Saturday, 19 December 2009

Brit Tech Genius: 10 Innovators Changing Your World.

Think all your gadgets are dreamt up across the pond or in secret Far East bunkers owned by the world’s biggest tech titans? Think again. Britain is at the forefront when it comes to bleeding edge gadgetry, whether it’s the latest shiny must-have from Apple, or a motor that’s all set to break the land speed record. It’s easy to forget British boffins are behind some of the world’s greatest gadgets so, without further ado, here are my top 10 British innovators you need to know.

Jonny Ive, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple: Every modern day Apple gadget owes its existence to one man. Not Steve Jobs, but Jonny Ive, the Chingford (UK) born designer who’s been in charge of Cupertino’s industrial design since 1997. In that time he’s created the classic iMac, turned the MP3 player from niche plaything to global phenomenon with the iPod, and made touchscreens work seamlessly on the iPhone.

Ive’s a shy genius, rarely speaking about his work and showing his face in public even less often. He’s most frequently found toeing the company line in official Apple videos, but the clip below from American TV show Objectified shows him more relaxed, working in his studio, and explaining the thought processes which keeps him at the top of the tech design pile.

James Dyson, inventor the Dyson Dual Cyclone: Dyson’s first vacuum cleaner, the G-Force, was sidelined when it was first unleashed in the 80s. Yet it’s follow-ups have set the tone for household gadgets all over the world. With the Dyson Dual Cyclone now found in the home of every self-respecting cleanliness freak Dyson has set his sights further afield.

Not content with fighting dust, Dyson’s Airblade hand drier has called time on weak-willed air blowers in loos across the globe, and earlier this year he set out to change desktop fans forever with his Dyson Air Multiplier.

Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web
Without Tim Berners Lee, what you’re doing right now might not be possible. The British engineer developed the www back in 1989, going on to build the first ever web browser and web server.

After the first website was built in 1991, Berners Lee’s creation went from niche networking to global colossus in ten short years. Tell me you could live without the world wide web now and you’d be lying.

John Piper, Chief Designer, Hound: You might not have heard of John Piper, but pay attention: Piper’s car, Hound, isn’t like other motors. That’s because it’s being primed to top 1,000mph in 2011, smashing the world land speed record in the process.

Whizzing by in a faster-than-sound blur, it’ll be driven by current record holder, Wing Commander Andy Green. Piper recently finished the design of Hound, positioning a small rocket underneath the engine of a Eurofighter jet. He reckons it’ll be enough to bring him success with the landspeed record, and cements him a place on my list of British tech giants.

Gordon Murray, McLaren F1 designer turned eco car maker: Murray is known as the man behind the McLaren F1 sports car. But he’s all set to make a name for himself at the bleeding edge of eco motoring with the T.27, a brand new type of electric car that’ll be ready to roll on British streets in just under two years.

A completely new concept, Murray is hoping to have s built and on sale by 2011. It’ll have a top seed of 60mph when it hits the tarmac in 18 months time, weighing around half the mass of today’s ‘leccy motors at 600Kg. At the moment, Murray’s prototypes look like he’s hammered them together in a shed, but he’s got form for creating fantastic cars in the past, and could be about to start a Prius-style revolution right here in the UK.

Trevor Baylis, inventor of the clockwork radio: Baylis is best known for inventing the clockwork radio, letting people snaffle signals without relying on batteries or the mains for their breakfast banter. His Freeplay radio, as it became known, was first unleashed in Africa, before a smaller hit the UK.

Since then Baylis has become a champion of British inventors, helping young bucks bring their high tech dreams to reality with the Trevor Baylis Foundation.

Kane Kramer, inventor of the Digital Audio Player: While Jonny Ive may have brought the MP3 player to the masses, it’s possible the iPod would never have happened without Kane Kramer. The British inventor first conceived a Digital Audio Player (DAP) back in 1979, also touting the idea of downloading music of your phone line and something that looks very much like an Apple store. It may have seemed mad back then, but he was bang on the money.

Kramer’s original drawings of a DAP clearly show a slab like device that many of us would recognise as an iPod today. In 1979 though, his ideas were seen as marginal. Apple was even moved to recognise Kane’s idea in 2007, although it won’t be stumping up any cash in return for making it popular.

Peter Molyneux, creator of Fable, Theme Park and Milo: Britain’s gaming industry is teeming with successful developers that are the envy of the world. But Molyneux has been a leading light in the world of video games since the 80s. Classics such as Theme Park, Populous and Fable all bear his hallmark. And he’s not shuffling off into retirement yet.

Molyneux is one of the driving forces behind the Xbox 360’s Project Natal. At its launch, he showed off a project dubbed Milo and the forthcoming Fable 3. If a gaming technology has Molyneux behind it, you’re guaranteed big crowds, and with his vote firmly in Natal’s ballot box he’s already making sure British games studios are taking Microsoft’s system seriously.

Richard Palmer, founder D3O: D3O is about to revolutionise gadgets. You might not know its name, but it’s one of the world’s first smart materials, and it was invented by a Brit! Chemical engineer Richard Palmer set up his own business to create the substance, which acts like silly putty in your hands, but stiffens up to absorb shocks and bumps whenever it’s hit.

It’s a silicon polymer that has the look and feel of playdoh, and is already in laptop and iPod cases from Tech 21, saving your precious tech from taking a battering. Palmer also says it could go into body armour too. Think futuristic football shin pads that mould to your legs but harden up when you’re hit by a crunching tackle. Smart materials are the future, and Palmer proves you needn’t be a mega multinational to make your mark.

Sir Howard Stringer, CEO Sony: Stringer hasn’t had it easy heading up one of the planet’s biggest tech giants. But his Sony United plan has made the gadget colossus more lean, better focused and able to make the most of its assets.

His first triumph was with the robotic Rolly. The device itself was never going to be a huge seller, but it let Stringer pull together Sony’s Walkman, Aibo and mobile teams to create a single product that was more than the sum of its parts. It was niche and bizarre, and stole headlines while proving that Sony’s sprawling divisions could work together effectively. And he hasn’t stopped there.

With the likes of the PlayStation 3’s XMB interface heading to Sony Ericsson phones and onto Blu-ray players, he’s helped Sony’s products have one core interface. The impending Sony Online Service, flogging eBooks, music and video will also be a huge match for iTunes, finally turning Sony’s ragtag army of products into a unified fighting force ready to stomp all over tech rivals.


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