Agency's 2016/17 Astronaut Recruitment Campaign. Dr Sidey will be speaking at The Maypole on Wednesday May 17.

Pint of Science festival organisers said on their website: "Pint of Science is a non-profit organisation that brings some of the most brilliant scientists to your local pub to discuss their latest research and findings with you. You don't need any prior knowledge and this is your chance to meet the people responsible for the future of science (and have a pint with them)."

To find out more or for the full list of Cambridge-based events visit

Cambridge professor and graduate nominated for 2017 WIRED Smart List

(From left) Professor Zoubin Ghahramani and alumnus Tim Mamtora.

A Cambridge professor and an alumnus have been nominated for the 2017 WIRED Smart List after being identified as individuals who will become ‘global forces’ in the future.

Tim rose through the ranks faster than anyone I've ever met. Under his leadership, the team has pushed the limits of low-cost, low-power, high-performance 3D graphics hardware.

Dr Eben Upton

Professor of Information Engineering Zoubin Ghahramani and alumnus Tim Mamtora, Master Engineer of Integrated Circuit Design at Broadcom in Cambridge, have made WIRED’s ‘ones to watch’ list after being nominated by industry leaders.

Professor Ghahramani leads a group of around 30 researchers at the Department of Engineering and has published more than 250 scientific papers on statistical machine learning and other areas of information engineering.

In 2013, Professor Ghahramani won a $750,000 grant from Google for his work on a project attempting to build an ‘automatic statistician’ and has previously served as advisory board member to Microsoft Research Cambridge.

He has been nominated by Professor Andrew Blake, director of the Alan Turing Institute.

“Zoubin is a pioneer in machine learning and AI whose research is making a serious impact,” said Professor Blake.

“In December 2016, his start-up Geometric Intelligence was acquired by Uber as its new AI research arm.”

Mr Mamtora, who studied Engineering at the University of Cambridge and graduated in 2006, joined Broadcom as a graduate and spent a year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

A key contributor to the development of VideoCore multimedia IP – most notably found in the Raspberry Pi, Roku 2 XS streaming media player and Amazon Fire TV Stick – Mr Mamtora won Broadcom’s ‘CEO award’ in 2014 for his outstanding contributions to the VideoCore graphics processing unit (GPU).

He has been nominated by Dr Eben Upton, founder of Raspberry Pi Foundation and fellow alumnus of the University of Cambridge.

“Tim rose through the ranks faster than anyone I've ever met," said Dr Upton.

“Under his leadership, the team has pushed the limits of low-cost, low-power, high-performance 3D graphics hardware. Every time I think they've hit the wall they seem to come up with another 20% increase in power efficiency or take another square millimetre of silicon out. This is what we're going to need if VR technologies such as Oculus are going to reach the mass market and go beyond the $1,000 (£820) PC plugged into the wall to a $100 smartphone running on batteries.”

He added: “I managed to persuade Tim to write a chapter on 3D graphics for my recent computer architecture book and felt pretty smug until I had to upgrade all my chapters to match.”

Mechatronics lecturer wins award to investigate commercialisation potential of farm robotics research

Initial field test of vegetable harvesting robots gets underway.

Cambridge mechatronics expert Dr Fumiya Iida has won a scientific award of £50,000 to develop state-of-the-art robotics technology for use in agriculture.

This project using soft robotics for autonomous and sustainable agriculture is about making a significant step from the lab environment to the real world.

Dr Iida

Dr Iida was one of seven scientists to receive the Royal Society Translation Award which was granted to applicants wishing to investigate the potential of commercialising an aspect of their research.

Despite technological advances in the automation of agriculture, Dr Iida says there are still roles which are not automated, such as the sorting of crops by manual labourers after harvesting.

The focus of Dr Iida’s project will be in developing soft robotics that allows farmers to automatically sort a variety of crops for better outcomes, both logistically and in terms of an extended shelf life and the easier management of products throughout the supply chain.

Dr Iida’s Machine Intelligence Research Group has been developing the use of computer vision and machine learning techniques for soft robotic manipulators that are able to detect and interact with physical objects of various kinds, with some degree of uncertainty.

Soft robots are able to deal with uncertain tasks in unstructured environments, such as fields, much better than conventional, rigid robots.

It is the uncertainties encountered during the farming process, such as temperature, lighting and varying shapes and sizes of vegetables, which Dr Iida says makes agriculture such an ideal target for his research group’s ‘intelligent’ robotic manipulators.

“This project using soft robotics for autonomous and sustainable agriculture is about making a significant step from the lab environment to the real world,” he said.

“The main work will involve the development of a platform to test on the farm (for example in vegetable harvesting sites) and to analyse the feasibility of the technology, bringing us closer to the end goal of commercialising the technology.

“It is an honour to receive the Royal Society Translation Award which will enable my research group and I to make great strides forward in our robotics work. Our ultimate aim is for an efficient system which brings multiple benefits to sustainable farming in the age of robotics.”

Dr Hermann Hauser KBE FREng FRS, science entrepreneur and co-chair of the Royal Society’s Science, Industry and Translation Committee, said: “We are delighted to announce the first winners of the Royal Society’s newly expanded Innovation and Translation Awards. These awards support some of the very best, innovative researchers in UK universities to increase their chances of entrepreneurial success. The process of translating research from academia into commercially viable products can be challenging and we are proud to help bridge the journey for nine researchers this year.”

Leaf vein structure could hold key to extending battery life

The natural structure found within leaves could improve the performance of everything from rechargeable batteries to high-performance gas sensors, according to an international team of scientists.

Large scale manufacturability of this porous material is possible, making it an exciting, enabling technology, with potential impact across many applications.

Dr Tawfique Hasan

The researchers have designed a porous material that utilises a vascular structure, such as that found in the veins of a leaf, and could make energy transfers more efficient.

The material could improve the performance of rechargeable batteries, optimising the charge and discharge process and relieving stresses within the battery electrodes, which, at the moment, limit their life span. The same material could be used for high performance gas sensing or for catalysis to break down organic pollutants in water.

To design this bio-inspired material, an international team comprising scientists from China, the United Kingdom, United States and Belgium is mimicking the rule known as ‘Murray’s Law’ which helps natural organisms survive and grow.

According to this Law, the entire network of pores existing on different scales in such biological systems is interconnected in a way to facilitate the transfer of liquids and minimise resistance throughout the network. The plant stems of a tree, or leaf veins, for example, optimise the flow of nutrients for photosynthesis with both high efficiency and minimum energy consumption by regularly branching out to smaller scales. In the same way, the surface area of the tracheal pores of insects remains constant along the diffusion pathway to maximise the delivery of carbon dioxide and oxygen in gaseous forms.

The team, led by Prof Bao-Lian Su, a life member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge and who is also based at Wuhan University of Technology in China and at the University of Namur in Belgium, adapted Murray’s Law for the fabrication of the first ever synthetic ‘Murray material’ and applied it to three processes: photocatalysis, gas sensing and lithium ion battery electrodes. In each, they found that the multi-scale porous networks of their synthetic material significantly enhanced the performance of these processes.

Professor Su said: “This study demonstrates that by adapting Murray’s Law from biology and applying it to chemistry, the performance of materials can be improved significantly. The adaptation could benefit a wide range of porous materials and improve functional ceramics and nano-metals used for energy and environmental applications.”

“The introduction of the concept of Murray’s Law to industrial processes could revolutionise the design of reactors with highly enhanced efficiency, minimum energy, time and raw material consumption for a sustainable future.”

Writing in Nature Communications, the team describes how it used zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles as the primary building block of their Murray material. These nanoparticles, containing small pores within them, form the lowest level of the porous network. The team arranged the ZnO particles through a layer-by layer, evaporation-driven, self-assembly process. This creates a second level of porous networks between the particles. During the evaporation process, the particles also form larger pores due to solvent evaporation, which represents the top level of pores, resulting in a three level Murray material.

The team successfully fabricated these porous structures with the precise diameter ratios required to obey Murray’s law, enabling the efficient transfer of materials across the multi-level pore network.

Co-author, Dr Tawfique Hasan, of the Cambridge Graphene Centre, part of the University’s Department of Engineering, added: “This very first demonstration of a Murray material fabrication process is incredibly simple and is entirely driven by the nanoparticle self-assembly. Large scale manufacturability of this porous material is possible, making it an exciting, enabling technology, with potential impact across many applications.”

With its synthetic Murray material, with precise diameter ratios between the pore levels, the team demonstrated an efficient breakdown of an organic dye in water by using photocatalysis. This showed it was easy for the dye to enter the porous network leading to efficient and repeated reaction cycles. The team also used the same Murray material with a structure similar to the breathing networks of insects, for fast and sensitive gas detection with high repeatability.

The team proved that its Murray material can significantly improve the long term stability and fast charge/discharge capability for lithium ion storage, with a capacity improvement of up to 25 times compared to state of the art graphite material currently used in lithium ion battery electrodes. The hierarchical nature of the pores also reduces the stresses in these electrodes during the charge/discharge processes, improving their structural stability and resulting in a longer life time for energy storage devices.

The team envisions that the strategy could be used effectively in materials designs for energy and environmental applications.

The research was partially supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Xianfeng Zheng et al: Bio-inspired Murray materials for mass transfer and activity Nature Communications, April 6 2017, DOI:10.1038/ncomms14921

Superconductivity expert awarded prestigious Early Career Fellowship

Dr Mark Ainslie gives the keynote talk on 'World Record, High Magnetic Fields from Bulk Superconductors' at CCD6-2015: The 6th Cryogenic Cluster Day at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK.

Dr Mark Ainslie of the Bulk Superconductivity Group has secured a five-year £1.1 million Early Career Fellowship from the EPSRC.

I will be combining my state-of-the-art numerical modelling techniques and extensive knowledge of the PFM technique to produce portable and commercially-viable high field magnet systems.

Dr Mark Ainslie

The Fellowship will start in July and Dr Ainslie will build a research team to develop portable, high magnetic field charging of bulk superconductors for practical engineering applications.

Bulk superconductors can be used – when cooled to cryogenic temperatures – as super-strength, stable permanent magnets generating fields of several Tesla, compared to the 1.5-2 Tesla limit for conventional permanent magnets.

This makes bulk superconductors attractive for a number of engineering applications that rely on high magnetic fields, including compact and energy-efficient motors and generators, as well as compact and portable magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) systems.

It is also possible for scientists to use high magnetic fields to exploit the magnetism of materials for controlling chemical and physical processes, which is attractive for magnetic separation and magnetic drug delivery systems (MDDS), for example.

Dr Ainslie, a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellow, said: “The main challenge in exploiting these materials in practical applications is the ability to magnetise them with a simple, reliable, portable and cost-effective technique. Pulsed-field magnetisation (PFM), which involves the application of a large, pulsed magnetic field with a timescale on the order of milliseconds, shows the most promise in this regard.

“One significant challenge is that the trapped field is generally smaller than the theoretical maximum of the material, due to the temperature rise from the rapid dynamic movement of magnetic flux in and out of the material.

“As part of this Fellowship, I will be combining my state-of-the-art numerical modelling techniques and extensive knowledge of the PFM technique to produce portable and commercially-viable high field magnet systems.”

Dr Ainslie will be working with project partners from Adelwitz Technology Centre, Cryox Limited, Oxford Instruments and Siemens Magnet Technology to accelerate the development of the technology, as well as his close academic collaborator in Japan, Professor Hiroyuki Fujishiro from Iwate University, the world-leading expert in PFM, who holds all PFM magnetic field records to date.

Last year, Dr Ainslie, in conjunction with Professor Fujishiro, achieved a bulk superconductor magnetic field record and in 2014, Dr Ainslie was part of a research team, led by Professor of Superconducting Engineering David Cardwell, which achieved a new Guinness World Record for a trapped field in a superconductor.

£10m funding for advanced materials research awarded to the University of Cambridge

Research into improving energy storage, reducing power consumption and developing new energy-efficient devices received a boost with the announcement of £10m funding for new equipment at the University of Cambridge.

This funding will be vitally important in terms of enabling what we do with advanced materials to be enhanced both in terms of upstream university work but also in its industrial application

Professor Sir Richard Friend

The new funding is part of a £128million Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) investment in the Sir Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials, which comprises seven partner Universities including Manchester, Oxford and Imperial College London.

Cambridge’s award will enable the University to purchase additional equipment to support its leadership of the Royce Institute’s Materials for Energy Efficient Information and Communications Technology initiative. This will focus on improving energy storage technologies, reducing power consumption and developing new materials and devices able to harness energy from the environment.

The new equipment will enable Cambridge researchers to fabricate new energy-efficient devices, such as batteries and solar cells, and to undertake the advanced characterisation of materials and machines. These techniques will, in turn, help to hasten the development of energy technologies that are safer and more efficient, including longer-life phone batteries and electric cars with extended ranges .

Much of the Royce Equipment will be housed within the Maxwell Centre, in the Cavendish Laboratory (Department of Physics), which is famous for the discovery of the structure of DNA (Crick and Watson), but brings together researchers from Engineering, Materials Science and Chemistry

Professor Sir Richard Friend, Director of the Maxwell Centre and Cambridge’s Cavendish Professor of Physics, welcomed the announcement, pointing to the support it would offer researchers in co-ordinating work across the University’s departments, maximising the opportunities for multidisciplinary collaboration.

Professor Friend added: “This funding will be vitally important in terms of enabling what we do with advanced materials to be enhanced both in terms of upstream university work but also in its industrial application.”

The EPSRC funding will be distributed across the Institute’s seven partners to support investments in new equipment and infrastructure. In turn, these new facilities will enable the Institute to accelerate the design of advanced materials and explore their possible applications, including their use in existing and emerging industrial sectors within the UK.

Focused on promoting translation from discovery to application, the Royce Institute will play a major role in driving forward key elements of the Government’s industrial strategy, which lays a particular emphasis on enhancing the commercialisation of the UK’s world-leading basic research.

Spotlight on: the role of technicians

Lorna Roberts technician in the Structures and Concrete Lab

Technicians have been a pivotal part of Cambridge's ground-breaking research for centuries, yet their work is largely invisible to the outside world. Some of these unsung heroes share their experiences.

Technicians are very important. If you look in labs, technicians are everywhere, but when you look at published papers, you never see them.

From gravity to pulsars, Cambridge ideas have changed the world, and from Isaac Newton to Jocelyn Bell, its scientists' achievements are celebrated. But in the stories we tell about how this knowledge was made, a crucial collaborator in the scientific process is missing. The technician.

Today, Cambridge has 800 technicians who play a vital role in teaching and research. Their work, however, remains largely invisible, says Dr Josh Nall, Curator of Modern Sciences at the Whipple Museum.

“Historians of science are like criminologists. We're trying to understand – slightly removed from the process itself – how science works,” he explains. “As a result, technicians are very important. If you look in labs, technicians are everywhere, but when you look at published papers, you never see them.”

Looking at the Whipple's collection provides some clues – like the hundreds of intricate evacuated tubes made by glass blowers at the Cavendish Laboratory for JJ Thomson's research. But they only offer a fleeting glimpse of the technician's skill. “The material we have has the fingerprints of technicians all over it. But it doesn't take us very far, because we have no way of knowing which technician made it.” says Nall, “Historians of science in 100 years would be incredibly grateful if we interviewed or filmed today's technicians at work.”

Technicians at work

From his eyrie high above the workshop, Alistair Ross, manager of the Design and Technical Services Division in the Department of Engineering, has a bird's eye view of the dozens of machines and 25 technicians for whom he is responsible – and in whose work he takes great pride. “The skills we have here are extraordinary,” he says. “These main workshops are a central resource, and the range of things we make is – well, the sky's the limit.”

Current projects range from aero engine blades for the Whittle Laboratory to components for earthquake research at the Schofield Centre. “Anyone can come and ask me for a rig to be made – very often it’s something that's never been made before – and we find a way to do it,” Ross explains. “That's where we win: our quality, our cost effectiveness and our huge versatility compared to outside companies.”

During 30 years in the job he has developed a keen nose for a good technician. “I'm less impressed by qualifications and more interested in people's enthusiasm for life and for engineering, their hobbies and interests,” he says. “That tells me they have an enquiring mind.”

Ross's own hobbies include classic cars, restoring furniture and mending mechanical watches. “I love machines, and I can't stop making or mending things. I'd always rather buy something broken and fix it – there's nothing worse than buying something that works,” he says.

One of Ross's recruits is Barney Coles, a manual machinist who arrived at the University with little on paper but bags of enthusiasm. “I learned lots from my Dad – he builds model locomotives – and I started looking into digital ignition for a jet engine when I was in my early 20s,” he says. “That evolved into making humungous Tesla coils in my bedroom, until my parents asked me to stop because it was disrupting the TV. I don't own a telly now, but I watch machining videos on YouTube.”

He is currently making exquisite aluminium aero engine blades (“works of art”, Ross calls them) for Rolls-Royce experiments at the Whittle, turning single blocks of the shining metal into complex blades with extraordinary precision.

“What's really annoying is that there are no flat edges on them,” Coles explains. “Nothing's parallel, so you can't just put them in a vice. So I designed a unique fixing and holding system that means we can manufacture these parts in a single operation.”

It's hoped that using the blades in experiments at the Whittle will enable Rolls-Royce to produce more efficient engines, cutting fuel costs and carbon dioxide emissions. “Before I came to Cambridge, no-one was doing this. I've been on the project for two years and am quite proud to be a part of it,” he adds.

From silver to concrete

Lorna Roberts (pictured) arrived in the Structures and Concrete Lab in 2015. One of only two female laboratory technicians out of 90 in the Department of Engineering, she decided to become a technician after studying jewellery making – a craft she thinks has much in common with engineering.

“Lots of the tools are similar – although they're larger here,” she says. “But the practicalities are the same: you're given a design and you've got to make it work, fit pieces together to make something happen. I'm a problem solver – that's what I've discovered doing this job.”

She works with postdoc Dr Pieter Desnerck, who is studying the way that the reinforced concrete bridges built around the UK in the 1960s are deteriorating. Concrete is poured into large wooden moulds and fitted with strain gauges. “Then we apply the load,” says Roberts, “take all the readings, and continue until the concrete fails, which can be quite loud and quite dramatic.”

The research is giving her ideas for jewellery, too: “I found some old concrete samples the other day that were being thrown away, and when you chop them open they're really beautiful, so I kept a piece and I'm thinking about making some concrete jewellery.”

Chief laboratory technician Franco Ussi also joined the University last year. Brought up in Carrara, Italy, he has a degree in mechanical engineering and has worked in many industries, from robotics to medical devices.

At the Institute for Manufacturing he supports researchers and PhD students, fixing machines and designing instruments for experiments, and is now developing reactors to create carbon nanotube fibres in the Department of Materials Science & Metallurgy.

“My job is mainly about helping others to solve problems. My interdisciplinary experience means I can usually help them find better solutions – I'm like the link between their ideas and the final prototype,” he explains. “It's interesting to start from theoretical ideas, add practical problems and then together we find a solution – that's what's so amazing about working here with researchers.”


The University has introduced a technician development and apprenticeship project to ensure that Cambridge scientists and technicians can continue to change the world. Six new apprentices are joining the University this autumn.

Further information on technician development and apprenticeships can be found on the Personal and Professional Development website.

Topping out for new engineering hub

A topping out ceremony has been held for the James Dyson Building for Engineering in central Cambridge.

Developing the intellectual property that will help Britain succeed in the global technology race depends on applying our brightest minds to ambitious and exciting research projects.

James Dyson

Tom Dyson, James Dyson’s brother, fulfilled the duty by pouring a bottle of Elgoods Cambridge Bitter onto the roof to mark the event.

He was supported by Bob Ensch, Area Managing Director for Morgan Sindall, the main contractor for the new £13.3 million development, and Angus Stephen, Operations Director for the University’s Estate Management.

The building was made possible by a £6 million donation from the James Dyson Foundation. The Foundation has also funded the development of a design centre for undergraduate engineering students.

The James Dyson Building for Engineering will house postgraduates and support world leading research in areas including advanced materials, smart infrastructure, electric vehicles, and efficient internal combustion systems for cars.

The building has a central nervous system of sensors built into it, giving those working inside it a chance to use their surroundings for research and teaching.

Specialist knowledge on research strategies and funding advice will be available on-site, supported by Philip Guildford, Director of Research at the Department of Engineering.

Research undertaken in the hub will build on a rich tradition of invention: it was at Cambridge that Harry Riccardo pioneered the internal combustion engine and Frank Whittle revolutionised travel with his jet engine invention.

The Department is located at the heart of the Cambridge cluster, which has created over 1,500 spin-out companies over the last decade.

Technology we take for granted, including: Concorde ‘droop’ nose design, the microchips developed by ARM that now power 90% of the world’s mobile phones, and the pregnancy test.

James Dyson said: “Developing the intellectual property that will help Britain succeed in the global technology race depends on applying our brightest minds to ambitious and exciting research projects. I’m hopeful that this new space for Britain’s best engineers at the University of Cambridge will catalyse great technological breakthroughs that transform how we live”. 

This article originally appeared on the University of Cambridge website.

Cambridge part of winning bid to integrate driverless cars into everyday life

Google driverless cars

The University is a partner in a three-year, multi-million pound project which will test public reaction to driverless cars, and conduct real-world testing on public roads around Milton Keynes and Coventry.

People are starting to accept many of these features as commonplace, and we will be testing some of the more advanced ‘driver assist’ technologies in the earlier part of the programme

John Miles

The University of Cambridge is a partner in the ‘UK Autodrive’ consortium, which was announced as the winner of the UK Government’s £10 million ‘Introducing Driverless Cars’ competition in the 2014 Autumn Statement.

The aim of the project, which involves local authorities, technology and automotive businesses and other academic institutions, is to establish the UK as a global hub for the development of autonomous vehicle technologies, and to integrate driverless vehicles into existing urban environments by trialling them in two UK cities.

Not only will the programme help develop the new protocols and connected infrastructure required to deliver future autonomous mobility, it will allow the UK Autodrive team to test public reaction to both driverless cars and self-driving pods.

The funding, provided by Innovate UK, will be matched by the 12 consortium members to create a £19.2 million three year project which will be led by design and engineering consultants Arup. The feasibility studies and practical demonstrations will take place in Milton Keynes and Coventry, where the city councils are taking the lead in developing the urban infrastructure technologies required to support driverless mobility.

The University’s role involves looking at the feasibility of driverless public transport (L-SATS, or Low-Speed Autonomous Transport System), assessing the public’s reactions to and perceptions of autonomous vehicles, and assessing their possible impact on congestion. The studies will provide insights for vehicle manufacturers, cities, commercial operators, legislators and insurers to develop the legal framework for the roll-out of autonomous mobility.

On-road testing will include the real-world evaluation of passenger cars with increasing levels of autonomy, as well as the development and evaluation of lightweight fully autonomous self-driving pods designed for pedestrianised spaces.

“Many cars which are available today already have some degree of autonomy, through technologies such as automatic parking,” said Professor John Miles of the Department of Engineering, who designed the programme and established the consortium. “People are starting to accept many of these features as commonplace, and we will be testing some of the more advanced ‘driver assist’ technologies in the earlier part of the programme.”

“As well as developing and testing the in-car, car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure technologies that will be required to drive cars autonomously on our roads in the future, the project will also place great emphasis on the role and perceptions of drivers, pedestrians and other road users,” said Tim Armitage, the UK Autodrive Project Director at Arup.

The consortium’s plans for the practical demonstration phases is to start testing with single vehicles on closed roads, and to build up to a point where all road users, as well as legislators, the police and insurance companies, are confident about how driverless pods and fully and partially autonomous cars can operate safely on UK roads.

“Cars that drive themselves would represent the most significant transformation in road travel since the introduction of the internal combustion engine,” said Nick Jones, lead technologist at Innovate UK. “There are so many new and exciting technologies that can come together to make driverless cars a reality, but it’s vital that trials are carried out safely, that the public have confidence in that technology and we learn everything we can through the trials so that legal, regulation and protection issues don’t get in the way in the future.”

Business Secretary, Vince Cable said: “The UK is a world-leader in the development of driverless technology, and today’s announcement will see driverless cars take to city streets from 1 January. This not only puts us at the forefront of this transformational technology but it also opens up new opportunities for our economy and society.”

“Through the government’s industrial strategy we are backing the automotive sector as it goes from strength to strength. We are providing the right environment to give businesses the confidence to invest and create high skilled jobs.”

The partners in the consortium are Arup, Milton Keynes Council, Coventry Council, Jaguar Land Rover, Ford Motor Company, Tata Motors European Technical Centre, RDM Group, MIRA, Oxbotica, AXA, international law firm Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co, the Transport Systems Catapult, the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, and the Open University.

Working to Engineer a Better World

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has joined forces with ITN Productions to make an online news programme to promote greater understanding of the role engineering plays in our everyday lives. 

This programme, one in a series called 'Working to Engineer a Better World', highlights the importance and relevance of research funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The EPSRC is the UK's largest funder of research and training in engineering. As Britain faces a shortage of engineers, the programme looks at the need to exploit bright ideas as well as the importance of attracting more people into the profession.

Research and academics at the Department of Engineering are featured including the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) and the Cambridge Graphene Centre.

The full series of programmes is available on the IET's YouTube channel featuring many different faces of engineering in the 21st Century – demonstrating how important engineering and technology are to society and to economic growth. The series celebrates the success of innovative engineering and technology organisations – and showcases efforts from the IET and others from Government and industry to inspire more young people, particularly girls, to pursue a career in engineering.

Please share the programme content with your colleagues, contacts and others to help build awareness of the fantastic work that engineers do – and help spread the word that we need more of them.


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