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From fashion to noise control and autonomous vehicles: Silver Medals awarded to pioneering engineers

Awards recognise innovative noise pollution solutions, groundbreaking online fashion search tool and advances in autonomous vehicles

Three pioneering engineers who have produced outstanding – and commercially successful – innovations early in their careers are to be recognised with the Royal Academy of Engineering’s prestigious Silver Medal on Thursday 11 July at the Academy’s Awards Dinner at London’s Banqueting House. The three winners are:

  • Dr Daniel Elford for developing advanced noise control solutions
  • Jennifer Griffiths MBE for developing the world’s first cross-platform visual search tool for fashion items
  • Professor Paul Newman FREng for developing the technology behind autonomous vehicles and shaping the UK’s strategy that lets them drive
l-r: Jennifer Griffiths MBE, Professor Paul Newman FREng, Dr Daniel Elford

Dr Daniel Elford, Sonobex

Dr Daniel Elford is Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Sonobex Ltd, a company that is developing acoustic metamaterials to address noise pollution problems. He was awarded an Academy Enterprise Fellowship in 2012, and has raised over £1.2 million in funding for his innovation. He became an Academy Enterprise Hub SME Leader in 2018.

Noise is an increasingly important public health issue, with 210 million people in the EU exposed to road noise levels that are considered harmful. The harmful effects of noise have been linked to up to 50,000 fatal heart attacks every year and 200,000 cases of cardio-vascular disease in the EU. Dr Elford’s technology has the potential to change the global marketplace for noise control solutions, with significant environmental and societal benefits.

NoiseTrap(R) Acoustic Panel Installation

Acoustic metamaterials are at the forefront of modern acoustics, and Sonobex is leading the field in developing commercial solutions for industrial noise control. Acoustic metamaterials are artificially engineered structures that can display novel acoustic effects not found in nature. They can control low frequency sound and can be tuned to control, direct and manipulate sound.

Sonobex has developed the first commercially available, acoustic metamaterial-based technologies that are revolutionising industrial noise control and enabling unrivalled low-frequency noise reduction. The company designs and manufactures a range of modular engineered systems incorporating novel NoiseTrap® acoustic-metamaterial based panels.

Dr Elford said: “It is such an honour to be awarded a prestigious Silver Medal by the Academy in recognition of my achievements, none of which would have been possible without the Academy’s early support.”

Adrienne Vertooren, Member of the Supervisory Board of noise control solution company Merton, said: “Our modern, industrialised world comes with a lot of noise. We have to protect ourselves against noise from cars, trains and machines. The techniques we use to do that, such as barriers, silencers and absorbing materials, have been around for decades. Dr Elford and his team came up with something entirely new: using metamaterials. Metamaterials do not use physical properties to control noise, like mass for an acoustic barrier or absorption for a ceiling plate to reduce the echo in a room, but instead use the shape of objects. By using metamaterials, Dr Elford and his team invented several new products with outstanding acoustic performance. Their acoustic panels are being used in several industrial projects and several other products are close to being introduced.”

Jennifer Griffiths MBE, Snap Tech

Jennifer Griffiths’ innovation, Snap Tech, works with retailers, social media and publishers to help customers quickly find and compare fashion items online. Retailers can use Snap Tech’s ‘Snap Similar’ button to show customers clothes that match the colour or cut of others they have browsed. Publishers can make use of ‘Snap the Look’ to tell readers where to find a whole outfit from a single photo, along with where to find similar outfits.

Snap Tech technology in action

Jennifer Griffiths began writing the algorithms that power Snap Tech while she was studying for her Masters in computer science at the University of Bristol. She spent three years developing the idea into a business, which is the world’s first cross-platform visual search site for fashion. After raising initial funding herself, she marketed the technology to business-to-business clients, focusing on retailers and publishers such as Marie Claire. She joined the Academy’s Enterprise Hub SME Leader programme in 2017.

Snap Tech’s technology combines hand-crafted mathematical rulesets – a problem-solving technique that quickly narrows a range of possible results to an approximate solution – with the latest machine-learning technology to deliver visually-matched results from an original query image. It takes user-generated images from social platforms, for example, and delivers results that can then be filtered. The technology can be used on the web, via mobile, or in- store.

Jennifer Griffiths said: “I’m truly honoured to be receiving this award from the Royal Academy of Engineering. I’m always proud of our world-first technology but usually dwell on business benefits, so it’s amazing to receive acknowledgement for the engineering work that powers our solution, and for being just a small part of the AI revolution that I and so many engineers in the UK and throughout the world are driving today. I’d like to thank my team, in particular, for helping me to transform an academic project into a thriving business focused on pushing the boundaries of visual search. Receiving this medal from the Academy means a lot to me as they do so much to encourage young people and women into engineering, which is something that I’m really passionate about, especially given my own career choices.”

Professor Andrew Blake Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering FRS, AI consultant and Chair of the Samsung AI Centre in Cambridge said: “Jenny Griffiths is the founder of Snap Tech, and the inventor of the company’s core algorithms. It is a world leader in visual search for fashion, using a blend of classical mathematical heuristics, combined with the latest deep neural network technology. But Jenny has gone way beyond mastery of the AI technology, to develop also a deep understanding of what the fashion industry actually needs. As a result, Snap Tech already has list of prominent customers. Jenny has grown a company that is highly innovative and successful, as her numerous innovation and enterprise awards attest.”

Professor Paul Newman FREng, Oxbotica, University of Oxford

Professor Paul Newman FREng will be awarded a Silver Medal in recognition of his innovations in navigation and autonomous vehicles.

Professor Newman, BP Professor of Information Engineering, University of Oxford has been writing autonomous vehicle algorithms for 20 years. Since 1999 he has worked on the core ideas that underpin autonomous vehicles worldwide. His work has been fundamental in enabling the operation of the autonomous sub-sea vehicles that dealt with the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. During an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Leadership Fellowship, Professor Newman developed the ‘Robotcar’, which in 2013 became the first autonomous vehicle on UK roads, paving the way for future autonomous vehicle operation. His technical work underpins the government’s strategy on driverless cars, and he currently serves on the Department for Transport’s Science Advisory Council.

Oxbotica car

Professor Newman co-founded Oxbotica, which has recently partnered with Addison Lee to bring autonomous taxis to London. Its technology enables robots to navigate without relying on GPS or any other external infrastructure. Instead it uses onboard sensors, cameras, lasers and radars to interpret and act in specific environments. Oxbotica’s Universal Autonomy software has been used commercially in a vast range of environments – from autonomous cars on public roads to mines, warehouses, forests, airports and ports, in any weather, at any time. Oxbotica’s mission is to let every vehicle do more, by creating the software that drives them.

Professor Newman said: “I’m immensely honoured by this award. It means a great deal to me. It is a result of a fantastic journey with amazing people from around the world – Sydney, MIT, Oxford and of course Oxbotica, without all of them none of this would be possible. To be recognised for doing something I adore, and that I believe matters so much, makes this all the more precious. The way in which people and goods are moved is about to change beyond recognition. To be able to make a contribution to that global revolution here in the UK makes me proud, happy and thankful to all my colleagues, employers, funders and partners.”

Professor Phil Blythe, Chief Scientific Adviser, Office for Science, Department for Transport (DfT) said: ‘I am absolutely delighted that Paul is being awarded the Silver Medal. I cannot think of an engineer, who is also a world-leading academic, more deserving of this award. Paul has created an enduring legacy by putting UK academia at the forefront of the robotics and automation sector and has successfully translated this to industry through the company spun out from his research group, Oxbotica, and through other industrial partners who have benefitted from this technology translation. Moreover, I value his advice as a member of my DfT Science Advisory Council and the support he has given to the Government’s Industrial Strategy.’

Notes to editors

  1. The Royal Academy of Engineering Silver Medal was established in 1994 to recognise an outstanding and demonstrated personal contribution to British engineering, which has resulted in successful market exploitation, by an engineer with less than 22 years in full time employment or equivalent on 1 January in the year of award and who will normally be Chartered. Up to four medals may be awarded in any one year.
  2. Annual Awards Dinner 2019. This year’s Royal Academy of Engineering Awards Dinner takes place at London’s Banqueting House on Thursday 11 July. Along with the announcement of the winner of this year’s MacRobert Award, the event will also celebrate the winners of other awards and prizes including the Major Project Award, Silver Medal, President’s Medal, Rooke Award and RAEng Engineers Trust Young Engineer of the Year. The headline sponsor of this year’s Awards Dinner is Rolls-Royce, with additional silver sponsors BP and Lockheed Martin.
  3. Royal Academy of Engineering

As the UK’s national academy for engineering and technology, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers from academia and business – our Fellows – to advance and promote excellence in engineering for the benefit of society.

We harness their experience and expertise to provide independent advice to government, to deliver programmes that help exceptional engineering researchers and innovators realise their potential, to engage the public with engineering and to provide leadership for the profession.

We have three strategic priorities:

  • Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation and businesses
  • Address the engineering skills and diversity challenge
  • Position engineering at the heart of society

We bring together engineers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, academics, educators and the public in pursuit of these goals.

Engineering is a global profession, so we work with partners across the world to advance engineering’s contribution to society on an international, as well as a national scale.

For more information please contact: Victoria Runcie at the Royal Academy of Engineering Tel. 020 7766 0745; email: [email protected]

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