How one firm makes beer and basketball better

Recent projects include a dispenser for customizing beer, basketball-training app, and portable immunization checker.

cambridge consultants

Building its U.S. presence

UK-based Cambridge Consultants recently moved its U.S. headquarters to Boston, where it plans to expand headcount from 30 people today to more than 100 over the next three years. "We're looking for engineers of all different disciplines -- software engineers, mechanical engineers, electronics engineers, program managers,” said David Bradshaw, a director at the 54-year-old product development and technology consulting firm. Read on to see some of the highlights of the firm’s new U.S. offices and a few of its latest inventions.

02 collaboration

Side projects welcome

Engineers and scientists are encouraged to work on their own design ideas as part of Cambridge Consultants’ corporate development program. Over the years, the program has resulted in more than 20 corporate spinouts (see the full story here). "Being a consulting company, we sell our hours to our clients. Obviously we carry a surplus of those hours, and we need to find a productive way of using them. What better way than to let the staff be creative on their own ideas? This gives them an outlet to develop in an area that interests them," Bradshaw said. “It leads to better retention, because people are working on things that they're genuinely passionate about. That's the whole idea of the program."

03 anechoic chamber

Anechoic chamber

Cambridge Consultants outfitted its new Boston offices with state-of-the-art laboratories and development resources. The 20,000-square-foot facility includes an anechoic chamber, which engineers can use as a radio test facility to improve performance of the wireless products they develop, for example.

04 operating room

Simulated operating room

The firm’s new offices also include a simulated operating room (pictured) and rapid prototyping shops for making mechanical products and electronics. "We built a new space all around the everything-under-one-roof mentality. So no longer do engineers have to go out to the hospital to test something in a representative environment. No longer do you have to wait two weeks to book a wireless test facility. No longer do you have to send out parts to be made," Bradshaw said. "You can do a complete design iteration -- design, build, verify in the wireless chamber, test in the operating room -- in one day, with all of your team around you. It's an incredibly efficient way to work."

05 beer tech

Beer baristas

Care to personalize your pint? One of Cambridge Consultants’ latest inventions is personalized beer technology that could allow bartenders to add extra hops to a pint as they’re dispensing it. The technology could also be used to add flavors such as spices or fruit. “Essentially, we’re making an ‘espresso’ of beer,” said Edward Brunner, head of food and beverage systems at Cambridge Consultants, in a statement. “We’ve taken our expertise in fluid technology and beverage systems, and transferred that knowledge between different industries – using some of the secrets of successful coffee machines to enable us to create personalized beer that is fresh and natural.

06 chimaera surgical tool

Smart surgical assistance

New from the firm is Chimaera, a tool designed to guide surgeons to the precise location they need to work via a predetermined safe pathway through the body. Chimaera aggregates preoperative and intraoperative data from multiple sources in real time so surgical teams can visualize exactly where they’re working during an operation. “Identifying and locating critical structures, such as nerves or blood vessels – to either avoid or target them – is a vital part of surgical skill. But today’s tools are largely passive, offering surgeons little support in this regard. Our Chimaera surgical concept delivers advanced sensing technology into the hands of the surgeon – giving them real-time, intraoperative feedback,” said Simon Karger, head of surgical and interventional products at Cambridge Consultants, in a statement.

07 arcaid app

Thanks, coach

Want to stop shooting bricks? Cambridge Consultants developed a prototype basketball training system that combines cameras, sensors and a mobile app to analyze a player’s performance and improve technique. The ArcAid basketball training system can provide immediate feedback on individual technique or team performance as well as store data to track training progress over time. The firm says it developed the basketball prototype to show that it’s possible deliver a system with the accuracy and results of an advanced professional training aid – but at a fraction of the cost.

08 immustat

Immunized? Check.

Cambridge Consultants teamed with Massachusetts-based nonprofit Diagnostics For All to develop an app that can read a simple test for whether a child has been immunized and transmit the results using a mobile phone. In the demo, a swab from a child’s mouth is applied to a paper-based diagnostic device, and the mobile app then reads the device to discover the immunity status of the child. “The ability to quickly and inexpensively test if a child has already been vaccinated will conserve resources and save many lives in countries around the world. The test is as simple as watching a spot on a postage-stamp-sized piece of paper change color,” said Marcus Lovell Smith, CEO of Diagnostics For All, in a statement.

09 droptag

Keeping tabs on assets

Earlier this year the firm unveiled two new monitoring technologies designed to help companies in the offshore industry keep tabs on people and products while they’re in transit. DropTag uses a compact puck attached to goods before shipping to log information about conditions during the journey, such as vibrations, temperature and humidity. The system, which is designed to work with smartphones, transmits info back to base and can trigger alerts when preset thresholds are exceeded. The second technology, dubbed Trace, is designed to track the location of people indoors, even without the availability of GPS or radio signals. It’s geared for highly metallic structures such as ships and oil platforms, which can be difficult environments to accurately track people. "A lot of subsea equipment has sealed hydraulics, for example, so temperature monitoring in extreme conditions is crucial. And being able to locate personnel quickly and accurately in an emergency can save lives," said Dr. Frances Metcalfe, associate director, oil and gas, at Cambridge Consultants, in a statement.