Incredible invention was earmarked for success

1 November 2011

His idea for a compact but crystal-clear audio system that is both easily portable and very powerful won Bradford Backus, a research scientist at UCL’s Ear Institute, not only the London Entrepreneurs’ Challenge but also a number of other internal and external awards.

Royalties from the iPod speaker system, known as the rCube and manufactured by Arcam, have helped Bradford to develop the soundBADGE, a small but accurate noise dosimeter which measures the levels of noise a wearer is being exposed to and which could help tackle the growing problem of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

In 2010 What Hi-Fi? Magazine chose as its Product of the Year a portable iPod speaker system called the rCube. It is the brainchild of UCL research fellow Bradford Backus, and was inspired by his love of tapdancing. Tired of lugging an unwieldy boombox around Boston when he was a student at MIT, Brad dreamed of an audio system that would be small enough to fit into a book bag but powerful enough for a (very loud, if need be) student party.

The idea took shape when Brad joined UCL’s Ear Institute in 2006 and attended a workshop of the London Entrepreneurs’ Challenge, where he met his business partner, Steven Gildorf, an MBA student at London Business School. With the help of UCL Advances, the two formed Audio3 and developed a business plan.

Audio3 won the London Entrepreneurs’ Challenge and the Provost’s Prize in 2007, as well as a Bright Ideas Award in 2008. Audio3 invested their prize money in developing a top-quality prototype, which was subsequently produced through a licensing deal with elite British hi-fi maker Arcam. The rCube is now distributed around the world in outlets like Harrods.

Brad has since advised Camden-based loudspeaker designers Ferguson Hill, to whom he was introduced through the HELO programme run by UCL Advances, on their prototypes. He has also reinvested the royalties from the sales of rCube in his second invention, the soundBADGE.

Developed with the Royal College of Music and London South Bank University, the soundBADGE is an easy-to-use noise dosimeter that accurately measures the levels of noise a wearer is being exposed to, and comes from Brad’s interest in noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) – “ironic”, he laughs, “given my first invention.”

He says: “We are living longer and louder lives, so NIHL is on the increase. The soundBADGE could help prevent some of this loss, improve quality of life for those at risk and save our health services some money, too. We are looking to manufacture the product ourselves here in the UK, largely thanks to the knowledge, experience and, not least, confidence we gained through working with UCL Advances.”