The 2011 Shortlist – Civil Engineering

Hertfordshire University, Mitsubishi Electric

The result of an intriguing collaboration between psychologists from Hertfordshire University and engineers from Mitsubishi Electric, the Cube is a compact (3 x 3 x 3m) and portable house designed to drive awareness of energy-saving technologies.

Making its debut at the Edinburgh science festival, the small prototype home features a range of commercially available energyefficient technologies.

The Cube Project is designed to promote the adoption of low-carbon technologies, both in the domestic and business sectors. These technologies include photovoltaic solar panels, air-source heat pumps, LED lighting, LED television, triple-glazed windows, low-flow water fittings, induction cooking, heat-recovery ventilation, and domestic appliances optimised for their energy efficiency.

According to the project leader, Hertfordshire University’s Dr Mike Page, all of the technologies used in the Cube can be applied in homes and business premises of any size, whether new-build or retro-fit, scaled (where appropriate) by the building’s surface area.

Funded by £20k of seed funding from Hertfordshire University’s Collaborative Funding Initiative, the build was financed by the School of Psychology and by a number of commercial sponsors, of whom Mitsubishi Electric was the most prominent.

Although primarily intended as a technology demonstrator, the Cube has also generated some commercial interest and, according to Page, talks are currently under way with a UK manufacturing firm to investigate the Cube’s commercial potential.

Loughborough University, Geotechnical Observations, British Geological Survey

Landslides are a hazard all over the world, killing thousands of people every year and causing expensive damage to critical infrastructure. And, worryingly, partly down to the growing frequency of extreme weather events and uncontrolled development in some of the world’s most populous areas, they are becoming more common.

In many countries it’s rare for slopes to be routinely monitored because of the high cost of instrumentation. But in response to calls from the UN for the development of early-warning systems that could be deployed in low-income economies a group led by Loughborough University has
developed a low-cost sensor system that is able predict whether a landslide is likely to occur.

Working alongside the British Geological Survey and Geotechnical Observations, the Loughborough-led team has developed the Slope Acoustic Landslide Real-time Monitoring System (ALARMS), a sensorbased technology that can be embedded in the soil and is able to detect the highfrequency acoustic emissions (AE) generated by deforming materials. The system is able to compare the frequency of this high-frequency noise with a set of trigger values, and generates an alarm if they are exceeded.

Proof-of-concept field trials of the sensors, where they are being compared with traditional techniques, are currently in progress on a Network Rail cutting, a large rock slide in the Italian Alps, a coastal landslide on the Yorkshire coast, a natural landslide in Yorkshire and the BIONICS
research embankment at Newcastle University. Plans are also well advanced to instrument a landslide on the M25 and a road cutting in Northern Ireland.

The group plans to commercialise the sensors and is looking at ways of further reducing the cost of the technology so that it can be widely deployed in the developing world.