Meet new generation of Scottish inventors

FROM the steam engine to the raincoat, the list of great Scottish innovations is seemingly endless.

For generations, the country has churned out inventors whose work has changed the world. Now, in the name of one of the greatest, The John Logie Baird Awards seek to reward the latest in this illustrious line. Shortlisted finalists are set to pitch their ideas to a Dragons Den-style panel and will compete to win 20,000 of product and marketing support to help make their bright ideas into reality.

Tracey Ward, 29, of About Tack Ltd, has designed a strong, flexible saddle

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"You'd go to work, get on a horse, pick up a wooden sword and go and beat up some stunt guys," Tracey recalls. As she describes what she was up to when she first came up with her invention, it is clear it was no everyday employment.

She was in her native New Zealand, training horses on the set of the film The Last Samurai. Amid the drama, the shortcomings of existing saddles became very clear. She explains: "The current design for saddles is based on a design that's about 2,000 years old. It has a rigid frame and it's made from wood and steel. The frame serves to distribute the load of the rider standing in the stirrups along the length of the saddle, but if you're asking the horse to bend or do anything that's quite athletic, it can be quite restrictive – it's somewhat like a splint.

"We did have difficulties with saddle fittings for the film because the people who do the 'costumes' for the horses have to produce 50 saddles, each saddle has to be fitted to each horse and each horse changes condition through the year and with the rigid saddle, there's very little room for change. With a flexible saddle it's much easier to adapt, and that's a problem not just with film horses."

Now based in Whittingehame, East Lothian, she has developed a saddle which has a flexible structure made out of Dyneema, a fibre 15 times stronger than steel. Most commonly used by paragliders, its combination of strength and flexibility means the saddle can redistribute the rider's weight without restricting the horse's movement.


Isla McLean, 30, has invented Uloop, a luggage lock and alarm which attaches bags to their owner

"I suppose I wouldn't really call myself an inventor, I'd call myself a businesswoman," Isla reflects.

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A Marie Curie Cancer Care fundraiser by day, it was her experience of travelling that inspired her to turn inventor – or businesswoman. The Uloop is a wire lock which travellers can use to attach their luggage to themselves. If the bag is stolen, the alarm goes off and stays with the bag, making it a burden for any would-be thief. The alarm also sounds if the wire is cut.

Isla, who lives in Broughton, explains: "I've done a lot of travelling and I've slept in many airports, on buses and trains and in communal rooms and I always had this recurring fear that while I'm asleep, someone's going to nick off with my bag. I was on a three-hour train journey in the UK, I'd just bought myself a new handbag – normally I have manky old ones – and I really wanted to fall asleep and I thought 'What about my bag?'

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"I wanted to buy something that would keep it secure and set off an alarm if someone tried to take it, but I couldn't find anything, so I decided to make it."

It was a steep learning curve to go from a bright idea to a commercial product, but when she picked up the first Uloop, she could hardly contain her excitement. She recalls: "My production design team are in Glasgow and I got on a train and I thought 'I'm going to connect my bag to myself for the first time' and I thought 'I'm the only person in the world – IN THE WORLD – who knows what this is."


Neil Tocher, 35, of Otus Technologies, has invented a simple-to-use 360 degree still and video camera – The VRstation

"We're meeting the SAS next week," explains Neil, "and we've been contacted by Dell, and are in negotiations with them, they're hoping to put it into 160,000 branches in the US."

If the key to success is finding high-profile customers, Neil and his business partner Cameron Ure are already moving in impressive circles with their 360 degree camera.

The camera is a refinement of existing models, mostly used by estate agents to offer online "virtual tours" of the properties they market.

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Processing the images currently takes up to two hours in the hands of an expert, but the new camera can be operated by anyone capable of pressing the switch on the front. Neil explains: "I looked at the existing technologies and I thought 'There's faults with them all, it would be great if someone invented something that corrected all those faults', but nobody did, so in the end I thought 'Let's just make it'."

The new version can also take 360 degree video images, making it ideal for video conferencing, noise-activated-security cameras – and, potentially, military applications.

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Best of all, Neil says, it is all made locally. The firm's office is in Morningside, and he adds: "We went all over the world trying to find people to help build this thing, because it's quite a complicated piece of kit. We went to Japan and China, but we've managed to bring everything to Edinburgh – all of our manufacturing is now done in Livingston. We're quite proud that we've made a camera that's now got global appeal, which is being chased by companies like Dell, and that's made near Edinburgh. It's bringing manufacturing back."


Richard Brown, 54, has invented Mimelight, a coloured lighting system which can be controlled by gesture

Richard is certainly no stranger to innovation – he created a 12ft interactive starfish for the Millennium Dome, and was employed as artist-in-residence for the University of Edinburgh's Informatics department.

The Portobello-based inventor's latest creation, Mimelight, is his first move into producing commercially – an LED light which changes colour and is operated by gestures. Basic movement-operated lights are already available, but Richard says: "What I'm trying to do is to take it into much more of a design lighting mode. You bring your hand near one of the lights and depending how near or far you are, if you bring in your hand near it will go to warm reds and further away it goes blue. You can paint with your hand – it's like magic painting."

It is the latest in a long line of interactive installations he has created, including the Millennium Dome starfish, which also responded to gesture. "It's a common theme in all my work – I like anything that has a sense of magic about it," he says.



The other Edinburgh and Lothians finalists are:

• Jamie Curran, Low Price Lessons Ltd – allowing users to compare driving lessons.

• David Armstrong, Helpar Ltd – safety warning in helmets.

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• Jill Boulton, Visual Products Ltd – motorbike visor cleaner.

• Peter Higgins, UWI Technology Ltd – food labels.

• Stephen McOmish, Side-Spin – golf development game.

• Jamie Laux, Bleep Purple – marketing targeting mobiles.

• Chris Gibson, Zipper Tie Company – pre-tied necktie.

• Brian Langstaff, Switchable Hub – USB switch can share four devices between two PCs.

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• Victoria O'Donoghue, Loc8er Ltd – device worn by children provides location and sends alerts if removed.

• David Finlay, AlbaTERN – generate electricity in remote and hostile marine locations.

• David Riley, Money Dashboard Ltd – online personal finance software.

• Arfan Ali, PETROC Technologies Ltd – support services for carbon capture.

• Javid Khan, Holoxica Ltd – 3D holographic displays.

• Simon Montford, Vibio (UK) Ltd – invite Facebook friends to see what you are buying.

• Markus Mueller, NGenTec Ltd – magnet generator for use in wind turbines.

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• Aquamarine Power Ltd – the world's only grid-connected hydro-electric wave energy converter.

• Duncan Johnston-Watt, Cloudsoft Corporation – internet-based system offering access to business and consumer IT services.