Clothes that stiffen on impact could protect elderly people from breaking their hips when they fall.
The “smart clothing” being developed at Imperial College London uses an energy-absorbing material known as Armourgel that hardens on impact in a similar way to protective motorcycle gear, but which is thin and flexible enough to be incorporated into everyday garments.
Hip fractures take up 20 per cent of orthopaedic hospital beds in the UK and cost the NHS about £1.73bn a year.
Dr Daniel Plant, who is developing the material, is one of eight researchers to be awarded up to £85,000 by the Royal Academy of Engineering to help start businesses based on technological innovations. The Enterprise Fellowship Scheme will also provide the researchers with one-to-one mentoring from business entrepreneurs to help them commercialise their ideas.
Other projects to receive awards include a half-size catalytic converter to reduce car emissions and save fuel; the world’s fastest atomic-force microscope; and a radio tagging system to track airline luggage and cargo.
Sir John Parker, the president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “Engineering already contributes at least £480bn to the UK economy each year, and the ability to create wealth from innovation is essential in building a stronger and more competitive economy.
“By bridging the gap between industry and academia and enabling entrepreneurship to thrive, the Academy’s Enterprise Hub aims to ensure that the country’s brightest entrepreneurial minds are given the best possible chance to succeed, whilst helping to bring new technologies and services to market for the benefit of society.”
Arnoud Jullens, the head of enterprise at the Royal Academy of Engineering, added: “Business-minded academics need investment and support from experienced industry practitioners to exploit their research, which could become the commercial success stories of tomorrow, and this is exactly what the Academy’s Enterprise Hub provides.”