Reporter 447, 21 February 2000


£10m...from a traffic jam

An idea about sirens which began life in a Leeds traffic jam is about to become a £10 million plc.


Professor Deborah Withington

A share offer in Sound Alert Technology plc opened on February 8. The company’s science and research director, physiologist Professor Deborah Withington, described its launch as "the steepest learning curve of my life."

The need for accurate pinpointing of sound came to Professor Withington as she watched an ambulance attempt to negotiate its way through a traffic jam in 1994.

Her pioneering ‘localizer’ technology, enabling the ear to locate accurately the direction from which sounds are coming, has a vast number of applications, including directional sirens for emergency vehicles - enabling traffic to get out of their way - and evacuation systems in public buildings and aircraft. The company is also developing systems for car alarms and even mobile phones.

Sound Alert Technology plc is planning to raise some £2m from the release of part-equity in the company. The money will be used to licence its unique directional sound products to manufacturers all over the world.

Professor Withington added: "This is the realisation of a dream. We’ve worked really hard for five years, but the real challenge will begin when we’ve raised the money - then we’ll have to deliver what we’ve promised."

Professor Withington is on secondment to the new company, and also works as a new business adviser for academic colleagues at the University of Leeds Innovations Ltd.

Sound Alert’s flotation on OFEX, the Stock Exchange’s lightly-regulated arm for young high-tech companies, is the latest entrepreneurial success for the University.

The telecoms equipment company Filtronic plc, the brainchild of Professor David Rhodes, was floated in 1994 and has a current value of around £1.5bn. The commercialisation of human geographic modelling techniques developed by Professors Martin Clarke and Alan Wilson, now University Vice-Chancellor, led to the formation of GMAP. The company had around 110 staff and a turnover of around £5m in 1997 when an American company bought out its automotive business.

For more information, see the Sound Alert website.

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