The Liverpool-based Sensor City's projects have included 3D printed brains and eco-friendly coffins, and have involved cooperation between business, academia and government.
The technological innovation centre Sensor City celebrated its first birthday last week hailing it ‘an exceptional first year, which is “successfully paving the way for Liverpool City Region to become a global hotspot for sensor technology.”
The centre, which is a joint venture between the two main Liverpudlian universities, the University of Liverpool, and Liverpool John Moores, is at the forefront of Liverpool City region’s LCR4.0 programme that aims to make Liverpool a major centre of Industry 4.0 technologies.
The programme involves collaboration between SMEs, universities, the Local Enterprise Partnership and the Hartree Centre, a computing and data analytics facility in Warrington.
To date, Sensor City have completed over 45 projects, covering healthcare, funeral care and robotics. Twenty-five projects have involved 3D printing while a third of the projects have concerned mechanical lab work.
In the past three months, there has been a 50% uplift in laboratory projects. It has also supported seven charitable organisations in the last year.
Among the projects Sensor City have been involved in, include a partnership with sports innovation company SportScientia to develop 3D printing of smart insoles that can predict and reduce the number of sport injuries. The partnership has helped SportScientia to reduce both the development time and costs of producing smart insoles.
The Singapore-based firm are now collaborating with Liverpool John Moores University’s Sports Science department and local football teams to trial insole prototypes, with an eye on starting promotional activity to increase product recognition and hopefully secure investment.
Commenting on the anniversary of its founding, Dr Joanne Phoenix, interim executive director at Sensor City, said the centre has made a considerable amount of progress: “We’ve surpassed what we thought was possible in terms of providing business support and bringing in state-of-the-art machinery, as well as attracting new tenancies and stimulating community engagement,” she said.
“Liverpool City Region is innovative by nature, so there are many new and existing companies coming up with pioneering ideas every day. It’s our job to make those ideas a reality through the advanced technology, funding, partnerships and expert support we provide.”
Among the more interesting projects Sensor City has worked on in the last 12 months has been the design of ecofriendly coffins. The centre’s LCR 4.0 team worked with the Koffin Company to help design coffins that were biodegradable, reliable and cheaper than regular coffins.
Gina Gzarnecki, Koffin Company’s founder said: “Our involvement with the LCR4.0 scheme has resulted in outputs being produced in a timely and efficient manner, using expert advice and linking disciplines seamlessly. I would fully recommend other people getting involved with Sensor City and the LCR4.0 scheme.”
Additionally, Sensor City has established relationships with multiple corporate partners including the government’s Northern Powerhouse initiative and the UK Science Park Association, along with Liverpool, and Liverpool John Moores universities. It has established 12 partnerships in its first year and hosted nearly 300 events in its modern purpose-built facility. In total, 42 new businesses have been attracted to its £15m centre.
Sensor City has laboratories that host advanced sensor and IoT technology worth over £1m. It says that its labs enable companies to access equipment that they do not have and enable prototypes to be created more quickly. It also says it can help to elevate the skill levels of the individuals and companies it works with.
One object which was created using Sensor City’s facilities was a 3D printed brain. Chanua Health, who collaborated on the design with Sensor City, say the 3D printed brain could be used by students to combat issues surrounding mental health through two projects dedicated to improving human wellbeing, ‘Neuro Champions’ and ‘Hacking Health’.
“It’s been great to have support from the LCR4.0 team at Sensor City. They have been very receptive and open to helping us develop further,” said Chanua Health’s co-founder Naomi Mwasambili.
Sensor City is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and was opened by Greg Clark in November 2017. In his speech at the centre’s unveiling, Clark said: “Sensor City is a brilliant example of our Industrial Strategy in action, a hub that will bring together the best academic minds and entrepreneurs with businesses, large and small, to explore opportunities and foster collaborations that will turn innovative ideas into scale-up businesses.”
Reporting by Harry Wise