My main professional research has been in the development and successful production of the silicon resonant pressure sensor, but there were many diversions and off-shoots from this along the way, and also since leaving the world of work. All of it has been interesting and enjoyable, and I managed this without ever having to wear a suit or tie. That is to say, I avoided the management ladder which would have taken me away from inventing, designing and making things to a different type of work where I would not have felt at home at all. In all I produced over 70 patents for my inventions, nearly all in the field of sensors, which is where serendipity (more than any particular ambition) led me after a rather uncertain start.
To say that I like “making” or “inventing” things is a bit limited in that it doesn’t describe where the impetus for doing it actually comes from. I’ve hardly ever been motivated to create things just for the sake of it, or to make something beautiful or artistic (though that might, possibly, be an accidental outcome). The challenge for me is to experiment in practice with an idea I’ve had, and whether it can actually be made to work or not. Thus the wooden scale models I’ve constructed in the past, over many months, of MAIT (see below) cabin attachments, painted with different colours for the different moving parts, had the goal of trying out a mechanical concept in reality, and to discover the weak points in the design and how they might be improved or if the particular concept was just too silly. Making things is a bit of a dead end if the process doesn’t lead to further understanding, enlarging, or even the dismissal, of the idea that I had in the first place.
I was born in January 1940 and grew up in Pinner, Middlesex, in No. 32 High Street, an imposing red-brick Georgian house adjoining small high-street shops in the historic centre of Pinner with the church at the top of the hill. It had been bought by my architect father Harold in the mid-1930s in a poor state, and renovated by him over the years. I attended Reddiford School in Pinner until I was 11, then University College School, Hampstead (by train on the Metropolitan Line to Finchley Road station). Prior to school I’d been evacuated for a short time during the War to my father’s relatives near Manchester. I remember very little of this except watching the trains go by at the bottom of the garden and seeing the signal going down and up – and sitting down with a bump when it went down. I also recall feeling unsettled when my father came to visit – or perhaps pick me up. This period may have been while my older brother Tom was seriously ill after a road accident and spent some time in Mount Vernon hospital at the age of 6 or 7. My eldest brother Ricky was at boarding-school in term-time and Margaret my sister was not born till 1945.
Early Explorations into Making Things
At Pinner we had a largish garden with lots of bits of old wood and a supply of second-hand nails, and when those ran out there were old-fashioned hardware shops a short distance away selling nails loose by the pound. These and some pram wheels were the basis of a series of “soap-box” carts which were tried out down the pavement outside the front door. I enjoyed making things out of Meccano and constructing an “00” gauge model railway layout in the loft. We backed onto a railway goods yard, so steam trains and soot were a constant background to my childhood. As Christmas presents I was given a crystal set kit and a war surplus bomb-sight computer with electronic and mechanical bits to dismantle.
About when I started at senior school we demolished a crude outdoor home-built bomb shelter in our garden which had originally belonged to the next-door Shaw family (at our house we’d used the cellar under the house as a shelter where the family plus relatives had retreated during the Blitz). I, and occasionally my brother Tom, helped my father in this operation using a 14-lb hammer, pickaxe and chisels, which was extremely hard work. Old reinforcements had been thrown in with the concrete when it had been made including an old bicycle, builder’s sieve etc. We filled up the bottom half with rubble and laid a concrete floor, rebuilt the walls and gable and thus created a garden workshop with pigeon loft above, and kept white fan-tailed pigeons fed on maple peas – we’d been offered the pigeons as a gift and rather unwisely accepted them.
In this workshop I did all sorts of sometimes dodgy things, such as experimenting with carbon arcs using mains voltage with a series resistor made out of bed-springs. My parents were very tolerant of the main fuse being blown. Later I made fireworks with friends from school. We used potassium permanganate (as an oxidiser, which was sold as a sterilising agent) from a chemist next to Finchley Road station. On one occasion I obtained sodium chlorate (weedkiller) and made a kind of Catherine wheel. After a few turns it became detached and whizzed off and landed in next-door’s garden, making a long-standing bare patch on their grass. We also made some gun-cotton, a lead bullet (by melting scrap lead), and soldered a brass shell-case. I used my Grandpa Tom Robinson’s old rifle to shoot just the one successful bullet. (My artist grandfather had a small collection of arms which he used as models for his historical book illustrations, including a cross-bow, swords etc.) I also began soldering wires to make eg simple electronic components for a wireless, and an amplifier for St Luke’s church youth club from a kit. When I Ieft school I installed a metal-turning lathe and a pillar drill in the garden workshop.
I helped with the many projects of dad’s in the house, which constantly needed attention, especially the roof, damp problems and so on, and also with maintaining his Daimler (gifted to dad in lieu of payment for an architectural job), taking the engine apart etc. In fact I damaged my back at least once lifting the engine out. I also recall gadgets being introduced in the kitchen which were probably more bother than help to mum, such as a very primitive dishwasher.
I didn’t shine academically at school, and didn’t enjoy sports either (apart from rowing later – we UCS boys rowed on the Thames at Richmond where the school had a boat-house, which was quite an experience). I wasn’t really competitive, though I did get in a fight once with a boy who was seen as a bully. I did a successful rugby tackle and the headmaster, Mr Walton, known as “Fruity”, loomed over us and said “Well done, Greenwood” which pleased me. I was probably slightly dyslexic, and was fortunate that at least one of the masters saw in me some creative talent some of the time (“he can be one of the most acute thinkers in the form and on other occasions almost the most obtuse” – school report 1957).
After leaving school (in 1959; I stayed on an extra year to do “S” levels in physics, chemistry and maths) I joined the archaeological dig at Bignor Roman villa, West Sussex, then being excavated properly for the first time. This was just down the road from the village of Bury where my parents had recently bought and renovated, or at least made habitable, a picturesque old thatched holiday cottage near the river Arun and the South Downs in the centre of the village (where my aunt Christine Robinson who was district nurse lived). We kept this in the family from 1957 to 2006; it was a lovely holiday cottage (and more permanent home for some from time to time) for three generations to visit including our children later on.
This was followed by a summer job at a factory called Nordac near Uxbridge, a company founded by a chemical engineering friend of dad’s called Norman Swindon (he wrote a memoir entitled “Engineering Without Wheels”). I worked mostly on a production line coating steel pipe joints with rubber-derived sheeting, all done by hand so that not even a pin-hole resulted. I found it a bit boring (hopefully not literally) but my charge-hand said I was good with my hands and he could tell I’d done model-making, a compliment that I treasured. My first big acquisitions with the money I earned was my own ‘cello, and a metal-turning lathe (a Colchester 5.5″) which I installed in our garden workshop.
Despite my not very brilliant “A” and “S” level results I was accepted at Battersea College of Technology (part of London University and now the University of Surrey) to do a Chemistry degree. I commuted from Pinner in the first couple of years, and failed my second-year exams, so I took a year out and worked at the Launderers’ Research Association in North London, set up by the government to give technical support to the industry. The work involved developing a flat laundry machine (ie for washing sheets, curtains and the like) so was more an engineering challenge than chemistry, though I did assist with making up components for detergents and testing them on various artificially soiled materials (including carbon black used in the printing industry, I recall).
When I re-took my second year and progressed to the third year I lodged with my eldest brother Rick, who had by then left the Navy where he’d served since school and was a progress-chaser with Phillips, and his wife Gill in their flat near Battersea College. I was, as were we all, short of cash (I’ve always maintained I never took up smoking because there were better things, like nuts and bolts and electronic components, to spend my money on). I ended up with a 2:2 in Chemistry. Rick went on to work in computers in various companies from the early days of the new IT technology – I’d read about them and put the idea in his head, thinking he would be suited, which he was.
So I entered the world of work with mediocre qualifications, no particular ambitions, and no preferred direction. I found writing hard work and my grip on advanced maths, thermodynamics and quantum theory rather limited. Initial qualifications anyway become irrelevant very quickly and were replaced by recognition, publications, patents, and personal reputation.
I applied for a few jobs after university, and turned down an offer to work with a company making blueprint machines because I sensed that this was a long-term post offered on the basis of my independent school education. Kodak gave me an interview but I didn’t get that job. I did get a research post with a company called Fulmer Research, in Bucks near Stoke Poges, and worked there for a couple of years. I bought a red van with father’s help so I could commute from Pinner. The company was mainly involved with metallurgy research set up by the aluminium industry. I was part of a team working on a NASA project to measure the thermodynamic constants of compounds of the elements in the first two rows of the periodic table (basic data for potential rocket fuels). I did some work on beryllium (nasty) and fluorides (mostly nasty). I also taught myself laboratory glass-blowing to make glass equipment to measure reactive substances, which I enjoyed.
24 Years at STL
I then applied and got an interview with STC (Standard Telephones & Cables) at Footscray, SE London, to work on electronic components’ manufacture which I thought sounded interesting. At the interview I think my practical bent came through and it was suggested that I’d be more suited to their research arm at STL (Standard Telecommunications Laboratories) in Harlow New Town. I started work there in 1965, under Peter Selway.
For over a year I lived during the week in lodgings in SE Harlow, in a house on the edge of what had been Parndon village, prior to the building of the M11. Then I rented a flat for a few years in an estate called Clarkhill (since demolished). By then I owned a black Austin and drove to work, returning to Pinner most weekends.
The project I initially worked on under Peter was to try to develop a very sensitive and compact accelerometer using a microchip whose electric current was modulated by pressure placed on the chip at a particular location by a gramophone stylus, which involved a lot of microscope work. The MoD funded this work for both military and general communication applications and I visited the Royal Radar Establishment in Malvern several times. The original project didn’t come to much (the fate of much research anywhere), but I felt I’d got to grips with the physics of the piezo-resistive effect in silicon and some of the technology, particularly how to etch silicon using acid etches (HF/HNO4/CH3COOH, very nasty!), and had a go at making silicon strain gauges (used to measure force such as pressure). I gave my first paper, with Peter, at a conference at Strathclyde University, where among other things people were researching medical applications of pressure-measuring instruments (eg for glaucoma, or in pregnancy etc). This work made me interested in etching silicon, which is a good sensor in strain gauges, and controlling the results.
The most significant break in my career came as the result of some experiments I did with a recently reported silicon etch based on a mixture of chemicals (also nasty!). I gave myself two weeks to experiment, which was perfectly possible in the free-to-have-a-go working environment in which I found myself at STL. I used sample scraps of silicon scrounged from other people’s work which I put in the etch and examined the results under a microscope (some were rather beautiful). The results were very different from those produced from acid etching. This etch was anisotropic, ie it etched the silicon at very different rates depending on the crystallographic direction.
(The etch rate in the <111> direction is much slower, so if you put an etch-resistant mask on the surface of a <111> orientated silicon with a window in it, a 3-D diamond-shaped cavity is etched into the silicon. Silicon has the same crystal structure as a diamond. In contrast, with the same mask acid etches result in a rounded cavity. )
By pure serendipity I saw on one sample an unexpected effect where it was apparent that some surface regions of the silicon had not etched. I realised that these were regions that had been heavily doped with boron (a routine process to make many electronic devices). This meant you can make a thin silicon lamina with a shape defined by the mask design, and thickness defined by the boron diffusion, so that you can create the useful and well-controlled geometries. This became known as the Boron Etch-Stop.
After the two weeks I’d given myself, I wrote a paper that was eventually published in The Journal of The Electrochemical Society in 1969. I then experimented with wafers specially fabricated to explore how to design masks to get the useful shapes, and to think about how the Boron Etch-Stop could be used. A resonant sensor was an obvious application. This set my career in developing the resonant pressure sensor.
My first patent therefore was in May 1969 for the pressure transducer based on the use of the anisotropic etch to make diaphragms with monolithic strain-sensitive resonators in silicon.
In 1970 I married Nicola Moulsdale in Pinner, and our children Tim (who now uses his second name James) and Susanna were born in 1971 and 1974. With some financial help from my father, we bought and settled in 1970 into a brand-new small terraced house in the Canadian-designed (ie wooden-framed houses) estate called The Maples, then on the edge of Harlow and backed (for a short time) by fields and a wood. We subsequently moved to another Harlow estate called Copse Hill with the children attending junior and then senior comprehensive schools in the town.
I was not able to follow up the pressure transducer research at this time. I was designated for at least a year in the early 1970s to work in a different department under an inspirational inventor and interesting character at STL called Cyril Drake. His project at the time was in glass technology and his team was working on an Image Intensifier (for night-time viewing). The basic technology was well established but needed improvement, with interesting experiments involving manganese instead of lead added to the glass, and patents in this area followed. During this time I managed on one occasion to set off the fire alarms and bring a fire engine to the lab. while heating silica to a very high temperature. At that time I also got involved on the sidelines with projects carried out by Charlie Kao’s team in the development of fibre optics. He became well-known in this field, though other companies had the same idea and there was a challenge over patents at one stage, when an assistant of mine had all his notebooks looked at as part of the investigation!
On my return to the department I was in previously, there was still not funding for any significant progress in micro-mechanics. STC’s core business was in communications; at that time they had laid the majority of undersea cables around the world, and were a major supplier of telephone equipment. Thus the project I was first involved in, putting pressure on a transistor, was an attempt to improve on the carbon granual microphone in telephones. This led to various projects such as an investigation of the application of silicon to mechanical components such as relay switching and ink-jet printing. These activities produced a number of patents, and involved collaborations with a company called Creed in Brighton. I also went on a few trips in the early 1980s to Annecy in France and also Paris (to work with a company called Jeanrenaud, a subsidiary of ITT or International Telegraphs & Telephones, the American parent company of STL/STC. This small company produced mechanical switches for electronic equipment). In addition I worked on a multi-character display using plastic optical fibres (intended for instruments and consumer products) and the removal of heat from the new semiconductor microwave devices that were beginning to replace vacuum-tube components.
During this time, in the winter of 1973/4, there was the Miners’ Strike leading to the 3-day week in industry to save fuel. So our heating at work was switched off, though there was still electricity for powering instruments. I recall huddling in the corner of the lab., barricading myself in and warmed somewhat by the hot air blown out by the oscilloscope I was using, which in those days used thermionic valves.
So far all the silicon fabrication had been carried out in a general-purpose facility so it was sometimes difficult to get some of the more unusual process steps done. This all began to change in the early 1980s, as STL had been asked to develop a pressure sensor for Barton Instruments (an ITT company based in California), which made instrumentation for the oil industry. Their main differential pressure-measuring instrument on the market was pre-silicon, and they were interested in our silicon technology. So I travelled to California a few times together with my colleague David Satchell, who was the key person involved in the deal. BI did take up and finance that project, with David as project manager and me as designer of the chip and overseeing some of the technology. Those trips were memorable not least because we had free time on the weekends preceding the meetings on Monday and Tuesday and explored a bit, eg Los Angeles, and (in a hired car) went up Mount Wilson on one occasion. David had a relative in LA who took us in a rather old, large convertible to a Mexican cemetery and into older parts of the city that had escaped earthquakes. We were also getting funding to develop the vibrating resonant sensors around then.
In 1983 I produced a patent on a resonant accelerometer device and we obtained funding for it. Another diversion, in about 1985, was to attempt to make improvements in the accuracy of the measurement of the Standard Kilogram, using silicon in the hinges of the balance used to check its weight. This whole process was/is immensely delicate – the actual Kilogram itself (made of a platinum-iridium alloy) is kept in a cave somewhere in France inside three nested bell jars, and only rarely gets touched for weight-checking because of possible contamination. My suggestion (prompted by meeting the man responsible at a conference) didn’t work out but it was an interesting experience and I produced a patent on this flexible hinge device in 1985. Altogether there were enough projects to justify a clean room dedicated to developing this technology.
This gets rather technical but the wafer is a single-crystal disc of silicon. There is a set of masks that define the design of the device. For each mask a resist is spread on the wafer like a layer of varnish, which is light-sensitive, so when exposed to ultra-violet light the exposed areas of the resist are made soluble with the right solvent. This opens windows in the resist, exposing the surface of silicon wafer underneath to the appropriate etch. The silicon then gets etched accordingly. All this was done in a clean room with carefully filtered air and purified water to remove any particles that might cause dots on the surfaces of the wafers.
There were three or four people working in the clean room. I particularly remember Iris Hussey, who was a lab. technician and a vital member of our team who’d had no formal training but was good at her job and fun to have around. When I produced a new set of masks she would “scrutinise” them and sometimes picked up on details that might be a problem and would confidently let me know. There were about the same number of people not working in the clean room and the whole team was led by David Satchell. My role was in the design of the devices, layouts of the masks and quite a lot of testing of the results. I also designed and built some of the novel bits of fabrication equipment. Most of the time this team would have a weekly Monday morning meeting sitting round in a circle and reviewing each of the various projects in turn. There were lots of failures, with the technology being gradually adjusted to improve the result, as is the way of technological or any other kind of research. So there was plenty to talk about. (For the real technology, rather than this inadequate summary, see my patents if you really wish to know more!)
By this time (the mid-1980s), the management at STL was actively looking for a way of putting the resonant pressure sensor into production. We had made a small number of working units with excellent performance which demonstrated basic feasibility, and the time had come to exploit this work. However, from experience the technology transfer required, i.e. turning a lab. development into a factory product, is difficult and arduous. ITT owned many factories making all sorts of components and several possibilities were investigated to which I paid visits, such as at Lowestoft and Paignton, and to an independent small British company called Penny & Giles at Christchurch, Dorset. We were also in contact with Mike Bertioli, the co-founder of another small, then British company called Druck, in Groby in Leicestershire. Mike visited STL, and I with my colleague David Satchell and our boss Peter Graves paid visits to Druck and were impressed with how they were making pressure sensors using silicon technology. We also liked the positive atmosphere in the factory.
During the ’80s I had attended and given papers at international sensor conferences and was head-hunted by a number of other companies probably as a result. So far I had not been tempted to move on, faced with the children changing schools, locations we were not keen on, or concern that I would be expected to have a greater management role. However, when Mike phoned me at home to ask whether I would consider moving to Druck, this felt like a very different proposition. Significant changes were happening at STL towards the end of this decade. It was now owned by Nortel, a Canadian telecommunications giant. The working culture that I’d enjoyed and benefited from was definitely changing and I didn’t like it much. The management announced that they wanted to stop the development of the resonant pressure sensor. The outcome after considerable negotiations was to transfer the whole thing to Druck. So after 24 years at STL, I was glad, if a bit apprehensive (as I hadn’t done any major moves in all that time) to have the wheels set in motion for what is known as a Technology Transfer from STL to Druck, along with me, David Satchell and Ron Stern as the personnel involved, in 1989.
15 Years at Druck
Technology Transfer is a long and complex process, involving not only the technology itself but also for example the royalties, intellectual property, and not least the change of culture involved. STL had been a large and on the whole forgiving research environment where experimentation (and failure), not to mention some eccentric inventive characters, were all part of the process. Druck was a small (and very successful) manufacturing company employing about 300 people on production lines, with a tiny research element compared to STL. It helped of course that we obtained some funding for the Transfer from the Dept. of Trade & Industry, who had provided funding right down the line (which also meant that STL, fortunately, hadn’t wanted to drop the technology just like that, after having received government support over many years).
So 1989 saw me spending some time in Harlow at STL, and some in a small rented house off Empress Road in Loughborough, within easy commuting distance of the village of Groby where Druck was situated (incidentally the word Druck is German for “pressure”). Our son by that time had finished his “A”-Levels and after a gap-year started at Sheffield University studying Cognitive Science, and our daughter post-GCSEs was ready for a change to re-locate to the sixth-form at Rawlins School in Quorn. Nic’s publishing job with Longman in Harlow was flexible enough for her to work “off-shore” from home at that stage which was also convenient. On October 10th 1990 we moved to 6 Park Street in Loughborough and enjoyed living in a mid-Victorian house in an old-established market/ex-industrial town with a thriving university and pleasant surrounding countryside, which was in sharp contrast to the comparative newness of Harlow houses and environment and the Essex/Herts countryside (also very pleasant, but with fewer hills!).
In fact my work at Druck was on three projects (whose transfer were all funded by the DTI), the main one being the development and production of the resonant pressure sensor, but also two types of accelerometer. Druck undertook to take on all of this work, as well as a collaboration project we’d started on a sensor for a downwell (oil drill hole). I was to work for 15 years at Druck and very much enjoyed it there. I found my immediate boss, Mike Bertioli, inspiring to work with. He had started the company in partnership with John Salmon and was a good example of “management by walking about”. He continued to maintain his own projects working in the lab. even though he was co-director of a then medium-sized (approx. 400 employees at that time) company. He was enthusiastic and encouraging on several fronts and, when things went wrong, was just not interested in apportioning blame but turned to what was the best way forward.
We succeeded in getting the production of the RPT up and running at Druck after about two to three years of sorting out problems, gradually getting the yield up, and also designing the package including the housing and circuits, and designing the equipment to do the assembly on the production line. I’d already decided that the circuits needed a specialist circuit designer rather than me as an inspired amateur, so we appointed someone to do this, and also another person to measure and assess the product as they were being fabricated. Within four to five years the RPT started to make money for Druck and the yield went up from 10s to 100s in that time. The end product was destined to be built into various instruments mainly to measure air pressure in the aircraft industry, or in wind-tunnels, for example. Once the RPT was in full production it was largely off my hands and in the control of the production side of the company, though I was still designing ways of increasing the yield by changing the wafer design and the process.
I had worked on collaborations with several universities on funded projects while I was at STL, and continued to do so at Druck. One of these was a collaboration with British Aerospace and other partners called FLAPS, which used optical fibres connected to sensors measuring oil pressure and proximity. BA used the prototype Airbus landing gear to test this and I visited their Bristol R&D establishment a few times. The size of this landing gear is enormous, a couple of storeys high with galleries for access, and huge hydraulic brakes for the wheels. The accelerometer was another project and proved a technical challenge for Mike who had a new idea on this himself, which I demonstrated to be feasible though unfortunately it never got off the ground.
Another of these projects was to develop a new technology called TERPS (the trench-etched resonant pressure sensor) involving Peter Kinnell, then a PhD student at Birmingham university. It was quite a technical challenge but was successful, and started going into production for making resonant sensors before I retired. This led to further patents, this time GE/Druck ones, when Druck in turn was taken over in 2003 by another American technology giant, GE (or General Electric as was). Again, there was a major culture change in the working environment. I went with Mike Bertioli to San Francisco for discussions (then secret even to me) with GE, the cover being to look for partners in a technology expansion. We also made a trip to Houston for talks with a company called Ruska, and later Nic and I went to Houston and Chicago where I attended a conference. Mike retired just before I did, and another ex-STL employee, Richard Jones, took over at GE/Druck. I took retirement slightly early, at the age of 64 in 2004.
While at STL I was awarded the Joe Evans Creativity Award in December 1983, and the Callendar medal by the Institute of Measurement and Control in 1998. I was a Member of the Institute of Physics for several years and attended some of their committee meetings and conferences. I was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1997.
My first encounter with computers was on a school sixth-form outing to see an actual computer. It used valve technology and magnetic drums and stood in the middle of a large room, with a walkway between two panels to give access to the valves, which had limited life so needed frequent replacement. I became more aware of the potential of computing and, in the early ’60s decided I would be needing to use them and enrolled on a 10-week evening class to learn FORTRAN. The computer itself was somewhere else and our input was submitted on punched cards, with the results returned the next week on that fan-fold paper with green lines and sprocket holes.
My first serious computer task used the STL IBM 360 computer when I developed a system for producing cheap and simple low-resolution masks for trying out different shapes for the anisotropic etching of silicon. This used a Gerber machine normally used for producing printed-circuit boards. It exposed photographic film through a series of apertures which could be selected and moved via commands on a punched tape with a lot of help from the computer department using a program called Rosco.
This was followed by the pioneering portable computer from HP (the one that played a relentless version of the William Tell tune). At home, we had a TRS 80, followed by the early BBC, the Archimedes, and the RISC PC 600. At work I did a lot of mask design on state-of-the-art work-stations. Once the PC became established, mask design was transferred to this using the program ICED. I did finite element analysis using ANSYS and the computer-aided design with Pro-Engineer.
Film-making (and music-making)
One of my main hobbies while we lived in Harlow was making 16mm films (and I also made some of the equipment for film editing and a dolly for moving camera shots). Among the films I made, usually with a cameraman to assist and a small cast, were “Meet you at the Playhouse” about Harlow’s successful new theatre, and a documentary on “Bishopsfield”, which was the name of one of the more enterprising housing estates (shaped like a kasbah) in the town. In order to get an aerial view of the Bishopsfield estate, I hired a 4-seater plane which three of us went up in as passengers, and the pilot may have flown rather lower than he should have done with several sharpish turns in order to get good shots (resulting in both Nic and my cameraman, Edmund Grey, feeling rather unwell). Both these films were taken up by Harlow Council. So was my film on the history and renovation of the C12th Harlowbury Chapel in Old Harlow, which was a project both Nic and I were involved with through most of the1980s (also Nic wrote and delivered the film commentary). This film was used for visitors to this historic building and in talks for several years, and the originals of all three of these films were eventually deposited in the East Anglian Film Archive at the University of East Anglia.
We enjoyed watching classic films at the Harlow film society which was well attended in those days. For some time I was its booking secretary and was involved in the selection of films so I got to see the films I was interested in!
I’ve also enjoyed playing the ‘cello, which I learnt at school, on and off throughout my life, more latterly in a folk band to accompany Nic’s mainly outdoor circle dance events which were great fun, including writing out parts and harmonies for different instruments. I didn’t actually make an instrument however, unless you count the primitive string bass contraption I made early on …
Naturally our move to an older house in Loughborough necessitated quite a lot of re-structuring both inside (eg re-installing door frames and picture rails) and in our smallish back garden, which I enjoyed doing from when we arrived there in the early 1990s. This had a bit of an archaeological side as I relaid paths, patio and a hardstanding using old bricks of various kinds, and pulled down an old garage and discovered it had been built on what was originally a stable (an old sale description of the house confirmed this). I rebuilt a lot of the brick wall at the end of the garden, adding an archway over a gate, employing re-used bricks and also copings from an old school obtained from an architectural salvage company. An outhouse that had been a washhouse, complete with cast-iron range against one wall (the stone slab hearth for this made a handy outdoor seat) and a hearth for a copper in one corner which I excavated and then covered over, became my workshop with a floor I re-laid with tiles to make it level. Here I kept all the usual tools plus eventually two lathes, a bench-drill, grinding machine and various other gadgets. I mostly make wooden bowls and a few other things for presents on one of the lathes (one of the few purely creative objects I’ve had a go at). In our (dry) cellar I designed and made pieces of decorative mosaic to put in a few places in the garden, using a wooden form for the concrete base which worked well. When we decided to have a conservatory at the back of the house I wanted an interesting one so designed it myself, then found a suitable builder to carry out the rather unorthodox brief.
Since retirement I haven’t of course stopped having ideas or making things. I did do a little bit of consultancy for Druck tidying up some loose ends on a couple of patent applications, but I left the whole silicon technology behind and pursued other interests and topics. The most serious of these was transport.
For a long time, well before leaving STL in fact, I had been thinking about how to reduce dependence on the private car, which was clearly becoming more and more imperative. My first ideas were on the lines of what is now called PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) and has been realised (by others) in the form of the Ultra system installed and running very successfully at Heathrow Airport. At some point I started considering how a system might be based, crucially, on a standardised cabin (for freight and/or for passenger travel), which did not have any wheels or motive power itself, but could be transferred onto a variety of vehicles optimised for different journey types. This was the basic idea. I had not got very far with working out the details of this when I came across an internet posting by a young German researcher, Jörg Schweizer, who had come up with exactly the same idea. After a fleeting moment of paranoia, I got in touch and we agreed to collaborate:
“Modular Automated Individual Transport (MAIT) is an innovative ground transportation concept for passenger and light freight that combines the flexibility of the automobile with the advantages of public transport. This revolutionary concept is based on the automated transport of passengers or freight in small container-like pods and provides driverless, 24h on-demand, non-stop, door-to-door transportation. Applying state-of-the-art computer and control technology, MAIT offers a highly efficient individual transport, which is safer, more environmentally friendly and available to everyone, in contrast to the present transport systems. MAIT International is a not-for-profit organisation founded by Dr Jörg Schweizer and John Greenwood to further the idea of MAIT. It was registered in Germany in 2000.”
We set up a website soon after this and I contributed a section about the mechanics. At first the MAIT concept was that there would be three components; cabins, transferrers and vehicles. I spent a lot of time devising an elegant means for attaching cabins to the vehicles and the transfer machines so that they were held firmly and safely in all degrees of freedom at all stages of the transfer.
The idea developed considerably since then. We soon realised that the concept would find acceptance for freight long before passenger use. This eventually led to an (unsuccessful) EU FP7 funding application in 2008.
I also developed ideas about guideways and berths (stations) which would be equally valid for PRT. Some of this was posted on the MAIT website.
In 2016 we decided that new transport technologies such as the driverless car were entering the mainstream and that MAIT was no longer relevant. We therefore closed the MAIT Inc. organisation down, which included closing the website. However, I continue to think about transport issues. My latest ideas centre round the idea of a vehicle with legs rather than wheels.
PovRay and animation
I first encountered PovRay in 2013 and got hooked. It’s an open-source piece of software which is a ray-tracing package for creating graphics with accurate perspective and lighting. I found it very striking for eg the development of MAIT to show the mechanically correct movements of the transport components. I also intend to use this to portray my ideas on Orbiters and space travel. OK, so this is science fiction! However, they are based on proposals for travel to Mars and the idea, put forward by Buzz Aldrin, to use a ship in an orbit that passes close to both Earth and Mars, as a sort of bus service to travel most of the way in relative comfort. PovRay is the ideal way to portray the details of these spaceships and their orbits, together with their passengers and how they can be carried and transferred.
My thoughts on the nature of consciousness and perception have led me to what I believe may be a new concept which has implications for the existence/limitations of free will, the nature of creativity and other aspects that make us human.
In the political sphere I have been exploring and commenting on, among other things, Inequality, the Basic Universal (or Citizen’s) Income, and the Alternative Vote, together with an idea to crowd-fund an internet participation forum to provide users with better control over the services they use. My website provides links to a fuller account of these ideas.
Finale: So What?
Recently I read an article about delusions and how everybody is deluded but to different extents. There was one of those questionnaires, where the score indicated the extent of delusion. I did this and, of course! the answer was that I had a very low level of delusion. I felt good about this … until I thought about things.
As you may have noticed, I do like to invent things. There are a number of potential inventions I might develop further, including a really good idea for a digital sundial, but probably will not get round to doing anything about it.
Now the thing is that the first stage of inventing something can be a bit euphoric and this can lead to a strongly delusional state of mind concerning the importance of the particular invention. Fantasies about rewards! Paranoia about the idea being stolen! Accolades! Fame! It’s all there and looking back, a bit embarrassing.
In retrospect I have really no regrets concerning my professional life. In fact I acquired the particular direction of the silicon resonant pressure sensor as the result of a piece of pure serendipity (the discovery of the Boron Etch-Stop). It also led to a degree of recognition, which is nice. All without having to wear a tie!
I wonder what my great-uncle, the “comic genius”, illustrator and cartoonist William Heath-Robinson (Uncle Will to us, who died in 1944) would have made of my creative efforts? Balls of string, things that would probably never quite work in practice, and Professor Brainstawms certainly all featured along the way at one time or another!
From reminiscences told to my wife Nicola, who wrote them all down, in 2019.