“Smart” clothing to protect elderly from hip fractures

Protective “smart” clothing for the elderly that stiffens on impact is among the ideas supported by the latest Royal Academy of Engineering business grants announced today.

Eight researchers from UK universities will each receive up to £85,000 to develop a spinout firm under the Academy’s Enterprise Fellowship scheme, which also includes funding for a half-size catalytic converter and the “world’s fastest” atomic-force microscope.

The “smart” clothing, developed by Daniel Plan of Imperial College London, is designed as a comfortable way of protecting elderly people from fracturing their hips if they fall over, something that costs the NHS around £1.73bn a year.

The design uses an energy-absorbing material known as Armourgel that stiffens on impact in a similar way to protective motorcycling gear but which is up to four times thinner and more flexible and therefore can be incorporated into everyday garments

Another project to receive fellowship funding is a technology that could increase the speed with which smartphone apps access data from the internet in a crowded area where mobile connectivity may be limited.

The software would allow a group of nearby phones all trying to access the same data, for example in a football stadium where fans may want to see match information, to work together as a network rather than each downloading the data separately.

The fellows will also receive one-to-one mentoring from successful British technology businesspeople including Sir Robin Saxby, former chief executive and chairman of ARM, and Prof Neville Jackson, chief technology and innovation officer at Ricardo, as part of the Academy’s new Enterprise Hub scheme.

‘UK universities produce some of the greatest innovations in the world, but getting them out of the lab and into the marketplace remains a huge challenge,’ said Arnoud Jullens, head of enterprise at the Royal Academy of Engineering.

‘Business-minded academics need investment and support from experienced industry practitioners to exploit their research, which could become the commercial success stories of tomorrow, and this is exactly what the Academy’s Enterprise Hub provides.’

The eight fellows are: 

  • Dr Benjamin Kingsbury of Imperial College London and MicroTech Ceramics Ltd, who has developed a half-size catalytic converter to reduces automotive emissions and save fuel;
  • Richard Nock of Bristol University, who has developed low-cost digital timing technology that could enable cutting-edge scientific research tools to be made cheaper and more accessible;
  • Dr Philip Orr of Strathclyde University, who is designed photonic sensors that can collect measurements from across a power grid without the need for more elaborate infrastructure;
  • Dr Loren Picco of Bristol University, who claims to have developed the world’s fastest atomic-force microscope, which uses a mechanical probe to “feel” the surface of a biological sample at the nanoscale;
  • Daniel Plant of Imperial College London, who has created the Armourgel material for protective smart clothing;
  • Dr Sithamparanathan Sabesan of Cambridge University, who has developed a cheap radio-frequency identification (RFID) tagging system to more reliable track airline luggage and cargo;
  • Prof Jon Timmis of York University, who has designed computer modelling software to help develop drugs for treatimg autoimmune diseases;
  • Dr Ian Wakeman of Sussex University and TribeHive, who has created the smartphone app bandwidth-sharting software.