UK’s inventors got a boost this week when 46 projects, including a new breathing valve for scuba diving, a diagnostic system for car emission control, and a remote controlled airship for aerial camera work, received grants worth more than £3.5m.
The money came from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. Award recipient Francis Kay, who invented the new scuba breathing valve, said: ‘I didn’t have the matching funds to apply for a DTI Smart award but the £50,000 from Nesta will help me gain EN50, the diving technical standard, so I can market my idea.’
Kay’s award will help him to work with a design company to produce prototypes for testing. He already has the interest of the US Navy, which is seeking an improvement to its existing breathing apparatus. Kay has had several meetings with its director of diving at the office of Navy Sea Systems.
The scuba valve idea was one of six that received awards in Nesta’s invention and innovation category. The aim of the award is to help people turn ideas into products, services or techniques with social and commercial benefit by providing a wide-ranging package of support.
Nesta makes awards three times a year in three categories: Invention and Innovation, Fellowships – for supporting creative talent, and Education – schemes which aim to engage the public in science, technology and the arts.
Another invention and innovation award went to Mark Howarth for his fuel control diagnostic system called the Fueler.
Howarth, from Bolton in Lancashire owns a company called Factor One and has had 20 years’ experience in electronic design. He received a £50,000 award.
Howarth’s device allows mechanics to monitor a vehicle’s air/fuel ratio and check whether or not its oxygen sensor is faulty. The inventor hopes the award will enable him to bring the product to market.
The mini-airship for aerial camera work is still only at the prototype stage. Its inventor, David Kelsall, a senior design engineer for Lindstrand Balloons, is starting his own company to launch the aircraft, while continuing to work a couple of days a week for his existing employer.
Kelsall said: ‘The Nesta award seemed ideal. It funds a 12-month project that will develop the computer control system needed for outdoor flight. And Nesta has a very supportive all-round package for award winners that includes marketing.’
The other award-winning invention and innovation ideas were an automatic circuit board tester, an intelligent bike pedal and a panel-based electronic display system for walls, ceilings or floors.
Nesta was set up by the government in 1998 with an endowment of £200m from the National Lottery. This provides an income of about £10m a year to pay for the awards.
Financial support for any one project is usually between £5,000 and £50,000. However, in exceptional cases up to £100,000 can be awarded.
In providing an award Nesta also takes a stake in the new product because by law it has to increase its endowment. The stake normally takes the form of a share in the intellectual property rights or royalty payments related to the invention.
Only new ideas considered
Applicants for awards can make a pre-application via Nesta’s website. Applications are then vetted by external consultants JRA Technology and Peter Bissell Associates to make sure they are genuine new ideas.
To date, the organisation has made 142 awards, committing £10.5m.