Reporter 400, 21 April 1997

Royal seal of approval for life-saving invention

An innovation pioneered at the University which allows ambulances to make faster, safer journeys won the Prince of Wales Award for Innovation last month.

Dr Deborah Withington of Physiology and Jim Keane, managing director of Sound Alert, the company set up to develop the product along with ULIS, were presented with the award by the Prince of Wales at the Tomorrow's World Live exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham.

The directional siren gives motorists and pedestrians a clear idea of where a vehicle is coming from, so that an ambulance can be pinpointed long before it can be seen.

Experiments carried out in the University showed that simple sounds covering just one or two frequencies, such as conventional sirens, are difficult to locate. The easiest noises to locate are those covering the whole range of frequencies within human hearing, such as white noise.

The siren combines a wailing sound, which attracts attention, with a burst of white noise to aid location. It has been tested in several cities in the UK and could be in operation by the end of the year.

Sound Alert beat finalists from Oxford University, who developed an atomic microscope, and from Southampton University, who devised a cockroach trap. Prince Charles said he had long believed that in Britain " it is essential to provide universities with more encouragement to exploit their bright ideas, and it is most heartening to see this becoming a reality."

The siren also has a potential use in helping people escape from fires, as the noise can guide people to exits when vision is limited by smoke.

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