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Issue 59: Autumn 2015

Article summaries:

Drug delivery on the go

The world of drug delivery is changing. Diabetes care is a prime example – small, wearable patch pumps are now giving patients the option of more discreet and flexible treatment. But insulin delivery is only the tip of the iceberg for body-worn devices.

Seeing with new eyes

The ability to recognise the things we see around us is something we take for granted. Replicating this ability in machines could allow us to ‘delegate’ a lot of vision-based tasks to automated machines. But it’s a complex challenge.

Pushing the envelope

Push-to-talk (PTT) technology is a simple, low-cost way of keeping in touch at the push of a button. But traditional PTT systems are limited by range and coverage. How do you design, develop and deliver a truly global PTT communication service?

A vital measure

Corrosion is a major problem – limiting the lifetime of assets and giving rise to safety concerns. By considering magnetic saturation, we’ve created a simple, robust sensor technology that can measure the thickness of steel – without removing any covering on the metal.

Keeping one step ahead

Fitness trackers are everywhere. They are affordable, and fitness tracking features are often included as standard in smart watches and other wearable devices. It’s a very successful idea but one that is also fast becoming commoditised. The question is – what next?

A stitch in time…

Latency is often the poor relation when it comes to the measurement of data speed. Yet getting it wrong can mean losing out to the competition – or even make your product unusable.

Diagnostics on demand

The digitisation of industries like music, photography and printing has unleashed an unprecedented level of accessibility and benefits for all of us. So what could the digital world offer in the diagnostics industry?

Spot the difference

Next time you’re wandering round the electrical section of your favourite store, try to spot the ‘feature that sells’ in the products on the shelf. If you design products for a living, this is a particularly interesting game.

A winning combination

In many industries, the delivery of commercial success is dependent on accurately understanding the impact of technology evolution. It’s why the right mix of business understanding and deep technical insight is crucial.

Less is more

Each year we tackle more than 300 engineering, scientific and design projects – creating cutting-edge technology and intellectual property for clients. Yet we are only 500 people. So what enables us to punch above our weight in the world of product development?

Pick ‘n’ mix

From mayonnaise to paint, emulsions are part of our daily lives. So, what if emulsions could be made just when they are required – with stabilities of hours not months? The answer is a paradigm shift in products, formulation and manufacturing.

In double quick time

Design and develop a wearable consumer electronics device – a standard challenge for our consumer product development team. But there was a snag – the device had to be in the shops before Christmas, which was just nine months away.

Emerging success

Emerging markets are predicted to account for a third of global pharmaceutical spend by the end of next year. Their rapid growth will open up new opportunities for pharma companies – with innovation and technology key to differentiating their offerings.

I am connected, therefore I am

What happens as electronic devices reach further into our lives and the ‘Internet of Things’ becomes simply ‘Everything’? The devices we wear, the gadgets we use and the services we consume define our online presence, whether we like it or not.

An apple a day…

The idea of designing biology to suit our specific needs is not new. Mankind has practised this for millennia, using selective breeding of plants and animals. But how do we make synthetic biology an everyday reality?

Issue 58: Spring 2015

Article summaries:

Quality by design

If your washing machine suffers a mechanical failure, it’s annoying. But what if you’re a diabetic and your injector pen jams in the middle of your insulin dose? That’s why a ‘quality by design’ approach is crucial for product development.

No batteries required

Whilst processing power has increased dramatically, battery performance has stagnated. Enter energy harvesting – with devices powered by scavenging energy from the environment or from mechanical actions that are part of a product’s normal use.

Changing places…

When you add milk to your cornflakes, how quickly do they go soggy? This is just one example of ‘interfacial phenomena’ – and testing and understanding them adds an extra dimension to our product development activities.

I can see clearly now…

Globally, about 20 million cataract operations are carried out each year. But can we do better – and ensure all patients have glasses-free vision altogether? Imagine having your vision corrected to a degree that is better than you’ve ever had.

A retail revolution

Innovation is rapidly becoming a 'must have' for the market leaders in the retail sector. But knowing which technology solution to implement is critical to success. You need to consider what the right innovation path is for your company.

Dawn of a golden era?

Point-of-care diagnostics are about to be at the epicentre of two colliding sets of trends in the consumer and healthcare markets. But solutions need to seamlessly integrate into people’s lives – so putting the human at the centre is vital.

The wow factor

Make it smaller, lighter, lower power… oh, and don’t forget the performance improvement. That was the challenge from our long-standing client Northrop Grumman when it needed the ‘wow’ factor to stand out from its competitors.

A disruptive influence…

From connected cash registers to mobile payments, the financial sector is experiencing technology disruption at an increasing pace. A common theme is scalability – using the power of consumer volume to push the art of the possible.

It all adds up

There’s more to numbers than meets the eye – in more ways than one. Applying the right maths can give you a whole new perspective on things you thought you understood. It all adds up to great product development.

Part of the fabric

How a chat in the pub has led to the development of wearable technology that is truly wearable. XelfleX uses very low-cost plastic optical fibre embedded into a shirt to measure joint angles for things like sports training.

A marvel of science

The largely unseen optical fibre that we take so much for granted today is a marvel of science. When a fibre sensor system is implemented well, new users are astounded at the levels of performance that can be achieved.

A healthy dose of protection

Wireless communications are now pervasive in our lives. Just as smart homes are gaining a foothold, medical devices with communication capabilities are also becoming mainstream. But security measures need to be balanced against potential risks.

A new wave of innovation

We have created a glimpse of future disruptive technology – a radio built purely from computing power. Our first demonstration creates 14 simultaneous cellular base station signals. But it is the potential which is so exciting…

You know it makes sense

Current surgical devices make very limited use of integrated sensing, yet the potential for sensors to revolutionise surgery is huge. They could enable even non-surgeons to quickly understand how to execute (simulated!) surgery that is almost impossible today.

Every cloud has a silver lining

Recent years have seen a massive rise in the everyday use of ‘cloud’-based applications such as messaging and data storage. But the building blocks of this revolution can work equally well in other industries – such as communications networking.

Issue 57: Autumn 2014

Article summaries:

Don’t start with the device

The ‘Internet of Things’ is no longer about things. Nor, really, has it ever been about the internet. It is about us – you, me and the services we use. And it lays down a challenge to companies in every industry. What comes first – the device or the service?

Hoppy ever after?

Beer has had a taste of innovation in recent years and there’s a growing appetite for more. As consumers become more selective with how they spend their hard-earned money, they are demanding something special. So we decided to see what we could bring to the party, using our ‘science-led innovation’ approach.

A healthy balance

Personalised healthcare is the new frontier of the 21st century – and health-monitoring devices are at the forefront of this trend, with wearable devices becoming increasingly popular. The best devices look simple but require careful balancing of several design challenges to yield optimal results.

The missing link

The wireless link is the lifeline for all connected wearable devices. Its performance is crucial – both the battery life and the user experience will be poor if this link is unreliable. But radio connections are invisible – so how do you perfect something you can’t see or feel?

Turning ideas into reality

Scientific research has a crucial role to play in the fight against many of the major challenges facing the world. But too many promising innovations never see active service. So how can we bridge the gap from the laboratory to the front line?

Big Brother – but only when you need him

Nobody likes being watched. But for many young drivers it can be the only route to affordable car insurance. The cost of buying and installing a ‘black box’ in a car makes mass-market adoption unlikely. We are taking a different approach – with DropTagDRIVE.

Getting under the skin

Today’s therapies are often far from ideal – particularly when it comes to ‘malfunctions’ in the nervous system and the organs it contains. Enter neurostimulation – which directly influences the body’s regulation systems by applying electrical signals to specific nerves.

An emerging trend

The development of medical products for emerging markets is undergoing a transformation. The effects could be far-reaching – paving the way for a new approach to medical device design in Western markets too.

Life under the ocean waves

Although vast and inhospitable, the oceans are an active frontier for industry and commerce – such as the quest to exploit the last remaining reserves of oil and gas. We think the time is right to apply new techniques to the underwater world of acoustic modems in the oil and gas industry.

In the blink of an eye

The blink of an eye, a flash of lightning, the bursting of a balloon – all too fast for human eyes and brains to perceive and analyse. That’s why scientists and engineers often resort to high-speed photography and video to visualise fast-moving phenomena.

A sense of place

We may at last be opening the door to smart buildings. A communication technology which allows humans – via the ubiquitous smartphone – to effortlessly interact with their environment may finally enable our buildings to become truly intelligent.

A joint effort

Artificial joints have become a fact of life for many people. Computational modelling opens up new possibilities for training surgeons and planning surgery – and, in turn, improvements in the lifespan of articifical joints.

A channel for innovation?

Demand for radio spectrum is growing all the time, not least from television programmes, feature films and live events which increasingly rely on dozens – if not hundreds – of radio microphones. So can technology developments in radio equipment allow more efficient use of the spectrum available?

Up close and personal

Conventional molecular diagnostic platforms are struggling to cope with the demands of personalised medicine. The last few years have seen an emergence of semiconductor-based technologies in clinical diagnostics. But intelligent system design and development will be central to their integration.

The customer is always right…

Creating products that consumers desire – and therefore want to buy – comes from carefully listening to, and understanding, the needs of potential users. But how does a company that’s grown from solving technical challenges hold these fragile ideas aloft during the crush of engineering problem solving?

Seeing is believing – or is it?

The ‘observer effect’ describes how the observation of an event can affect its outcome. To tackle this challenge, we’ve developed a new ‘label-free’ system for analysing a range of biological molecules. It could even help researchers move away from the current model in life sciences of one instrument per test.

Issue 56: Spring 2014

Article summaries:

Waste of our time?

Waste is an inevitable part of the industrialised world in which we live – but the current scale of waste production should not be such a foregone conclusion. Waste will reshape the future of manufacturing and design – and, in doing so, will forge new and profitable ways of thinking and working.

Making a world of difference

The Nokia 1100 is arguably the world’s most successful phone. Although humble by today’s standards, this phone was the reference for a revolutionary new digital service that truly changed the world. M-PESA now handles a third of Kenya’s GDP and triggered a global revolution in mobile financial services.

Game changer

A handful of different models exist to explain the process of assembling unfamiliar movements into a finely honed skilful execution of some activity through practice. New technologies promise to be a game changer (literally) by delivering new forms of feedback, measuring factors that were not previously measurable, and making those measurements more accessible to non-elite athletes.

Stimulating developments

Today’s sleek and powerful smartphones have radically changed our personal behaviour by transforming the way we communicate with the world around us. If the successful track record of the mobile phone industry is any indication of the future development of smart implants, then the next 5-10 years will be stimulating.

What do you know?

A strong consumer insight is often the starting point for innovation. But knowing you have got as much intelligence as possible from the rich data source that is each and every consumer is a challenge. In the future, vast amounts of data could be collected ‘invisibly’ from the consumer.

Horses for courses

Understanding what is going on around us – particularly things we can’t actually see but need to control – can be an interesting challenge. That’s where the technique of analysis and modelling comes in. Computational fluid dynamics is a powerful tool – but is it the right one for your challenge?

Right first time

If at first you don’t succeed… it could cost you a lot of money. That’s why design for manufacture is a vital component of product development. Once a design is ‘complete’, throwing it over the fence to production and just expecting everything to run smoothly is rather optimistic.

Is less invasion more?

Treatment of cardiovascular disease is changing. Complex procedures are being replaced by more advanced – yet simple – therapies. But while there’s a need for simplifying surgical and therapeutic procedures, treatments also need to evolve to further reduce the risks of serious side effects.

Mix and match

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and it’s not surprising that, when something is done well, others decide there is no point starting from scratch. It’s what seems to be happening in the world of consumer electronics and connectivity.

Beware the curve ball

The classic bell curve of market adoption is well known – running from early to late adopters via the peak of mass market adoption. But less familiar are the ‘S’ curves which can be used to depict the progressive innovations which are required to maintain market share in the face of burgeoning competition.

Where now for white space?

The original idea of ‘white space’ was to create a new way of accessing under-used UHF spectrum for new services. So far, the concept of white space has spawned the idea of the Weightless open wireless standard – but it could be adapted for services ranging from machine-to-machine through to wideband mobile.

Our most precious raw material

The home computing revolution can be traced back to a handful of devices that captured the imagination of a generation. If the high-tech industries of the future are to have the human raw material that drives progress and innovation, we all need to enthuse the next generation to get more involved in the practical detail of technology.

Making the connection

The world is steadily moving towards realising the prediction made a few years ago of 50 billion connected devices – the so-called ‘Internet of Things’. Tomorrow’s world will be far more connected than yesterday’s – in ways we haven’t yet imagined. It makes you wonder how many businesses are truly ready for the connected world.

Rallying the troops

Companion diagnostics involves analysing how genetic make-up affects an individual’s response to drugs. This creates a strong opportunity for emerging DNA sequencing technologies. The future of companion diagnostics could be choosing not one but the right set of weapons at the right time for each person.

Designed to please

Creating a great consumer product today means producing something that people love. It has to be useful, look fantastic and delight the user when they interact with it. But that feeling of delight doesn’t happen by accident – the user experience is designed in from day one.

Issue 55: Autumn 2013

Article summaries:

A healthy appetite for change

The last few years have seen rapid changes in healthcare as the influence of consumer technologies spreads into hospital wards and doctors’ surgeries. But it is important to undertake such projects after understanding the pitfalls and being aware of the impact that seemingly simple choices can have in the long term.

A day in the life of a diabetic

A new mood of optimism is spreading among diabetic sufferers as a result of progress towards what has long been considered the ‘holy grail’ in diabetes – the artificial pancreas. To understand why that should be so important, it’s necessary to understand what the life of a type 1 diabetic is like.

A profitable headache?

Water is a sizeable by-product of the extraction of oil and gas. Treating and disposing of it is a major expense for many operators. However, this water is a valuable resource. So how can operators ensure water quality in the field?

The Asia challenge

Consumer technology companies with very short lifespans is a trend that is evident across East Asia. Rather than developing everything in-house or expensively acquiring companies with all the challenges of cultural adaptation, Asian companies should look to work with global leaders in innovative technology development.

Managing astronomical complexity

Combining different technologies and applying these to problems as diverse as sending a probe to Mars, controlling a person’s heart rate or making the perfect cup of coffee all involve complex multi-disciplinary development projects. Choosing the systems engineering model is the most critical decision.

In tune with you

Wireless technology adds a new dimension to medical implants – allowing remote monitoring and treatment optimisation, whether it’s a pacemaker for your heart or a device to help with pain management. But successful design of wireless implants is no mean feat.

A smart move

Ericsson sparked a flurry of crystal-ball gazing about how connected our lives will be in the coming decade when it published its headline-grabbing prediction that by 2020 there would be 50 billion connected devices. Whatever the right number, it’s clear that products that are not connected will soon look very last century.

Shake-up in foam technology

The aerosol industry is rapidly running out of viable propellants – a challenge that’s been the trigger for our latest technology breakthrough. We’ve come up with a new low-cost environmentally-friendly way of creating foam.

Wild about technology

Imagine sitting in your home and being the first – and only – person to identify an endangered golden-rumped elephant-shrew picking its way through undergrowth in the depths of Africa. The Instant Wild network of remote satellite cameras also aims to cut poaching.

An evolution of product development?

What is your product? The answer used to be simple – whether it was washing-up liquid or a coffee machine. But increasingly there are more and more ‘product types’ – from basic formulations through to complex service business models. So is it fair to see the different product types as an evolution?

An appy ending?

Apps are extending their reach into every corner of our lives – and the world around us. Evolving sensors, more processing power and better short-range communications mean everything from light bulbs to activity monitors is now a smartphone accessory. This new world brings new challenges for developers.

Precision innovation

Ideas are easy. Innovation is hard. The context of surgical innovation is a complex one – and only the most experienced practitioners can deliver success.

The future starts here

Technology has advanced at an incredible rate in the last century. Even ‘simple’ things that we take for granted today – like mobile phones and high-definition television – were true science fiction for the masses a mere 30 years ago. And these are the tip of the iceberg.

What’s going to rock your world?

Big changes – be they environmental, technological, commercial, political or regulatory – can rock the world of your business. Standing still is not an option. For those who take the time and have the energy to understand the changes and their potential impact, opportunities abound.

The great experience mash-up

The stars are aligning for the great mash-up of consumer and medical mobile technologies. Healthcare privacy issues are converging with those of social media. Health coverage providers are exploring efficiencies through outcome-based strategies, and myriad technology companies are lining up with concepts to charge through the first available breach.

Issue 54: Spring 2013

Article summaries:

It’s good to talk – and vital to listen

We all want products which don’t just work – but work fantastically. To make this a reality, it’s vital to talk to potential users as early as possible. But this crucial step can often be overlooked in the rush to start a project. You also need to listen – and to listen well.

An attractive option?

All wireless technologies have their limitations. Applying the right technology to the right situation requires a fundamental understanding of the physics involved. And it’s an approach that can help find answers to unsolved problems.

In search of the sweet spot

Diabetes is on the increase – along with its serious complications, which are exacerbated by patients failing to comply with their doctor’s advice. Although the use of insulin is effective, it requires the patient to constantly adjust their dose by taking regular blood sugar measurements. Patient ‘non-compliance’ is a common problem.

An eye on the bigger picture

The collection of vast amounts of information is a reality in the 21st century. The ability to get to grips with this torrent of data is crucial. This means not just collecting data but analysing it, extracting the most relevant information, and providing conclusions which might help decision making.

On track to succeed

The recent clash between Apple and Google over whose map is better has shown how important location-aware services have become. The GPS system began life in 1979 as a US military navigation system. But it has one fundamental limit – the signals are too weak to be received reliably indoors.

Communications on the critical list

Emergencies don’t just happen in hotspots – so reliable and secure coverage is vital for the emergency services when it comes to mobile communications. Can critical communications ride the wave of new mobile broadband technology but avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater when considering their specialised voice requirements?

The tea bag goes high tech

Tea is one of the most popular drinks on the planet – second only to water in the amount consumed. What if it became possible to create a cup of tea that offered the same flavour as the long-established tea-making ritual – without the time and hassle that so often accompanies it?

The magic touch

Brands are big business – but what is it that turns a company name into a global brand? Customers are key, and understanding them and targeting your communication with them is crucial to maximising the uptake of products and creating brand awareness.

Injecting new design

Safety and efficacy are always going to be the two most important things in medical device design. But there’s no doubt that – with users increasingly having more choice of medical devices – aesthetics and ease of use are going to become more important. The piona auto-injector is a prime example.

Cutting-edge technology

Devices that deskill surgeons, patients who pay and a strong outcome focus – 2030 will see a new type of surgery. The Cambridge Consultants surgical workshop painted an exciting – but challenging – picture of the next 20 years. The picture is exciting for those who respond – and terrifying for those who don’t.

More power to your elbow

From IT rooms to operating theatres, more and more critical equipment depends on 24/7 uninterrupted power conversion. So the spotlight is on the technologies that make this possible. Power electronics systems are now part of the ‘intelligent’ family of equipment around us – and will evolve even more to become a pillar of the modern age.

One small step for a robot…

Medical robotics technology is set to transform the life of the surgeon – and help save the lives of patients. But what new type of robotic surgical technology will appear that advances the devices already in use? Robots that can operate inside an MRI scanner, for example, or robots you can swallow.

Trying to connect you…

With Ericsson predicting 50 billion connected devices by 2020, hopes are high for a future where everyday objects communicate with each other to make our lives easier. But we’ve been promised the connected refrigerator for a long time…

Your most important phone accessory

Healthcare as we know it will not last. Across much of the world, healthcare spending has been rising more rapidly than economic growth since the 1970s. This trend cannot continue. So what will the future hold?

Make it better, do it faster

As the world economy struggles to get into first gear, executives are looking more and more to their innovation teams to provide much-needed growth – often within a shrinking budget. Delivering on these growth aspirations will require many research and development teams to defy the accepted ‘quality-speed-cost’ constraints of innovation.

Kill or cure?

The US is set for a major shake-up in its healthcare system. But little has been said about the effects of reform on the companies responsible for developing and distributing the devices and therapies that make the US the largest buyer of healthcare in the world.

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