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ARU helps Essex-based business to produce road safety prototype

Simon Croft from Rear Clear

One Essex company is working hard to develop an innovative automotive safety component that will improve the lorry driving experience and reduce accidents on the road, including those involving cyclists. The firm is benefitting from a part-funded knowledge transfer programme.

Heavy goods vehicles make up 10% of traffic on motorways, yet Campaign For Better Transport has found they are involved in over half (52%) of fatal motorway accidents. Rear Clear was established three years ago by business partners Steve Abbs, Simon Croft (pictured) and Tim Seeley. Former truck driver Tim regularly encountered visibility issues while driving in poor weather conditions. He found that heavy rain, salt and dirt would often coat the rear-view mirrors, hindering his ability to safely perform simple driving manoeuvres such as overtaking and parking.

With over 4 million heavy goods vehicles being manufactured every year, there was an opportunity for the company to create a product that could solve this problem and improve road-safety and haulage performance times.

"We came up with the idea of using on board air to clear the rear view wing mirror,” says Simon. “A switch in the cab, on the driver’s indicator stork, gives the driver control to clear and clean the mirrors using air and screen-wash while on the go, making overtaking safer and reducing the need for unplanned stops which affect haulage performance times.”

When an HGV is travelling at motorway speeds, high-velocity air is automatically redirected across the vehicle’s wing mirrors to create a shield, preventing dirt and water from being deposited. Called See Clear, the component is the first revolutionary development in wing-mirror technology for over two decades.

Rear Clear knew they’d created a useful and marketable product, but recognised they lacked the in-house capabilities to fully refine the design of their concept. An ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) collaborative programme – known as a Low Carbon KEEP, a particular type of knowledge transfer activity – allowed the team to work with Anglia Ruskin University and employ a mechanical engineering graduate who could apply a more scientific and technologically focused approach to honing the product’s design, ready for development. Within a short period of time, the strengthened team was able to design, optimise and manufacture a See Clear prototype. 

Simon admits that the company did not know exactly what to expect from their first knowledge transfer project, which also includes the support from a highly experienced overseeing academic: “I found a lot of the stress, especially time-management issues and paperwork, was taken on by the University, allowing Rear Clear to continue functioning at an optimum level. Actually, the process has been very straightforward, including applying for grant money which has helped towards the cost.”

The project’s overseeing academic, Professor Hassan Shirvani, worked closely with the company for over a year, applying his significant knowledge of aerospace and using advanced aerodynamic simulation and Formula 1 technology to support the progress of the prototype.

“The three-way partnership has undoubtedly been integral to the product’s development,” says Simon.

Going forward, the company hopes to license the product to an international manufacturer. With a market potential of over £2 billion in licensing fees, Rear Clear’s future looks as bright and clear as their wing mirrors.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP)

A KTP is a particular type of knowledge transfer activity. It's three-way partnership between a business, an academic institution and a graduate who work on a specific project together to find an innovative solution to a particular problem, helping that business to grow.

The partnership facilitates the transfer of knowledge, technology and skills to which the business currently has no access. It's a bespoke programmes that's tailored to the specific needs of a business. Projects often last between six and 36 months and are heavily subsidised by Government grants, making them a cost-effective way to gain the expertise of an experienced academic and the talent of a high-calibre graduate employee.

KTP facts and figures

Latest KTP information from Innovate UK shows that businesses can benefit on average by:

  • an increase in annual profit of over £290,000
  • eight genuine new jobs created
  • investment in plant and machinery of over £220,000
  • opportunities to develop competitive advantage
  • by linking with academia
  • embedding of innovation culture.

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