Reporter 419, 27 April 1998

Design experts sound out physiologist’s bright idea

The University received the ‘Cool Britannia’ seal of approval when a life-saving siren was chosen as one of 200 Millennium Products unveiled by Prime Minister Tony Blair on April 2.

The Localizer siren, developed by Dr Deborah Withington in the Department of Physiology, was selected from around 1,000 designs and will feature in the Millennium Dome at Greenwich.

The idea for the siren came to Dr Withington four years ago when she was sitting in traffic and heard an ambulance approaching. “Everyone was frantically looking around to see where it was coming from, including me, and suddenly it clicked – it was the wrong type of sound.” Her expertise in how the brain responds to sound and University resources such as the driving simulator led to the development of the Localizer, which four years on has also won a Prince of Wales Award for Innovation and three SMART awards.

The panel decided all Millennium Products should be pioneering in their field, forward-thinking and challenging, creative and innovative. The products should also actively make a difference in one of a number of ways – by opening up new opportunities, being environmentally responsible, solving clear problem and showing clear user benefits. As a successful submission the Localizer will be on show in the Millennium Experience at Greenwich and will showcase in business and industry exhibitions at home and abroad.

“It’s a recognition that the University is at the cutting edge of innovation and it also shows how basic science can have life-saving applications,” said Dr Withington.

Design Council Chief Executive Andrew Summers said: “It’s exciting to see companies focusing on consumers and using adventurous design to create products and services that people want to use. The successful products can be enjoyed right now, in industry, on the high street and at home.”

There are three more rounds between now and the Millennium. Submissions for the next round – for which the closing date is 31 July – are already coming in. Details about how to make a submission and the other successful entries are available at the website

Details about Sound Alert’s Localizer can be found at

[Main news stories | In the news | Letters | News in brief | Events | Notice board]

HTML by Jeremy M. Harmer