Design Council and University of Nottingham

Design Council and University of Nottingham
DesignCouncil-SoR-IntroUniversity of Nottingham’s Technology Transfer Office (TTO) had developed a piece of technology called Heartlight that offered a new way to measure a person’s heartbeat using a small, unobtrusive, light-based device.

Heartlight was developed in collaboration withmining company Rio Tinto, for collecting data on employees working in difficult conditions underground. A prototype had been produced and the University had received funding to begin trials. However, they were keen to identify other, speedier routes to exploit the application further. Technology Transfer Officer, Dr George Rice, approached Design Council for expert support.

Design Council Design Associate Neil Gridley worked alongside Dr Rice and the team. Neil supported them in identifying other potential market applications through a programme of support, including a workshop, bringing together market researchers, designers, clinicians and technology transfer staff. This helped the team identify 45 different uses for Heartlight, including products for fitness, sport, gaming and apps. Options were then prioritised according to likely payback time and market size. It was at this stage they struck on something vital.

Every year in the UK, around 70,000 babies (1 in 10) are born needing some form of resuscitation. The longer a baby isn’t breathing, the greater risk of developing brain damage or other long-term health conditions. Research demonstrates that improved resuscitation means improved outcomes for surviving babies. Heartlight is small enough to sit on a baby’s head without needing to be held in place. Where previously midwives and doctors would need to stop resuscitation to calculate heart rate, this device enables uninterrupted resuscitation.

After making this link, it was time to bring a design agency on board to create visualisations of their product ideas in order to demonstrate their worth to potential investors. The new form for the Heartlight project attracted £125,000 of funding from Action Medical Research, and a further £250,000 from the Medical Research Council.

The University has now built a Technology Demonstrator, says Dr Rice.

“As a result of our work with Design Council, you can come and see the latest 30 inventions coming out of the University in early prototype form; you can tell us what you think of them and we’ll build that into our development process. The profile of what we’re doing as a TTO is really going up because we’ve used a bit of design thinking in the way we’re doing technology transfer.”

“Introducing a strategic design approach into what we do is having a significant impact across a growing number of projects as we move them toward market.”

As a result of this activity, the University has built such an impressive evidence base in commercial opportunities around the Heartlight platform that a consumer electronics manufacturer in Derby signed up for a joint venture to commercialise a pipeline of applications. The project also raised £1.6m from the Biomedical Catalyst Fund to take Heartlight all the way to market.
Expand for more