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Fly me to the moon

We climb behind the wheel of the new Audi TT 1.8 TFSI to visit four of Britain’s top innovators – all nominees in the ‘Moonshot’ category of the Wired Audi Innovation Awards 2016

Audi TT driving to Edinburgh

As the closing date for public voting approaches in the WIRED Audi Innovation Awards 2016 ‘Moonshot of the Year’ category, we hit the road in an appropriately innovative Audi TT for a road trip with a difference. We’re going to visit a handful of the nominees to find out more about what they’re up to.

The Moonshot category of the awards is all about celebrating game-changing innovators, and its shortlist includes companies like the London-based Google DeepMind, which is taking artificial intelligence to the next level, and Target Malaria, a not-for-profit organisation working to overcome one of the world’s most chronic diseases.

Our first stop is Edinburgh, where we’re visiting one of the institutions involved in the Novosang project, the aim of which is to create man-made blood. A collaboration between NHS Blood and Transplant, several universities and research centres including Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute (where Dolly the Sheep was cloned), Novosang hopes to reduce the need, costs and risks of relying on donated blood. ‘The team are honoured to be shortlisted,’ says Professor Marc Turner, Medical Director of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, a Novosang partner. ‘Our work certainly comes into the Moonshot category and is very challenging on almost every level.’

Novosang’s work could be beneficial not just in routine treatments but in cellular therapies for treating other degenerative diseases. The project is due to start trials of its man-made blood on human subjects in 2017.

Reaction Engines Single-stage Space Plane Concept

Jumping back in the TT, our next destination is Reaction Engines in Oxfordshire, where they’re working on a new single-stage space plane concept – one that can take off like a conventional jet. This is based on the development of its Synthetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE), designed to both power an aircraft directly into space and cruise at high speed within the atmosphere. ‘We’re really excited to be nominated for the WIRED Innovation Awards,’ says Reaction Engines CEO Mark Thomas, who urges people to support its nomination. ‘Vote for the company developing SABRE,’ he says. ‘Innovation that will change the world in your lifetime – it’s a genuine moonshot!’ If they get their space plane off the ground, it will be able to fly at Mach 5 and go from London to Sydney in three hours.

Open Bionics 3D-printed bionic hands

Our next stop in the TT is in Bristol, where a start-up company called Open Bionics is revolutionising prosthetic limbs by creating 3D-printed bionic hands. Importantly, they’re far cheaper than conventional prostheses, and they also have options for kids featuring comic-book-inspired designs.

Samantha Payne, co-founder of the multi-award-winning company, says they’re thrilled to be shortlisted for the award. ‘The calibre of the projects we have been placed alongside is phenomenal,’ says Samantha. ‘It’s great to be recognised amongst these projects for our contribution to technology for good.’

What3Words app on tablet

To reach the final point in this journey, we use an app and punch in three words – index, home, raft – to find our way. These words relate to a precise nine-square-metre spot in West London, the home of tech star What3Words. This is a location-finding app that divides the globe into 57 trillion squares, each identified by three words, that is now being used in 170 countries worldwide. What3Words is on a mission, explains chief marketing officer Giles Rhys Jones: ‘Poor addressing means packages get lost, friends don’t meet each other, and around the world over four billion people are invisible to the state because they don’t have a way to describe where they live. Just being nominated for the Moonshot award is a huge honour,’ he adds, ‘and every vote will help us get an address to those who need it most.’

Audi TT driving to West London

Unfortunately there’s not time to visit the other two nominees today – Hybrid Air Vehicles in Bedfordshire, and the 100,000 Genome Project, both also working towards far-sighted ambitions. With the days counting down to the close of public voting at the end of September, don’t delay – vote today for your favourite Moonshot of the Year and be in with a chance of winning two tickets to the ceremony in London in November, plus two tickets to a Wired2016 event, and a one-year subscription to Wired’s print and digital editions.Written by Alec Marsh. Photographs by Richard Pardon.


Enter the competition and vote for your Moonshot of the Year in the Wired Audi Innovation Awards 2016