As part of our ongoing mission to support UK businesses with innovation and funding, our business spotlight section contains news and resources which your company may find useful.
Toyota awards $1 million in funding for innovative wheelchair design
Andrew Slorance, a scottish designer and wheelchair user, won Toyota’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge. The $1 million prize, which works out as £753,000, was to go to the best smart technology to improve the lives of those with lower-limb paralysis.
Andrew Slorance damaged his spine after falling from a tree at the age of 14. He explained to BBC news that he felt ‘devastated’ and ‘judged’ during his youth when he was strapped into the 25kg of steel wheelchair machinery.
Today, over almost 40 years since the incident, there has been little innovation in wheelchair technology. While they have become lighter and less bulky, the technology has hardly changed.
Phoenix i is the first lightweight wheelchair embedded with SMART technologies. It uses smart sensors to ensure a consistent centre of gravity, shifting depending on terrain and tilts in surface level. Weighing less than 3kg and created from strong carbon fibres, this invention is a far cry from Slorances 25kg steel chair in 1983.
The company, Phoenix Instinct, is based in the town of Forres, in Moray, Scotland. With a small team of five engineers, they created hundreds of draft designs using a 3D printer. A 3D printer was the perfect tool for wheelchair innovation. Mr Slorance explains that with each design, not only could you ‘3D print it, hold it and look at it,’ but also ‘sit in it and if it doesn’t feel right, you print another one.’
The wheelchair will be priced at around £4,000 to £5,000. While this pricing is much more than the average wheelchair, its’ smart technologies make it worth the price.
Toyota’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge, which launched in 2017, saw over 80 submissions from 28 countries across the globe. The winner announcement was planned to be held in Tokyo during the paralympics, however, due to COVID-19 and the postponement of the games to 2021, the announcement was done in isolation.
Alongside Andrew Slorance in first place, Toyota awarded $500,000 to four other finalists, from the USA, Italy, and Japan.
UK-based Battery Storage Startup secures funding of £1.2 billion
Connected Energy, a UK battery storage company has been granted £1.2 billion from ENGIE, as well as a R&D grant from Innovate UK. This grant is sourced from the ENGIE and UKRI Clean Growth Innovation Fund.
Connected Energy makes use of electric car batteries at the end of their in-car life, utilising them for energy storage, named E-STOR. Founded in 2010, the company combines these batteries to create energy solutions, each combination customised for each client. They can create energy capacities from 100 kilowatt hours to 150 megawatt hours. While these batteries have reached the end of their life within electric vehicles, Connected Energy can extend the battery life by 5 to 10 years.
Matthew Lumsden, CEO of Connected Energy, explains: “We almost double the working life of the batteries for vehicles and thereby greatly increase the value created from the resources already embedded in them. Our objective is to provide our end-customers with bankable energy storage systems and our battery supply partners with reliable routes to market for their second-life batteries.”
These E-STOR grids are useful for a range of industries. Construction sites, for example, can use Connected Energy to quickly produce high levels of power, without worrying about emissions and noise.
The Clean Growth Fund (CGR) aspires to create a carbon neutral world, allocating funding to SMEs and start up businesses creating innovative products to achieve this aim. CGR receives its donations from a range of organisations, including ENGIE, CCLA, and the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy.
“Investing in British innovators with solutions for the transition to a clean economy, and achieving net zero by 2050, is of paramount importance, as we aim to build back better from recent challenging times,” says Christian Inglis, Head of Urban Systems at Innovate UK.
Connected Energy’s ability to award electric vehicle batteries a second life, makes them the perfect receivers of this fund. The E-STOR systems help end-users make use of renewable energy, while also keeping costs low.