Monty Barlow, Cambridge Consultants CEO
Resting on laurels has never been an option for world-leading science and technology influencer Cambridge Consultants.
Born in 1960, the Science Park company has already spun out more than 20 businesses boasting gamechanging technology across a range of industries and sectors.
Not content with having changed vast tracts of the world’s science and technology landscape in the last 63 years, Cambridge Consultants – inspired by its intellectually restless CEO Monty Barlow – has been reading the tea leaves to ensure CC influences future innovation, even before it happens!
The company’s radar antennae are finely tuned to detect commercial opportunities ahead of the game – in some cases before there are established markets for certain scientific and technological breakthroughs.
Having identified major growth sectors, CC will drill down – sometimes under its own steam and others with client partners – to flesh out FutureTech opportunities across segments such as synthetic biology, human-machine understanding and quantum computing.
The consultancy certainly has the pedigree and track record to justify this spirit of adventure. CC gave birth, for example, to Bluetooth pioneer Cambridge Silicon Radio which packed unprecedented power onto superchips and wowed the stockmarket before being acquired by US giant Qualcomm for $2.5 billion in 2015.
The company also proved the mother and father of invention in the inkjet world, spawning both Domino Printing Sciences and Xaar Printing – businesses that have revolutionised the coding & marking industry worldwide.
It would be unfair to say that Cambridge Consultants has reinvented itself with chameleon-centric brilliance over the decades but the company has certainly demonstrated its versatility with consistent game-changing plays – on land and in space!
CC particularly proved a supreme asset for this and other nations during the COVID19 pandemic, particularly on both sides of the Atlantic.
For example, digital diagnostics company Ellume was able to unveil revolutionary technology created in partnership with the Cambridge-based global product development and technology consultancy firm.
The companies co-developed a next-generation, multi-component reader that combines optics, electronics and software, and powers the core technology behind the Ellume COVID-19 Home Test.
It was the first rapid self-test for COVID-19 detection granted Emergency Authorization Use by the U.S. FDA for both asymptomatic and symptomatic use without a prescription.
Ellume proceeded to create two other COVID-19 diagnostic tests for healthcare professionals and also leveraged the core sensing breakthrough in its technology for a rapid home flu test and diagnostic assay for tuberculosis.
Such rapid tests have been tipped to also play a critical role in tackling future pandemics and other infectious diseases across the globe.
In a related field, CC defied the odds to rapidly produce Veloci-Vent, a sophisticated emergency ventilator designed and built at the request of the UK government to help combat COVID-19.
Created as a new design in a little over six weeks by a team that expanded to 185-strong, Veloci-Vent was an achievement to rank alongside any in Cambridge Consultants’ history.
While it was never required for action in UK hospitals as existing ventilators proved up to an evolving requirement, Veloci-Vent was soon in demand from other countries struggling to cope with the devastating and potentially deadly side-effects of COVID.
Proving that some of its solutions were out of this world, Cambridge Consultants was also proud to announce what was literally a stratospheric breakthrough and a remarkable feat of engineering.
The company revealed its role in a visionary programme to realise the dream of superfast 5G for everyone and everything across the globe. Collaborating with Stratospheric Platforms Limited, CC’s remarkable technical achievement is a wireless antenna unlike anything seen before, delivering affordable connectivity from a fleet of zero emissions aircraft and airborne at an altitude of 20,000 meters for more than a week. Operating at a fraction of the cost of building and maintaining terrestrial infrastructure, and with minimal environmental impact due to its zero-emission hydrogen power system, such a fleet could rewrite the economics of mobile broadband, the company commented at the time.
With the proof of concept complete, the ultimate antenna proved powerful, huge – yet lightweight. At three meters square and weighing just 120kg, it took flight to become the world’s largest commercial airborne communications antenna.
If that project literally captured CC’s perennial approach of ‘onwards and upwards,’ then welcome to the brave new world already being envisioned by Monty Barlow and his perpetually enthusiastic teams.
As Barlow explains, Synthetic Biology is the potential enabler of a biological industrial revolution – giving biotech the X Factor, as he puts it. He is convinced that the application of AI and advanced simulation to biotechnology using the toolkit offered by synthetic biology is a genuine gamechanger.
“It has the potential to drive massive efficiency in all aspects of biotechnology, turning it from an expensive, labour-intensive process to one that is accessible and usable in applications from medicine to material production,” Barlow says.
Cambridge Consultants cites one prime example. Currently, bespoke treatments in cell & gene therapy can cost $500k-$1m per patient. This restricts the number of patients that can be feasibly treated and means healthcare agencies simply can’t afford to provide them.
CC’s considered opinion is that SynBio could drive a massive reduction in cost by a factor of X or more. Moving the experimentation from in-vitro to in-silico using powerful AI to determine the efficacy of treatments could make these treatments widespread and accessible.
And in the sustainability arena, the move from digging resources out of the ground to growing them could shorten supply chains and enable greener products.
Developing those products and understanding how to produce them at scale is the challenge. Again, SynBio is the key. Rapid development of the right proteins with the right properties is key to making cleaner and greener bio-products a reality, Barlow believes.
He says: “This move to the virtualisation of biological processes not only drives efficiency but unlocks approaches thought impossible until now. With the right application, delivered within an assurance framework that is regulated and ethically guided it will spur a new bio-industrial revolution.”
Artificial Intelligence has had a bad Press in some circles but Cambridge Consultants believes HMU (Human-Machine Understanding) is another area in which it can help influence positive technology plays.
People and machines working with each other – your empathetic AI work buddy? Let Barlow and his team explain how and why!
CC says empathetic AI is “more than a robot with a smiley face” and is about producing intuitive AI systems that can provide a human with the right information, in the right way at the right time.
While many processes will never require machines to understand humans, the addition of AI supporting humans has many benefits, the company posits.
The benefits could range from cognitive support – such as supporting decision making – to motor-sensory support (where interfaces and systems are adaptable and intuitive) right through to physical support in areas such as collaborative robots in logistics, manufacturing and entertainment.
In each of these examples, the machine would have more or less agency to act independently from its human buddy, depending on the task at hand.
For example, at its simplest, an HMU-enabled digital assistant might understand from stress in your voice or other indicators that you are under stress or upset and play music that it knows you play in these emotional circumstances.
At the more extreme end, an empathetic AI system could present the right information in a timely manner to a human operative overwhelmed by the gravity of a situation. Or if the human was in a state of indecision caused by too many signals (warning lights etc), the AI could intervene and decide for a person.
Cambridge Consultants says: “When you begin to apply this thinking to different functions, the opportunities of human-centric, intuitive and empathetic AI are everywhere. It becomes a compelling proposition where human and machines complement each other through teamwork.”
Barlow is convinced that Quantum technology – in which some Cambridge companies already excel globally – is another gamechanger; “it’s just identifying which game will be changed and when.”
With due apologies to Rome, Quantum wasn’t built in a day, CC suggests.
Barlow says: “Quantum promises to change the world, from computing to sensing and communication. It’s a big promise and has led to the expectation of a big bang where quantum is suddenly everywhere.
“But for quantum technology to achieve the transformational benefits it promises, it needs to be applied in the right places at the right time and in the right way. It’s a slope to adoption, not a cliff. And crucially, there might be areas where non-quantum will always be better.
“There is a lot of mystery perpetuated about quantum technology, probably because the science itself is hard – both conceptually and practically.
“On the practical side, whole new approaches are required to replicate what can be achieved in a lab in the outside world – in a way that is practical, reliable and cost-effective.
“Conceptually, quantum phenomena are counter-intuitive to anything else in science or engineering. This requires a new skillset – from experts with deep insight into physics, computer and material sciences.
“Once the combination of the above is established, we can drive towards common techniques and technologies that simplify and make quantum more practical.
“On the way, we will discover other things that could change our daily lives. Like NASA’s moon shot, the journey to a quantum reality will deliver much more than the destination.”
• All of the above is purely a snapshot of the capabilities consistently paraded by the multi-talented Cambridge Consultants teams, thriving under Capgemini’s ownership. For more – much more – visit the website: https://www.cambridgeconsultants.com/home