Security scanner wins MacRobert Award

Technology that determines the chemical composition of materials in containers and behind other barriers has won Cobalt Light Systems the 2014 MacRobert Award.

The STFC spinout has developed a range of products capable of carrying out non-invasive sub-surface analysis. This includes Insight100, a spatially offset Raman spectroscopy (SORS) instrument that analyses bottles in order to determine if they contain an anomalous substance without having to open them.

In 2012 the scanner instrument exceeded the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) standard for use at airports with an almost perfect detection capability and negligible false-alarm rate in unopened containers.

The scanners have recently been deployed in eight EU airports including Heathrow and Gatwick, and a total of 65 airports in Europe have introduced the system since January 2014.

Cobalt is now working on an EPSRC-funded project with STFC and two UK universities that will determine if the same SORs technology could lead to medical-grade systems that provides on-the-spot diagnosis of breast cancer and bone diseases such as osteoporosis, a condition that affects roughly three million people in the UK and leads to bones becoming brittle and breaking easily.

To this end, Cobalt’s technology is being used to develop a fast and reliable new method that could lead to earlier diagnosis in patients, enabling them to take preventative measures and seek treatment before sustaining injury. The system is currently being used in pre-clinical trials at the Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science, University College London, at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH) in Stanmore, Middlesex.

The same non-invasive technique can be used to analyse the chemical composition of breast tissue in the ‘shadows’ identified by mammograms, and the company is working on an EPSRC-funded project with Exeter University and STFC to develop a suitable platform.

HRH The Princess Royal presented the 2014 MacRobert Award to Cobalt Light Systems team members Paul Loeffen, CEO; Pavel Matousek, Chief Scientific Officer and STFC Senior Fellow; Stuart Bonthron, VP product development; Guy Maskall, data scientist; and Craig Tombling, COO Chief Operating Officer.

The Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award identifies outstanding innovation with proven commercial promise and tangible societal benefit.

John Robinson CBE FREng, Chair of the MacRobert Award judging panel, said: ‘The promise of this single fundamental innovation to improve the lives of millions of people in such a variety of ways meant Cobalt stood out in what has been a particularly competitive year for the MacRobert Award.’