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Engineering innovations to blow your mind in 2018

Asier Marzo using a tractor beam

15 January 2018

Bristol has a proud history of engineering innovations, from Brunel’s iconic suspension bridge to the technology behind mobile phones in the 70s. 2018 is the Year of Engineering – a national campaign to inspire the next generation of engineers and widen the pool of young people who join the profession.

The University of Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering is sharing some of its exciting technology which is helping to pave the way for breakthroughs in neonatal care, 5G – the biggest advance yet in mobile network communications, a sound-proof window that lets in air but not sound, and a new farming system which uses less space and water than any other farming method.

Manipulating sound waves in real time

Metasonics is a new company that will revolutionise our ability to manipulate soundwaves by allowing them to be directed, shaped and focused in real time.  It will mean advertisers can target individuals in a crowd, noisy neighbours can mute themselves and fitness enthusiasts can monitor their health using ultrasound. The company, started by University of Bristol and University of Sussex academics, just did their first public demonstration at a global tech show in Las Vegas showcasing the crowd-favourite sound-proof window that lets in air but not sound.   

Dr Mihai Caleap demonstrating Metasonics at CES 2018 in Las Vegas

Earthquake-proof schools

In 2015 a huge earthquake devastated Nepal, killing 9,000 people and injuring 22,000. Now Civil Engineers from Bristol are working with local teams in Nepal and experts from USA, Italy, China and the UK to design new earthquake-proof schools. The new schools will be made from local affordable materials and the successful design could be used in other earthquake prone countries.  

Dr Anastasios Sextos visiting a school in Nepal

Your house will keep you healthy

Researchers at Bristol are developing a 21st century home health sensor system. The SPHERE project uses a combination of wireless networks, wearables, video analytics and machine learning to quantify health-related behaviours over long periods to diagnose and help manage health problems and wellbeing conditions like stroke, heart disease and depression.  The technology will aid early diagnosis, lifestyle change and the ability of patients to live at home while maintaining their privacy and independence.

5G technology – the biggest advance yet in mobile communications

Bristol will be one of the first cities in the UK to test 5G superfast internet in the city centre. Good news for Netflix addicts and businesses alike. Perhaps more excitingly, 5G wireless technology will support even more new tech developments. Everything from driverless cars to 3D videos will rely on 5G and researchers from the University of Bristol are leading the charge to roll it out across Bristol.


 Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, Director of the Smart Internet Lab, with Vice-Chancellor Hugh Brady

Most powerful tractor beam yet

Two years ago engineers at Bristol invented tractor beams that can levitate tiny objects in mid-air using sound waves. Now the same team have levitated the largest object yet at 2cm! The new technique uses tornado-like vortexes made of sound. This technology could be used on a ‘contactless’ production line, or even to help doctors move things around inside the human body!

Asier Marzo using a tractor beam

New way to protect premature babies

In the UK alone, there are 16,000 transfers of premature babies to medical facilities each year. Transportation of the infants can take place in helicopters, ambulances or aircraft, but moving babies creates high levels of vibration and noise, causing damaging stress to the baby.

A new 'metamaterial' created by engineers at Bristol is being adapted to make a new type of incubator that absorbs vibrations and and protect the lives of pre-term babies.

Chatting with the International Space Station

A new satellite lab in the faculty of Engineering means that this year students and researchers will be able to chat directly to astronauts on in International Space Station. Ground control to Major Peake!


Dr Lucy Berthoud in the new lab

Vertical farming

A vertical farm in Bristol is growing food using mist! A new technology, using a technique known as ‘aeroponics’, is being trialled at Grow Bristol to grow strawberries, pea shoots and leafy greens. Bristol graduates Ben Crowther and Charlie Guy developed the environmentally friendly system which uses less space and water than any other farming method.

 Dermot, a vertical farmer at Grow Bristol 

Volcano watching drones

Last year Engineers and Scientists from the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge, and Birmingham teamed up with local agencies in Guatemala to monitor the highly-eruptive volcano Volcán de Fuego using drones. They used multi-copters and fixed-wing aircraft, flying 8km (5 miles) from base and 4100m (13,500ft) above sea level. In 2018 the team will return to fly higher and further, collecting data and ash from inside volcanic plumes, and taking photos of the summit for 3-D reconstructions.                                                                                   


Ben Schellenberg, a PhD Student in the Department of Aerospace Engineering


To find out more about the Year of Engineering, visit the website or follow the campaign on Twitter.

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