How an innovative UK company is leading the way in developing intelligent, low-power sensors for a connected world.
Smart infrastructure is big business. All over the world, digital sensing technologies are being deployed on a broad range of structures such as bridges and tunnels, providing engineers with real-time condition monitoring data that helps protect asset integrity.
Notably, it is a British company initially spun out from the University of Cambridge that leads the way. UtterBerry produces miniature, artificially intelligent, ultra-lower power wireless sensors used in various major infrastructure projects, including London’s Crossrail and Thames Tideway.
Such is the proven reliability and accuracy of its sensors that UtterBerry is expanding into other exciting applications such as smart hospitals, where its technology can monitor and control various types of activity, including usage of lighting, water, and energy.
“It is a really exciting time for the company,” says Heba Bevan, who established UtterBerry in 2013. “Our technology has already been installed on some amazing complex projects, and we see enormous opportunities in other sectors and applications around the world.”
Networks of smart sensors
So, how does UtterBerry’s technology work? The battery-powered sensor itself is no bigger than a matchbox. Yet, it can collect an incredible amount of data related to real-time asset, structural and people movement, environment, and leak detection. These wireless sensors can self-calibrate to form a mesh network and relay data between each other, working as a family of sensors without a need for line of sight.
For real-time remote access to the data, the sensors are supported by a base station providing connectivity to the internet or local network, where it can be accessed through a secure online dashboard. Ultimately, the technology provides infrastructure operators with bespoke mass sensing along with accurate, real-time data analytics.
“This kind of capability is crucial for organisations such as transport providers and for smart cities,” says Heba Bevan. “Infrastructure failure at a London railway station can cost tens of millions of pounds in revenue a week. By accurately monitoring conditions in real-time, our technology can help prevent any unexpected failures.”
“But there is more to it than that. Increasingly we see opportunities for connected sensing in other sectors. From hospitals and sports arenas through to agriculture, real-time data provides better visibility of assets and will result in smarter environments with more efficient and effective use of resources.”
A passion for innovation
The success of UtterBerry reflects Heba Bevan’s passion for technology. As an electronics and computer engineering graduate, she worked as a developer of next-generation central processing units for the chip manufacturer ARM, before starting her PhD at the University of Cambridge. It was here that Heba established UtterBerry, building the company on a solid base of patents and IP.
“I am a self-declared geek. I love technology,” she says. “It has been so rewarding to develop the technology and grow the company. Now, when I see our products installed in places like a station or a bridge, I get an enormous sense of pride.”
Heba puts a lot of her success down to working with the right people. “The team at UtterBerry is amazing. They are smart and honest and believe in what we are doing.”
Looking to the future, Heba plans to continue expanding UtterBerry with new products and applications. Echoing the view of the Bessemer Society, she is a firm believer in the importance of maintaining a strong UK industrial base and intends to expand manufacturing in this country. “This strategy gives us better control of quality. We are expanding in international markets, but we want our manufacturing to expand in the UK.”
This commitment to UK manufacturing needs to be replicated at a national level, she adds, in the form of more government support, especially in critical areas like semiconductor chip manufacturing.
“The industry depends on a handful of suppliers in the world. If that tap is turned off for whatever reason, we are in deep trouble. Europe has announced support for chip manufacturing. But the UK has not. We need to support chip manufacturing in this country.”