Kemble manufacturing company Sentinel Systems picked up this year’s award for Outstanding Innovation of the Year from the Cirencester Chamber of Commerce. Charlotte Shepherd met a small team gearing itself up for big things.

WITH over 18,000 cyclists injured or killed on our roads in the last year local manufacturing company Sentinel Systems decided to act.

“We kept hearing about the numbers of cyclists getting killed in London because they go up the side of a lorry,” explained 75-year old company founder and managing director Bill Paulson.

As the world-leader in HGV reverse-technology, Sentinel Systems used its expertise to come up with the Bike Hotspot system, which helps with the problem of cyclists getting too close to lorries and makes lorry drivers aware of the cyclist.

“Sensors are placed on the lorry and a voice will tell the cyclist if they are too close,” explained Mr Paulson. “It will also tell the lorry driver to check in the mirror.”

The system works up to a speed of 10mph and has been tested by 10 councils in London, with three taking it on so far. “It is possible that London could pass legislation saying that all lorries coming through have to have this technology. It could snowball then,” said Mr Paulson.

Cirencester Chamber of Commerce judges were so impressed with the Sentinel Systems technology that they named it the Outstanding Innovation of the Year at this year’s business awards. “We were delighted to get the award. It is nice to get recognised locally. I felt honoured to receive it,” said Mr Paulson.

Although few people outside of the haulage industry will have heard of the Sentinel name, it is estimated that between 20 and 30,000 vehicles worldwide are fitted with one of the Sentinel Systems. “We expect that number to double in the next five years,” said Mr Paulson.

The company, which has just eight employees, was set up by Mr Paulson in 1986 when he came up an idea for a device that would sense if someone or something was behind a lorry.

As both a former lorry driver and owner of a haulage company, Mr Paulson was uniquely placed to design the reversing system. “It was the first patented reversing system in the world, “ he explained. “I couldn’t believe no one else was doing it.”

The reason Sentinel Systems are so sought after across the word, being used on school buses in America, dust carts and by Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s, is because the sensors do not just alert the driver that someone is behind the vehicle.

“Our technology will stop the vehicle if someone walks behind it. We can stop 44 tonnes in two inches when it is reversing.”

With 17 other patented systems, including camera technology that can record the journey of a vehicle, Sentinel Systems is keen to maintain its dominance in the market.

Although in business to make money, Sentinel Systems is also in the business of saving lives. “We know of at least four occasions where our technology has saved lives. There is a moral side to what we do. It makes it all worth it if you can save one life,” Mr Paulson said.

The company is preparing for a huge expansion in its business and is moving manufacturing of its products, which are currently outsourced, to its head office at its Cotswold Airport base. “We want to do everything on-site hope to take on more staff. The company is growing so fast that it is hard to keep up with sales,” he said. “Not bad for an ex-lorry driver,” he said.