Picking a winner is a problem I and my editorial colleagues on The Engineer are faced with on a daily basis.

With the whole varied world of UK engineering on our remit, deciding which story to cover - and why - is rarely a straightforward task.

And though we pride ourselves on being able cut through the PR guff and identify a truly innovative bit of technology when we see it; weighing up the relative merits and likely impact of technologies destined for wildly different sectors is always going to require a bit of educated guess-work.

In this sense, judging the Matchtech Engineering Showcase, was a familiar challenge. Here we had a shortlist of three impressive technologies, each aimed at a different challenge, and each at a different stage of development, from the fundamental research of the University of Sheffield’s robot swarm project, to the commercially mature  Fast Track Reel Skidding & Drive System (RSDS) developed by the engineers at Houlder.

My vote though, went to the overall winner of the competition: Cambridge University’s solar powered car.

I chose this as the winning project because I felt it met the judging criteria (innovation, impact, cost-effectiveness and resourcefulness) more convincingly than the other two entries, and offers the clearest explanation of how the project meets these criteria.

The way in which a student team has tapped into industry funding and support is a strong example of both resourcefulness and cost effectiveness.

Meanwhile the team’s fundamentally different approach to solar-car design (focussing on aerodynamics rather than maximising surface area, and making good use of simulation tools)  is a strong example of engineering innovation.

Despite the group’s confidence in their design, the race is yet to take place and it’s difficult to judge what impact the car will have. What’s more, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever see solar-powered passenger cars being mass-manufactured - solar technology is barely even on the radar of automotive OEMs.

However, regardless of how it performs,  the project is perhaps more about engaging a new generation of engineers, and showcasing the capabilities of solar technology - if it can propel a car across the outback, just think what it could do on your roof - and in these areas it has arguably already had some impact.

We’re looking forward to seeing how the car performs later this year when it begins its gruelling 3000km trip across Australia in the World Solar Challenge.

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