British is Best: Technology Progress 2000 to 2003

Organic displays show bright future

Tom Shelley reports on a superior alternative to LCD screens, originally revealed in Eureka in 2001, and now ready for market

Organic electroluminescent diode elements based on complexes of rare earth and other metals, have now reached the point where they can be incorporated into the next generation of displays.

Production problems have largely been overcome, all colours are available, including CRT blue, lifetimes are plenty long enough for use in mobile phones and similar devices, and electrical efficiencies are ten times those of LCDs.

Research groups around the world are engaged in a race to bring the next generation of flat colour screens to market. Professor Kathirgamanathan, and has his team at Elam-T, now based at the London BIC in Enfield, are, however convinced that they are winning it. Lifetimes of more than 5,000 hours with no change in luminance are now being regularly achieved. This is partly thanks to the purchase of a new 1 million Japanese machine that allows test displays to be moved from chamber to chamber through the production process, without exposing them to air or moisture at any point.

All the colours of the rainbow are now available, including CRT red and blue. Light intensities are mostly up to 4,000 cd/m2, although one substance achieves 15,000 cd/m2, brighter than many fluorescent light tubes.

Elam-T now has a set of materials suitable for passive matrix displays, which includes the 15,000 cd/m2, and materials for active matrix displays, with lower operating voltages but consequently lower brightnesses. Materials are available for vacuum or solution, ink jet printed, processing.

Looking to markets, 5,000 hours life is sufficient for the mobile phone market, and Professor Kathir expects to see Elam-T's materials in commercial products in about 18 months. An important factor is the ability to take existing production equipment and adapt it to working with the new technology. Large, flat screens are thought not likely to be achievable using passive matrix technology, which rules out most of the other organic light emitting diode technologies currently being developed. LCDs are continuing to be developed, and presently achieve lives of 50,000 hours, but are likely to continue to suffer from relatively low electrical efficiencies, because of light absorbed by the different dyes and polarisers. They are also not nearly as robust as users would like. If either the screen or lamp is broken, replacement is usually so expensive that the phone or laptop has to be thrown away. It can therefore be safely assumed that light emitting diode technology is going to replace LCDs before too long, and the latter technology is therefore likely to be one with the dinosaurs, even in large screens, before five years are out.

Professor Kathirgamanathan


* All colours are available including CRT red, green and blue as well as yellow

* Lifetimes are now in excess of 5,000 hours with no change in luminosity

* Brightnesses are up to 15,000 cd/m2

Defence technology shows vision

Tom Shelley reports on the latest low cost technologies for remote observation and communications, from an organisation often featured in the magazine

Qinetiq, and its predecessor, DERA, continues to pioneer remote techniques for surveillance and observation, advances in communications and leading edge materials.

The plastic bodied tank, described in May 2000, showed state of the art in composite construction, enhancing protection for its crew while saving 30% in weight.

Now part privatised, its latest venture to the edge of space in a large balloon, shows a way forward for global communications, earth observation and advanced materials, not least in the unmanned aerial vehicle that will accompany the balloon to take pictures.

The project goal is to send a manned balloon up to 132,000 feet, or 40km. In order to photograph it, Zephyr 3, a 12kg, 12m wing span solar powered UAV will fly round and round it on the end of a tether. Zephyr 3 is merely a lightened version of a long standing project to develop a low cost UAV system capable of continual data collection at high resolution at an altitude of 30km and provide remote sensing or communications over a 300km swathe.

Project manager Christopher Kelleher told Eureka that his team had already built and tested a half scale model of the balloon accompanying version. The altitude attempting version has five brushless DC motors driving propellers through gearboxes at 5,000 rpm. The motors, designed to power competition models for short periods at 1.5 kW, are down rated to 200W each because of high altitude cooling problems where air has only 0.1 per cent of its density at sea level. For the same reason, the UAV will be flying at 70 m/s at maximum altitude as opposed to 5.5 m/s at sea level.

One of the longer terms aims of the UAV project is to develop aerial vehicles that could stay aloft day and night. In order to do this, Kelleher reckons the machines will need a system capable of storing 450 kWh/kg, three times as much as can be managed by the best lithium ion batteries made presently, and 15 times as much as is possible with lead acid batteries. The most promising option at present would appear to be reversible hydrogen oxygen fuel cells.

NASA has been pursuing similar goals with its Helios UAV project but Kelleher insists the Qinetic approach would allow coverage of "More ground with smaller, cheaper systems." One of the goals being pursued by NASA, Qinetiq and others is to come up with an economic system of locally boosting mobile phone bandwidth, particularly for major sporting events. Since the balloon requires no energy to get up to altitude, Eureka asked whether balloons might do the same job, and gathered that they might. The Qinetiq record attempt balloon is made out of nothing more exotic than thin polyethylene, similar in thickness to a household freezer bag, although 1.2 million cubic metres in volume in order to be able to lift two pilots and their Russian made life support systems.

Qinetiq balloon altitude attempt


* UAV accompanying balloon will likewise have to be able to fly at an altitude of 132,000 feet (40 km)

* UAV weight is 12kg, able to support a camera payload of just over 2kg

* The slightly more robust Zephyr 5, designed for longer term usage is designed for use at up to 30km and weighs 17kg. It is hoped eventually to operate such platforms for a year at a time

UK CAD software leads world if not by name

Britain is still very heavily involved in the development of ever more sophisticated computer based tools to help the engineer. Tom Shelley reports

When it comes to writing innovative software to help the engineer, the UK is second to none, even if successful ventures often end up in American ownership.

A typical example is Parasolid, the crucial modelling kernel in most high-end CAD systems. Developed by Shape Data, it came out of research by Ian Baird, a graduate student at Cambridge, and although now owned by EDS Unigraphics, still has a Cambridge office.

More than a few UK software innovators have got careers off the ground by crossing the Atlantic and working there. Another Cambridge graduate, Dr David Hibbitt, began his career in engineering with Associated Electrical Industries in Manchester, working on the design of large steam turbines for electrical power generation. In 1972, he completed a PhD thesis at Brown University. The thesis involved computational mechanics based on finite elements. On graduating, Hibbitt and his advisor commercialised the software they had developed as the MARC code for FEA. MARC Analysis Research Corporation hired Hibbitt and made the software available. Hibbitt, Karlsson & Sorensen was incorporated on February 1, 1978. The fledgling company operated initially from Hibbitt's house. The company is now known as Abaqus with a host of blue chip automotive customers engaged in engine and power train design.

Some companies manage to work closely with large American corporations without becoming absorbed. SEOS was founded in 1984 by Owen Wynn and Stephen Elmer, as Specialised Electro Optical Services Ltd. Headquartered at Burgess Hill in Sussex, SEOS pioneered the first Silicon Graphics (SGI) Reality Centre at Reading in 1994. SEOS renamed itself SEOS Displays in 1988 but is still very British, and has won two Queen's Awards. On June 9th 2003, the company announced that it had received an order from SGI Federal to provide the US AFRL/VACD (the Control Simulation and Assessment branch of the Air Force Research Laboratory Air Vehicles Directorate) with two Infinity Cube systems, the latest addition to the company's range of collimated displays.

The Infinity Cube is a modular configuration of Infinity Windows, which provide a "near seamless" multi-channel, collimated "dome" display in a compact space. In addition to extremely large fields of view, the Infinity Cube allows realistic depth perception and the use of standard unmodified Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS) and aircraft HUD's.

Also still UK owned and run at the present time is Digipac, subject of our August 2002 cover story. Solving the problem of studying the packing or flow behaviour of real world shaped particles, it is now called Structure Vision. Directors Dr Xiaodong Jia and Professor Richard Williams have commissioned a market research study which indicated markets in the food, packaging, pharmaceutical and chemical engineering sectors. It can be used to predict product filling (order of filling, premixing), product settlement (vibration and shaking) and the simulation of cooking and flow. Further details will be available soon on a web site, but in the mean time, interested parties should get in touch with Dr Jia by email.


* UK software innovators contribute much to functionality of CAD, even though many such companies appear at first sight to be 100% American

* Participation may be as employees, subsidiaries or proprietors of US companies, or as long term collaborating partners

* New and completely independent UK CAD companies with revolutionary concepts continue to emerge from time to time

More effort going into being 'green'

Tom Shelley gives a brief update on the UK's continued efforts to protect the environment and to find alternative sources of energy

When kicking off Eureka's Green campaign in January 2001, we had no illusions that any of the goals of reducing waste, using natural and biodegradable material feedstocks, or developing renewable sources of energy was ever going to be easy.

Nonetheless, everything that has happened since suggests that these goals still need to be achieved somehow. The DTI's latest Energy White Paper projects that if matters continue as they are, by 2020, 80% of the gas to supply Britain's power stations will have to be imported, through long and vulnerable pipelines from countries which are in many cases, distinctly unstable.

Articles were published about breakthroughs in wave power energy in July 2001 and April 2003 (Offshore Wave Energy Ltd) and wind power generation in November 2002. Developments in both technologies are still very much ongoing and while the Danes seemed to have scooped up much of the wind turbine business, opportunities to establish engineering business based on wave power are still very much open to the UK.

In looking for material feedstocks based on renewable biological resources, the hemp processing technology developed by Biofibres and revealed in January 2002 seems to have found its way into high class wallpaper and wall tiles made by The Hemp Paper Company based in Aberdeenshire. Nick Williamson, who developed the moulded felt fibre products described in the same article now works for MG Marga Design, which among other projects, is pioneering the integration of photovoltaic cells into buildings. A quick search on the web shows that research into ways of using natural fibres in engineering products is considerable as is development of biodegradable plastics derived from natural sources. The latest to reach our attention is a joint project between Professor Peter Belton at the University of East Anglia and Professor John Taylor at the University of Pretoria to develop polymer materials derived from material normally left over from processing sorghum. According to Dr Gyebi Duodu, a lecturer at the University of Pretoria, encountered at this year's Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, protein may be extracted from soghum bran husks using ethanol, or other naturally derived solvents. The protein may then be cast as film and used for packaging. Dr Duodu said that conventional plastic bags were banned in South Africa several months ago but soghum derived bags would be acceptable and that the economics look "promising".

Envirowise, the subject of the original article that kicked off Eureka's green campaign boasts, "Every year Envirowise helps UK businesses save a up to 1000 per employee". Companies with fewer than 250 employees are entitled to free, confidential, one day, on-site waste reviews where advisors can advise on opportunities to become more efficient with available resources.


* Companies can achieve savings of around 1,000 per employee by improved waste management and the service to help them achieve this is still free

* The need to find clean, alternative, sources of energy is likely to become even greater in the near future

* Novel materials derived from natural sources are beginning to find their way into consumer products. Research into using such materials in engineering components continues
Professor Peter Belton

Driving to the future

One of the most active areas of development is electric motors and drives. Tom Shelley reviews the last three years of British innovation in this market

The world increasingly runs on electricity, which is why advances in efficiency and performance of electric motors, actuators and drives occupy the minds of a large number of engineers in the UK and throughout the world.

One of the more extraordinary ideas to be reported in Eureka was Simon Powell's PBT 2D, folded strip, piezeoelectric actuator motor, the subject of our March 2002 cover story. Simon Powell writes, "I am currently in Japan sorting out suppliers for the ceramics and a range of new actuators, including the 2D device. Things have gone a bit mad right now, so we have had to delay the motor's introduction whilst we launch the world's first electronic cooker/boiler valve (due out November), the world's first piezo operated door lock (due out January) and the world's first firearm interlock to prevent unauthorised use of handguns (mid 2004). The 2D actuator has found application in the door lock. The first version has a single actuator, but by using the 2D we get a lock that cannot be vibrated open by hammer drills etc., because the unlocking motion is a function of both actuators."

Even more extraordinary, however, is Roger Shawyer's reactionless Emdrive, reported in December 2002, which uses a relativistic effect to produce thrust in a spacecraft without need for propellant. We hesitated about running the story, since at first sight it seemed to defy the laws of physics, but then decided that it doesn't. While it is not quite ready for space, or even more importantly, to lift vehicles above the ground so they need neither wheels, wings nor rotors, we are pleased to report that it still looks promising. Shawyer writes: "The Smart feasibility study was successfully completed and a full technical report produced. This was independently reviewed and issued to the DTI. They are currently considering a proposal for the development phase. The theoretical analysis has been completed and now includes a treatment of the mechanism of kinetic energy transfer. A paper has been submitted for publication. Further analysis of the experimental data has concluded that the pulsed thrust measurements can only be due to momentum transfer from the EM wave and therefore confirm that the experimental thruster is working according to theory.

"An extrapolation of the theory has been carried out for high thrust engines and the concept appears feasible. Initial design work on a lift engine has been undertaken. Some exciting commercial developments are in progress which will support a major development programme, whilst hopefully retaining the key work within the UK. "

Slightly more down to earth, we would be wrong to ignore two sets of developments that have figured prominently in our pages. The continuing developments in the very successful Control Techniques' Unidrive, subject of a Eureka cover story in March 1997 and the Brook Hansen 'W' series motors, world leaders in efficient motor technology with all the benefits that go with it.


* The folded strip 2D actuator motor has found application in a high security door lock that cannot be vibrated open

* The reactionless Emdrive looks as if it really is going to take off

* UK advances in AC motor and drive efficiencies are proving to be of great economic benefit to customers

Simon Powell

Fluid power maintains thrust of development

Fluid power developments continue to build on British innovation, despite the relative maturity of the technology, writes Tom Shelley

The UK, which built its industrial revolution on steam, continues to come up with radical developments in fluid power.

This reflects the fundamental nature of the technology, and continued room for efficiency improvements, despite the massive variety of excellent products offered on fast delivery by the likes of Bosch Rexroth, Festo and SMC.

The microprocessor controlled hydraulic/pneumatic prosthetic knee joint described by Dr Saeed Zahedi of PDD in our December 2001 edition was launched in 2002. Chas Blatchford describes it as, "The most advanced innovation in hydraulic knee control for over thirty years." PDD has since gone from strength to strength. In May 2003, the company received the Red Dot Special Prize for Intelligent Design for the Olympia Soundbug and the Red Dot Design Award for the Pogle Evolution. The Soundbug turns any hard surface into an effective soundboard for music or voice and the Pogle Evolution is said to be the world's most advanced digital film post-production controller.

The bi-stable, very fast switching valves developed by Wladyslaw Wygnanski and his colleagues at Cambridge-based Camcon Technology continue to make progress. Since the basic design concepts were described in some detail in our February 2002 edition, Camcon won a 45,000 DTI Smart Award in April 2003 to undertake a study into the feasibility of introducing high frequency modulation into the incoming fuel stream in gas and liquid-fueled turbines. The idea is to run turbines in lean burn mode, but use advanced control to suppress incipient instability perturbations before they grow sufficiently to damage the flame chambers. In May, the company announced that a pair of the company's binary actuators had completed more than 11.5 billion operations in laboratory tests. Each actuator had been performing 526 changeovers per second.

The latest idea to emerge from Camcon is a rolling swing valve. A 2ms electrical pulse to an electromagnet disrupts the magnetic field from permanent magnets so that the spring armature rolls from one stable position to another. Reaction time is less than 3ms, less than 1J of energy is required for the changeover, and no current is required to maintain either of the two stable positions. The roller is able to crush small solid particles and the valve is suitable for unfiltered fluids.

The Pursuit Dynamics steam ejector pump described in our December 2002 edition also continues to make progress. John Heathcote, the company CEO writes, "We announced at the end of January that we have two units undergoing evaluation with Sonico, a joint venture company between WS Atkins and an Anglia Water Group subsidiary, Purac. We commenced formal marketing of our PDX System last month and have been overwhelmed by enquiries from a large number of companies. As a result of this, we are taking on more personnel to deal with the licensing and business development aspects of our business."

Steam lives! as does the rest of the 900 million per year UK fluid power business.


* Fluid power development in the UK are alive and well

* Valves can switch more than 500 times per second using less power

* New developments include those based on steam, the foundation of the UK's original industrial revolution
Camcon Technology

Smart polymers set to be the next silicon revolution

Tom Shelley reports on the explosion in electrically and electronically active materials, and where this looks to be taking us

According to high tech venture capital guru Dr Hermann Hauser, speaking at the recent Venturefest event in Oxford, British developments in polymer-based electronics and displays have the potential to put the UK ahead in a revolution that he believes will be at least as big as silicon.

Not for nothing did Professor Richard Friend, the founder of Plastic Logic, the subject of Eureka's August 2003 cover story, receive a knighthood on this years Queen's birthday honours list.

ElekSen, another totally home-grown enterprise specialising in Fabric Keyboards and other electronic interfaces, the subject of Eureka's February 2000 cover story, has now reached the point of producing commercial products. ElekSen's Tim Pearce writes: "Our first commercial product launch was with Logitech, licensing them a combination soft keyboard/case for Palm branded PDA's. More recently we have launched through Orange an accessory keyboard, or what we call a "SoftTexter" for the Orange SPV smartphone. We have other such soft texters in the pipeline too, together with projects evolving in the automotive and healthcare sectors."

Cranch Lamble at Plastic Logic writes: "On the commercial side of things, the second closing of our first fundraising occurred in November and building work on our new labs and clean rooms began in January 2003 and will be completed shortly. On the technical side of things, we have focused on developing our technology for use in display applications. We have used our inkjet printed plastic electronics technology to produce active matrix backplanes for liquid crystal displays in collaboration with Gyricon, a Xerox spin-off. We've now produced the world's first Electronic Paper display with a printed plastic electronic active matrix backplane. On the non-display side of things, we've produced ring oscillators, various logic gates and are printing metal for interconnect lines. Our focus over the next six to twelve months will be to scale the displays and processes to target first products while also developing the technology further for other display applications and more general electronic/logic applications."

Also in Cambridge, Cambridge Display Technologies continues to go from strength to strength with its light emitting polymers, as does competitor Elam-T, whose latest developments are described on page XX.

In a different sphere of Smart materials, those inspired by nature and the subject of Eureka's April 2002 cover story, Professor George Jeronimidis at Reading University continues to lead research investigations. A conference on latest developments in 'Biomimetics' is scheduled for Friday, September 26that Reading. Paper titles include: "What we can learn from the structure and properties of seashells" by Dr. Stephen Eichorn at UMIST, "Development of a vibration driven endoscopic device" by Professor Picasso from the University of Cagliari and "Flexible reflectors in animals", by Victoria Welch from Oxford University.
Cambridge Display Technology
University of Reading Centre for Biomimetics


* Keyboards made using electrically responsive fabrics have now reached the market place

* Inkjet printable electronic circuitry continues to attract investment and looks increasingly attractive commercially as do light emitting polymer displays

* Smart materials inspired by nature continue to be researched

For more technical developments see

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