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From bionic arms and portable incubators to cybersecurity, four innovators win prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering award

The Business Magazine article image for: From bionic arms and portable incubators to cybersecurity, four innovators win prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering award
Dr Saritha Arunkumar, Joel Gibbard MBE, Samantha Payne MBE, James Roberts
11 July 2023
Dr Saritha Arunkumar, Joel Gibbard MBE, Samantha Payne MBE, James Roberts

Four of the UK’s leading engineering innovators are to be presented with The Princess Royal Silver Medal, one of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s most prestigious individual awards.

The recipients of The Princess Royal Silver Medals for 2023 are:

  • Dr Saritha Arunkumar, IBM Public Cloud WorldWide Technical Leader for Security
  • Joel Gibbard MBE, CEO of Open Bionics and Samantha Payne MBE, COO of Open Bionics
  • James Roberts, Co-founder and CEO of mOm Incubators

They will receive the awards at the Academy Awards Dinner in London on Thursday 13 July from HRH The Princess Royal, who is a Royal Fellow of the Academy.

The Princess Royal Silver Medal celebrates an outstanding personal contribution made to UK engineering by an early to mid-career engineer resulting in market exploitation. This year’s winners are revolutionising prostheses, blockchain and paediatric care in warzones.

Read more: Bristol based Open Bionics goes for £1m crowdfunding target

Professor Bashir M Al-Hashimi CBE FREng, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering Awards Committee, said: “The recipients of The Princess Royal Silver Medal for 2023 are not only making measurable contributions to engineering in the UK but are exporting the benefits of their innovations around the world to advance progress in numerous sectors and help those in need.

"The inspiring individuals recognised are united by a commitment to improving society and facilitating economic growth through enterprise, technology, and collaboration.”

Dr Saritha Arunkumar is an IBM security leader with more than 20 years of experience in the IT security space. An authority on blockchain, cybersecurity and biometrics, she has made vital contributions to the security of systems used in defence and finance. She is a board member of the Chartered Institute of Information Security, based near Evesham.

Dr Arunkumar was an integral part of the $80 million UK/US International Technology Alliance (ITA) research programme, which was led by IBM and included the Ministry of Defence, US Army Research Laboratory and university and industrial researchers. Over 12 years the programme conducted fundamental research affecting military coalition operations and resulted in multiple patents. Dr Arunkumar led some of the key security projects of the programme, building on international cybersecurity open standards and introducing a framework capable of calculating the trust value of continuously streamed information in security environments, which was highly commended by the military.

Her expertise also contributed to the success of Open Trade Platform project, which is a platform connecting buyers, sellers and their banks in a secure network to help simplify international trading. Dr Arunkumar was the lead security architect of the project and responsible for all the security components, which included a robust first-of-a-kind blockchain solution, various other security capabilities and cloud identity architecture integration.

As well as contributing to internationally important projects, Dr Arunkumar is passionate about volunteering. She runs popular patent incubator master classes and helps school and university students appreciate the importance of ideation and patenting. A member of IBM’s Academy of Technology, she has led voluntary, cross-divisional projects, including promoting STEM in primary and secondary education.

Joel Gibbard MBE and Samantha Payne MBE are the co-founders of Bristol-based Open Bionics, which makes the first multi-grip myoelectric arm available for children.

The company uses 3D printing to reduce costs and increase the reach and accessibility of its bionic arms. The use of this additive manufacturing process also means its prostheses are lighter and more comfortable for children to wear, while 3D scanning is used to design bespoke details and ensure the best possible fit.

An innovative co-design process places users at the centre of the R&D and prototype iteration process to hone the functionality of the Hero Arm, while fun designs help children positively embrace what makes them unique. The company struck a royalty-free licensing deal with The Walt Disney Company enabling children to choose Disney, Star Wars and Marvel designs to resemble Iron Man, for example. Open Bionics is exceptional in its empowering approach to transforming children with limb differences into bionic superheroes.

More than 500 Hero Arms have been shipped across the USA, UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, enabling users to get excited about moving their new fingers and hugging their parents.

James Roberts is the Surrey-based inventor of a new neonatal incubator, designed, developed and manufactured in Britain that has helped premature babies thrive in NHS hospitals and in war-torn Ukraine.

The mOm Essential Incubator is a compact, cost-effective machine that has been designed to work in multiple environments. Its clever design solves problems associated with conventional systems and when packed up, it is less than a quarter of the size of a regular incubator, making it very portable.

These features enable it to provide flexibility to the neonatal care system. It is being used in a series of pilots in four NHS hospitals to ease the need for short-term admission to special care and to help maintain the core temperature of babies being moved around the hospital.

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The mOm Essential Incubator can also be used in emerging economies and war zones. A total of 75 incubators have been sent to Ukraine, where they are being used to keep babies warm in hospitals and bomb shelters transformed into make-shift neonatal wards. For every 1°C a child loses when they are premature, their chance of mortality increases by 28%, making these incubators particularly invaluable in draughty and underground shelters.

The company estimates that between 1,500 and 2,000 babies have been positively impacted by its incubators and Ukraine’s Ministry of Health has asked for another 100.


Peter Davison is deputy editor of The Business Magazine. He has spent his life in journalism – doing work experience in newsrooms in and around Bristol while still at school, and landing his first job on a local newspaper aged 19. By 28 he was the youngest newspaper editor in the country.

An early advocate of online news, he spent the first years of the 2000s telling his bosses that the internet posed both the biggest opportunity and greatest threat to the newspaper industry and the art of journalism. He was right on both counts.

Since 2006 he has enjoyed a career as a freelance journalist. He lives in rural Wiltshire with one wife, two children, and three cats.

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