Knowledge Transfer in Engineering and Informatics…
This issue of Science Scotland is dedicated to highlighting engineering and informatics successes where Scotland-based research, technology or new knowledge has transferred (i.e. knowledge transfer or KT) into successful innovative companies. This coverage of KT continues our previous features on emerging engineering companies: Renewable Devices and Pelamis Wave Power in our “Energy” issue in Spring 2006; ST Imaging and Microemissive Displays (which regrettably has since ceased trading) in our “Imaging” issue in Autumn 2007; Xilinx, Wireless Innovation Centre, Steepest Ascent and Wolfson Microelectronics in the “Electronics” issue in Spring 2007; and Artemis Intelligent Power (since acquired by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries) and Oxy-Gen in our “Greener Future” issue in Spring 2010.
One of the most financially significant recent commercial KT successes, growing out of an initial £200,000 Proof-of-Concept (SE PoC) funding provided by Scottish Enterprise, was the $275 million acquisition in 2007 by Petroleum Geo-Services of MTEM (Multi-Transient Electro-Magnetics), a rapidly growing 50-person marine geophysical prospecting university spin-out company.
Here we report on 13 companies, ranging in size from four to almost 80 employees, who are active in the sub-sea, space, vibration and renewable energy, as well as marketing and media spheres.
The origins of the companies featured vary widely. The University of Edinburgh was one of four runners-up in the EPSRC 2008 Initiating KT challenge competition, spending its prize money on establishing several modest initiating KT awards. The embryonic company D-Light (“Enlightenment for datacomms”) was started from this fund before securing more significant £200,000 PoC funding from SE. The other small, highly innovative software-based companies covered in this issue are Pufferfish, which produces spherical displays, Xi Engineering Consultants, which develops vibration software, ScienceSoft’s visualisation software for the oil & gas industry, and Cereproc's text-to-speech products. Mobile Acuity has grown out of the SE-funded Prospekt, Informatics KT support programme. Xi Track, on the other hand, is a University-based technology licencing organisation which has been highly successful in deploying its vibration-alleviating product into the worldwide rail industry.
NGenTec, a larger 13-person spin-out, is designing novel direct-drive electrical motors, particularly for renewable energy applications, and has already attracted £4 million of support. It is interesting to note here that both NGenTec and Artemis have competing approaches to improving the operation of off-shore wind turbines. We will thus have to wait and see whether a novel electric motor or new hydraulic gearbox design can be scaled up from the current 1MW design to meet the offshore 6MW turbine requirement and win this lucrative race.
SeeByte is a highly successful 40-person Heriot-Watt University spin-out which provides the world’s most advanced software technology for underwater robots, subsea engineering, offshore technology and remotely-operated vehicles, and is heavily supported by governments and industry worldwide. WFS Technologies, with 25 employees, is an excellent example of an industrial start-up company which has revolutionised underwater communications by moving from acoustic to electromagnetic propagation, enabling, for the first time, communication directly from a submerged submarine to an aircraft. Other examples of this direct route to company formation, included here, are Nautronix, Gas Sensing Solutions and Clyde Space.
We encourage you to read about these embryonic companies who are exploiting their intellectual property (IP) and leading the engineering and informatics technology revolution from their bases in Scotland. To ensure full coverage of Scottish KT, a future issue of Science Scotland will focus on KT activities in the Life Sciences sector.
Professor Peter Grant, OBE, FRSE, FREng, FIET, LFIEEE