Researchers at the U.K.'s Loughborough University Civil and Building Engineering department have won the Loughborough Enterprise Awards for Commercialization by demonstrating a technolgy that could save lives around the world and lessen devastation to infrastructure.
The one-year project, which is funded by the U.K.'s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is being led by Dr Neil Dixon, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering Dr Matthew Spriggs from Loughborough University, working with students at the university.
They developed a device to gauge the stability of slopes with a sensor that picks up the high frequency sounds that come from soil particles moving underground. It represents a step change both in terms of technical performance and manufacturing cost.
The device, called ALARMS (Assessment of Landslides using Acoustic Real-time Monitoring Systems), will lead to a reduction in the number of deaths through early warnings and timely intervention to stabilise slopes to reduce the impact of landslides on critical infrastructure such as transport and water supply networks.
This will have a direct economic benefit for both the operators of these services and the populations that rely on them.The havoc they wreak on basic services such as water supply and transport costs billions of pounds to repair. There is a pressing need for an affordable and robust landslide early warning system in order to evacuate vulnerable people and to protect critical infrastructure.
The challenge was finding a way to detect the very small stress waves given off by soil movement, said Professor Dixon, quoted in an article in the Engineer.
'When rocks fracture they give off lots of energy as acoustic emissions,' added Dixon. 'But most landslides are in soils and you get very low energy when two soil particles move against each other and the stress wave loses energy very quickly in the ground.'
Loughborough University Chancellor and chairman of BAA Sir Nigel Rudd paid tribute to the finalists, saying: 'Tonight's Enterprise Awards show the value of the University's role in society. They are a wonderful celebration of the enterprising culture that is such an integral part of Loughborough University.'
'At every level, there are staff and students undertaking innovative and creative activities within a lively research culture that allows talent to thrive, and those same staff and students are also seeking opportunities to ensure that there is the maximum impact of their work in society.''
The winners of the Student Enterprise category were Design and Technology graduates Laurence Kemball-Cook and Mark Wane. They created new business Pavegen from a university project, developing ingenious paving slabs that harness the power of footsteps to generate electricity for street lights, signs and electrical appliances.