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Flood risk predictor competing for major engineering prize

A “hyper-accurate” flood risk prediction tool, which produced maps for the entirity of Thailand in four months following last year’s floods, is among the three shortlisted contenders competing for one of the most prestigious engineering awards.

JBA Consulting’s flood risk modelling system, JFlow, uses unique algorithms to produce some of the world’s most detailed 2D hydrodynamicmaps on a national scale. In the UK, these are used by national and local government agencies, the top five insurance companies (accounting for 60% of the data), and civil engineering firms to help understand the hydrology, plan flood defences, set premiums and develop rescue plans.

A highly sensitive camera that enables scientists to map a genome in only a few hours and a cutting-edge concept car for the road have also been shortlisted as finalists for the 2012 Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award.

The MacRobert Award, celebrates outstanding innovation and commercial success, attributes ably demonstrated by this year’s finalists: Andor Technology, JBA Consulting and Jaguar Land Rover.

The winner will be announced on 26 June at the Academy’s Awards Dinner and receive a gold medal plus £50,000 cash prize.  Previous recipients include Microsoft Research, Cambridge, for its Xbox Kinect human motion-capture system and Arup’s National Aquatic Centre, better known as the ‘Water Cube’ – the dramatic centrepiece of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The 2012 finalists were selected from a long list of over 40 nominations, drawn from every field of contemporary engineering. Although the shortlisted innovations are very different from one another, the three share a similar ‘DNA’: they were developed in the UK to create ‘future facing’ products which have opened up new markets and achieved international sales success. 

The 2012 finalists

Andor Technology’s Neo sCMOS scientific digital camera has delivered a step change in scientific imaging, allowing researchers to capture high resolution pictures of single cells and molecular structures with greater accuracy, less background noise and at a faster frame rate (30 to 100 images per second) than ever before. (The Neo project is part financed by the European Regional Development Fund under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland.)

With applications across the spectrum of medical, genetic and biomedical engineering disciplines, the Neo sCMOS is an enabling technology for super-resolution microscopy, which allows scientists to observe processes at a (20 nanometre) cellular or molecular level more easily and cost effectively. Among other things this will enable the sequencing of entire human genomes within a matter of hours.

A spinout from Queen’s University, Belfast, in 1989, Andor Technology now has 300 employees working in 16 offices worldwide, and exports its products to 10,000 customers in 55 countries. The company is looking to recruit a further 70 engineers and scientists as production at their Belfast manufacturing HQ ramps up.

Team members: sCMOS solutions manager Oliver Petersen, senior software engineer George Wright, senior software engineer Dermot McCluskey, senior embedded systems engineer Ken Strang, mechanical engineer Daryl Fegan, all based at Andor in Belfast.

The Range Rover Evoque from Land Rover has carved out an entirely new market segment with its striking concept-car design which still retains the ground clearance necessary for true all-terrain capability. To maintain the original concept’s low profile design, Jaguar Land Rover’s engineers packaged the under-floor components, the all new front and rear suspension systems, new chassis frame and 70l fuel tank with millimetre accuracy. 

Safety and weight-saving technologies can be found throughout its bodyshell and chassis, including an advanced steel monocoque frame that is reinforced with ultrahigh-strength boron steel, which enables the Evoque to achieve a slim profile without compromising strength or safety.

The Range Rover Evoque is manufactured at JLR’s Halewood assembly plant on Merseyside. Its worldwide success has created or safeguarded over 30,000 jobs throughout the supply chain. The company recently announced £3bn worth of contracts with more than 40 UK based suppliers, many of which are based in the North and Midlands – regions hard hit by the economic downturn.

Team members: chief programme engineer David Mitchell, studio director David Saddington, vehicle engineering manager Pete Cockle, body engineering manager Brian Lidgard, principal chassis engineer Ian Hulme, all based at Jaguar Land Rover, Coventry.

JBA Consulting’s flood risk modelling system, JFlow, has become, in just four years, an essential tool for the UK’s insurance industry. Following devastating flooding in Thailand last year, JBA was able to respond by using JFlow to produce flood maps of the whole country within four months.

Flood damage in England alone costs £1bn annually, so it is crucial that engineers and insurers have the tools to model potential flood risks accurately at both a national and local, household, level.

JBA’s JFlow technology uses unique algorithms to produce some of the world’s most detailed 2D hydrodynamicmaps on a national scale. In the UK, these are used by national and local government agencies, the top five insurance companies (accounting for 60% of the data), and civil engineering firms to help understand the hydrology, plan flood defences, set premiums and develop rescue plans.

Ireland, France, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Belgium, Luxembourg and India are among the countries using the JFlow product.

Producing detailed maps of this nature usually demands immense processing power, only available from extremely expensive super-computers. JBA Consulting’s key innovation was to create software that could run on off the shelf graphics cards and processors, which could be easily and cost-effectively up-scaled according to demand. Yorkshire-based JBA now operates the world’s largest dedicated flood modelling grid, using, in essence, a super-computer made up of over 50,000 processor cores.

Team members: chief scientist Rob Lamb, director Simon Waller, principal analyst Amanda Crossley, technical director Kate Bradbrook, all based at JBA Consulting in Skipton, North Yorkshire.


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