Comment: Innovative solutions to the grand challenges

Dr Richard Drake, Chief Technology Officer at Babcock International Group comments on some of the inspiring collaborative projects and disruptive trends uncovered by The Engineer’s seventh annual Collaborate To Innovate (C2) awards

Engineering and technology affects almost every aspect of our lives, from how we get to work, protect the environment, defend our country and even navigate pandemics.

So as Babcock once again supports the Collaborate to Innovate Awards, it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves of the incredible achievements being made every single day by the engineering community and those who work alongside us.

I often talk about the power of collaboration, of partnerships where we can all learn and benefit from each other, whether it’s bringing a different skillset, an idea or an element of R&D to the table – and that’s exactly what makes these awards so special.

They’re important because they unite technologists, academia and industry to encourage them to push the boundaries, do things differently and continuously improve.

It’s a culture we embrace at Babcock, where as Chief Technology Officer I get to work with some of the most inspiring individuals who are committed to creating a safer, more secure world for us all to live in.

Judging the entries for this year’s competition was understandably difficult, with the standard across all categories incredibly high – as it is year on year. The dominant themes that permeated all categories included the push to find technology solutions for Net Zero – and these entries produced many positive collaborations as a result of the societal and environmental challenges we’re facing.


The second focus is of course around data. We know the pace of change in data and digital technology means collaboration and investing in future skills is fundamental for us and our industry partners, but also for our customers. Whether it’s work we’re doing for Skynet - the UK Government’s military satellite network - or in the Southern Hemisphere where our colleagues in Babcock Australia are working on a comprehensive technology upgrade system (JP9101 contract) for the Australian Defence Force HF communications solution.

The importance of data brings me to this year’s winners. Huge congratulations then to Optimise Prime which won the Information & Data category for its groundbreaking project trialling solutions that will help networks and fleet operators prepare for the transition to the use of commercial electric vehicles. And in tackling the challenge of new sustainable technology solutions – congratulations to the Sustainable Aviation Test Environment team – winner of the Aerospace & Defence category for developing a real world test-bed, based at Kirkwall airport in the Scottish highlands, which is aimed at driving development of low carbon regional aviation technology.

These were just a few of the outstanding winners and I hope you are as encouraged as I am by what has been achieved so far. I really look forward to following these collaborations and seeing how they develop.

Finally, I was left particularly inspired by the Wild Card winner for creating a fully portable innovative heat storage device to control Varroa mites in beehives, and Project Prasinos – winner of the Young Innovator award, a student project leading to a concept for a smart/low carbon city.

As impressive as it was to see data prevalent across all categories it has also reinforced my own view, that it simply isn’t enough to just have the latest bit of kit or application. We need much more – we need people who understand the increasingly complex data world we are in, people who can translate and transform that data to bring about real, tangible benefits to the work we do. That’s why we’re supporting a number of MSc and PhD projects through our university partnerships - whether we’re exploring sustainable shipbuilding, peridynamics or the creation of a digital twin of an entire facility.

These collaborations are the backbone of what we do every day, as engineers and technologists tasked with finding solutions to some of the world’s biggest engineering challenges. So on behalf of Babcock I would like to congratulate all the winning teams. You are all innovators who should be incredibly proud of what you have achieved.

Congratulations to all the winners of this year’s Collaborate to Innovate Awards from Babcock International Group.

Dr Richard Drake is Chief Technology Officer at Babcock International Group, headline sponsor of the C2I Awards