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Darktrace to vie with Bombardier, M Squared and OrganOx for 2019 MacRobert Award


By Paul Brackley


It could be a hat-trick for Cambridge in the prestigious MacRobert Award after cyber security company Darktrace was announced as one of four finalists.

Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award medal (12036500)
Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award medal (12036500)

The most prestigious prize for UK engineering innovation, due to be announced on July 11, was won by breath biopsy pioneer Owlstone Medical last year and by Raspberry Pi, creator of the credit card-sized bargain computers, in 2017.

Darktrace, based at the Maurice Wilkes Building off Milton Road, is nominated for Antigena, an AI-powered ‘self-healing’ cyber security system that can both identify and neutralise cyber attacks.

To win the Royal Academy of Engineering award, it will have to fend off competition from three very strong opponents:

● Bombardier, of Belfast, is nominated for developing an innovative, resin-infused advanced composite wing that minimises the aircraft’s environmental impact by reducing both weight and fuel burn in flight, and waste during manufacture.

● M Squared, of Glasgow, has created the SolsTiS Titanium:Sapphire laser, which produces the world’s purest light and can be tuned across the spectrum. It is enabling new scientific discoveries and bringing about radical transformations in quantum computing, healthcare, navigation and climate change technology.

● OrganOx, of Oxford, for creating the metra, a world-first device that can keep a human donor liver functioning outside the body for up to 24 hours prior to transplant.

MacRobert Award winners are chosen by a panel of academy fellows.

Poppy Gustafsson, CEO at Darktrace. Picture: Keith Heppell
Poppy Gustafsson, CEO at Darktrace. Picture: Keith Heppell

Dr Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award judging panel, said: ”As the MacRobert Award marks its half century, we are excited for the future.

Great British engineering innovations, such as those recognised today, benefit not just the UK, but transform lives around the world.

“This year's finalists – Bombardier, Darktrace, M Squared and OrganOx, have already proven their potential to shape a greater tomorrow for us all, and they join an illustrious line up of past winners, from the CT scanner to Raspberry Pi.

“Our four 2019 finalists represent the pinnacle of an engineering sector that contributes 23 per cent of the UK’s economic turnover, creating jobs and enhancing lives both here in the UK and around the world.”

Darktrace’s autonomous machine learning software is designed to detect and defend against cybersecurity threats from within computer networks, learning what is normal behaviour and reacting to unusual activity.

Antigena, which responds to a threat every three seconds, is being used by more than 550 customers, including government agencies, international banks, healthcare providers and telecoms operators.

It was launched as an addition to the Cambridge company’s Enterprise Immune System technology in 2016 and represents a major step forward in the development of artificial intelligence, offering the possibility of a ‘self healing’ network for the first time.

The technology learns and classifies actions to recognise a threat, assess its magnitude and respond appropriately.

The core technology uses machine learning to analyse the network and make millions of probabilistic calculations using the data.

Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award medal (12036494)
Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award medal (12036494)

Once a threat is detected, Antigena calculates the right way to respond in real-time, using algorithms. This could involve interrupting specific, highly suspicious connections, automatically reconfiguring a part of the network or temporarily freezing certain user privileges. Meanwhile, the rest of the business can continue as normal.

MacRobert Award judge Professor Nick Jennings said: “Antigena is a fantastic example of using machine learning in complex and constantly changing environments to protect valuable cyber assets.

“With minimal configuration, the software adapts to an organisation’s network and can offer automated detection and response to cyber-attacks. This degree of automation is essential for dealing with the volume, novelty and speed of modern cyber incidents. The ability to determine a proportionate response in real-time is a significant engineering innovation that extends the frontier of cyber security.”

The nominated Darktrace team members are Matt Dunn, VP of engineering, Matt Ferguson, director of development, Dave Palmer, director of technology, Alex Markham, software developer and Jack Stockdale, chief technology officer.

Darktrace’s nomination came days after Jack Stockdale and CEO and co-founder Poppy Gustafsson, were made OBEs in the Queen’s birthday honours.

A wide variety of companies across the UK submitted entries to the MacRobert Awards.

The winner will be announced at the Royal Academy of Engineering awards dinner at London’s Banqueting House. The winning team will receive the signature MacRobert Award gold medal and a £50,000 cash prize.

The first award was made in 1969 was made jointly to Rolls-Royce for the Pegasus engine used in the Harrier jump jet, and to Freeman, Fox and Partners for the Severn Bridge.

Owlstone Medical, based on Cambridge Science Park, won last year for its ReCIVA breath biopsy technology, which is designed to detect cancer through a simple breath test.

It followed the victory of Raspberry Pi, based in Station Road, Cambridge, for its innovative computers. In February 2019, the 25 millionth Raspberry Pi was sold.

Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award medal (12036502)
Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award medal (12036502)

The other finalists

Bombardier - resin-infused advanced composite wing

Bombardier has developed an innovative, resin-infused advanced composite aircraft wing, which is used on the Airbus A220.

It is the only certified commercial aircraft wing designed and produced with resin transfer infusion (RTI) rather than pre-impregnated carbon fibre used on other aircraft programmes.

RTI allows for the manufacture of large, one-piece complex structures, reducing the requirement for many different parts and mechanical fasteners, resulting in significant material saving.

The use of dry fibre to create the structures and subsequent injection of liquid resin during the curing process eliminates the need for refrigeration required for pre-impregnated carbon fibre, which means the materials remain usable for a longer time.

The A220 is the only aircraft purpose-built for the 100-150 seat market and entered service in 2016 as the Bombardier C Series.

The use of advanced composites in the wing helps to reduce its weight by up to 10 per cent compared to a metallic wing and increases corrosion resistance, leading to greater efficiency and easier maintenance. The weight savings help to reduce the aircraft’s fuel burn in flight, with an accompanying reduction of carbon dioxide and NOx emissions.

The £520million investment in Bombardier’s aircraft wing programme is the largest ever single inward investment in Northern Ireland. Around 200 suppliers across the UK are directly providing to the programme with many more throughout the supply chain tiers.

The nominated team members are: Mark Braniff, head of strategic technology, composites; David Patterson, engineering fellow, aerostructures; Trevor Poots, former chief manufacturing and tooling engineer; David Riordan, engineering fellow, engine nacelle design, and Sam Wilson, senior composites specialist.

MacRobert Award judge Professor Ric Parker said: “The Belfast-developed resin-infused composite wing epitomises the best in UK mechanical engineering, bringing together excellence in design, materials engineering and manufacturing technology.

“It is a key enabling technology for the Airbus A220 (previously Bombardier C Series), creating a unique combination of range, fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness for an aircraft in this size range, and justifying its huge forward order book.”

M Squared - advanced laser system

M Squared has developed a laser system that creates continuous-wave, tunable, precision light on an unparalleled small scale - it is the world’s purest light for science and industry.

Used by more than 200 organisations in 30 countries, SolsTiS represents a step-change in Titanium:Sapphire laser technology. Playing a fundamental role in tackling climate change, SolsTiS was used to calibrate Tropomi, the spectrometer onboard the European Space Agency's Sentinel 5P satellite which is now able to observe and map critical atmospheric pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide. In healthcare, the applications of this precision light allow progress in the non-invasive study of cancers and degenerative diseases including dementia, motor neurone disease and Parkinson's.

M Squared is a world leader in quantum technology - SolsTiS is so precise that it is used by almost every laboratory developing quantum atomic clocks, including the world's most accurate clock at NIST in the US.

SolsTiS is also central to some of the most advanced quantum computing research at the universities of Innsbruck, Wisconsin and Oxford, enabling a radical technological shift from digital to quantum. It is also driving a range of UK commercial firsts, including a quantum accelerometer which could replace GPS.

The nominated team members are: Dr Gareth Maker, CTO and co-founder, Dr Graeme Malcom, CEO and co-founder, and Simon Munro, senior mechanical design engineer.

MacRobert Award judge Professor Gordon Masterton said: “M Squared has developed photonic and quantum technologies that enable new applications and industries - addressing some of society’s greatest challenges.

“It is a superb example of a startup company built on engineering ingenuity and skills of the highest levels. Its growth is making a positive difference to the new knowledge-based economy that is so important to the West of Scotland’s transformation from its heavy industrial past.”

OrganOz - metra system for liver preservation

OrganOx metra is the world’s first fully automated system for keeping a human donor liver functioning for up to 24 hours outside the body.

The device mimics the environment of the human body by continuously perfusing warm oxygenate blood through the liver at physiological pressures and flows, while providing nutrition.

The invention breaks with 40 years of traditional organ preservation in ice, doubling the time that donor organs can be preserved prior to transplantation. Through developing the metra, OrganOx has enabled transplanting teams to objectively assess the function of the donor liver before a transplant, something that is impossible with ice storage. This is particularly important when a donor liver is identified as ‘marginal’, when there is uncertainty as to whether it will function following transplant.

The metra is therefore able to increase the availability of livers for transplantation and ensure that more patients can benefit from a life-changing liver transplant.

So far, more than 500 patients have received a liver preserved with the OrganOx metra. It is commercially available in Europe – and has also been used in Asia, North America and Australia. The underpinning technology was developed at the University of Oxford and OrganOx was spun out from the University in 2008 to develop and manufacture the OrganOx metra.

The nominated team members are: Professor Constantin Coussios, CTO and founder; Professor Peter Friend, CMO and founder, Dr Andrew Cook, lead software engineer, Dr Toni Day, director of quality and regulatory affairs, and Daniel Voyce, technical director.

MacRobert Award judge Professor David Delpy said: “This is a very impressive piece of complete systems engineering. It involves almost all engineering disciplines, clinical research and the development of new regulatory approvals for what is possibly the most complex bioengineering system on the market.

“Apart from the obvious and immediate benefit for all transplant patients, the long-lasting benefit of this development will be a total change in the way we manage transplant surgery and treat, regenerate and recreate organs that are supported outside the body."

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