OptaSense selected as one of three finalists for 2014 MacRobert Award

April 28th, 2014

Three candidates emerge for the UKs premier engineering prize

28th April 2014 – OptaSense – the UK company creating the ‘Earth’s Nervous System™’; Cobalt – an SME using cutting-edge materials science to fight terrorism; and Rolls-Royce – the engineering giant behind the world’s first vertical take-off system for a supersonic fighter jet, have been revealed as this year’s finalists for the UK’s most prestigious engineering award.

Synonymous with spotting the ‘next big thing’ in the technology sector, the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award is the UK’s longest running national prize for engineering. It identifies outstanding innovation with proven commercial promise and tangible societal benefit.

This year, judges have shortlisted three outstanding candidates from the UK’s thriving engineering sector. Finalist OptaSense, has developed technology that can turn any existing fibre-optic cable into a highly sensitive real-time microphone. With millions of miles of fibre optic cable underground and undersea around the world, the ability to turn this into a ‘listening device’ has enormous potential in terms of security monitoring, and many other applications. It is already being used to improve the safety of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), for example, and to save the lives of soldiers deployed in hostile environments.

John Robinson FREng, Chair of the MacRobert Award judging panel, said, “Each of this year’s finalists has demonstrated excellent innovation and technical expertise but, perhaps more importantly, the significance of how this is being applied for the benefit of society is exceptional. These three UK organisations, each of a different size and stage of business development, truly represent the breadth of the UK’s engineering capability and its global importance. They are excellent examples of the economic importance of the nation’s engineering sector, which the Academy continues to emphasise through its Engineering for Growth campaign.”

The 2014 finalists:

OptaSense – creating the ‘Earth’s Nervous System’

OptaSense, a QinetiQ-owned company, has developed technology that can turn any existing fibre-optic cable into a highly sensitive real-time microphone. With millions of miles of fibre optic cable underground and undersea around the world, the ability to turn this into a ‘listening’ device has enormous potential in terms of perimeter security monitoring, fracking safety, traffic management, rail protection and more.

Sensitive enough to detect footsteps, vehicles, digging, or even a helicopter passing overhead, the technology is already being used as a means of advanced security monitoring for perimeters and assets, such as in the military where it is saving soldiers’ lives, and in the oil and gas industry where it can prevent illegal ‘hot-tapping’ of oil pipelines and precisely detect and locate leaks, saving millions of pounds per incident.

The technology can also be used to monitor the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process, which is increasingly used to recover oil and gas from shale. Fracking has proven controversial due to concerns about current limitations in understanding what effect it has on the surrounding rock, but OptaSense’s down-hole monitoring system improves operators’ awareness of potential issues in real-time for rapid response, and can detect seismic activity in or close to the wellbore enabling safe shutdown if required.

Magnus McEwen-King, Managing Director of OptaSense said “We are extremely pleased to be nominated as a finalist for such a prestigious engineering innovation award. The technical team at OptaSense have pioneered the development of distributed acoustic sensing and are recognised as world leaders in this field. We firmly believe this British technology will become the Earth’s Nervous System protecting the majority of the global energy and transport arteries ensuring a safer and more efficient movement of people and product around the world.”

Notes for Editors

1. About the MacRobert Award. First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Award is widely regarded as the most coveted in the industry. Founded by the MacRobert Trusts, the Award is now presented by the Royal Academy of Engineering after a prize fund was established with donations from the MacRobert Trusts, the Academy and British industry. For more information, visit: www.raeng.org.uk/prizes/macrobert

Previous winners include EMI Ltd, who in 1972 developed the CT Scanner, a vital medical device that can now be found in almost every hospital in the developed world. In 2002 Cambridge Display Technologies won the MacRobert Award for its light emitting polymer displays, which are now used extensively in televisions and smart phones. Last year’s winner was software company RealVNC, which judges predicted could be a billion dollar company within five years.

The judging panel for the MacRobert Award 2014 is as follows:

John Robinson FREng (Chair)

Chairman, Abbeyfield Society; previously Chairman and Chief Executive of Smith & Nephew plc; Chairman, George Wimpey plc, Railtrack plc, Low and Bonar plc, UK Coal plc and Consort Medical plc; Operating Partner, Duke Street Capital

Keith Davis

Chairman, The MacRobert Trust; formerly Director, Strategy & Planning, the Royal Academy of Engineering

Professor Nicholas Cooper FREng

Director, JN Cooper & Partners Ltd

Professor Sir Richard Friend FREng FRS

Cavendish Professor of Physics, University of Cambridge; Co-founder, Cambridge Display Technology Ltd and Plastic Logic Ltd

Dr Andrew Herbert OBE FREng

Former Chairman of Microsoft Research

Dr Gordon Masterton OBE FREng FRSE

Vice President, Jacobs Engineering; Deputy Chairman at Construction Industry Council; formerly President at Institution of Civil Engineers

Peter Saraga CBE FREng

Chairman of the Advisory Board, Ambient Assisted Living Joint Programme; formerly President of the Institute of Physics

Ian Shott CBE FREng

Managing Director, Shott Trinova LLP

Dr Martyn Thomas CBE FREng

Director, Martyn Thomas Associates Ltd

2. About the Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook. We have four strategic challenges: Drive faster and more balanced economic growth; foster better education and skills; lead the profession; promote engineering at the heart of society.

For further information please contact:

Notes for Editors

About OptaSense

  • OptaSense is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the QinetiQ Group
  • It is a platform technology which has applications in a number of markets, including infrastructure security where the technology is already in use to monitor 13,000kms of assets, principally providing leak detection and third party intrusion detection for oil and gas pipelines.
  • OptaSense is the world leader in Distributed Acoustic Sensing and operating in 40 countries globally with operations across multiple industries including Oil & Gas, Defence & Security, Transport and Utilities.
  • Website: www.optasense.com 

About QinetiQ

  • A FTSE250 company, QinetiQ uses its domain knowledge to provide technical support and know-how to customers in the global aerospace, defence and security markets. QinetiQ's unique position enables it to be a trusted partner to government organisations, predominantly in the UK and the US, including defence departments, intelligence services and security agencies.
  • Follow QinetiQ on twitter @QinetiQ
  • Website: www.qinetiq.com