Peratech was started in 1996 to commercialise the technology, which Lussey had discovered while trying to find a formula to make a conductive adhesive. Now Peratech has more than 100 QTC patents worldwide and Lussey heads a growing research team at Peratech, bolstered by PhD research students at three universities and a major project on printable electronics at the Centre for Process Innovation at Sedgefield, County Durham.
Lussey retired from full-time service as a specialist instructor in the Royal Air Force in 1984. His military expertise was in defensive missile systems and the associated communications and radar systems. He was trained in military science and because of his specialist knowledge was asked to serve two further commissions for the RAF on a reserve basis. He left the RAF in 2000 to concentrate on growing his civilian business.
1. Why is QTC such an important technology?
It is unique. Secondly, it is a new area of science, only a small area but a new one, and that makes it disruptive. It can replace conventional switches and sensors in a way that is unconventional. This is new and different and therefore we are blazing a trail with it.
It can be used as a switch but it doesn’t look like a switch because you can print it. It is a sort of two-dimensional switch. In the more solid form, it switches from a true insulator to a true conductor. This capability is quite remarkable. We are still finding things you can do with it.
This is the thinnest switch in the world and the switching occurs without any contacts, so there are no sparks, making it safer.
We don’t know what the limits are yet; we are still working on that, but there are lots of people doing lots of things that will appear in the future. We are creating a lot of interest.
It is also a very sensitive element such that finger pressure can make it go across the range. We can even make it respond to smell, and it does that fairly simply. We have a very capable smell sensor here.
2. What are the advantages for universities in working more closely with business?
I am not an educator but I find the university system is fairly under-utilised. For a small company such as us, it gives us a new resource. They gave me the tick in the box for this technology. The university was very important to us. They have tremendous facilities available and good minds.
The advantage for the university is that they are not working on blue sky but something that is tangible, that has real benefits. Blue sky research has to go on in universities but it gives them another opportunity. We can also pay for it, which gives them a smile on their face.
3. What lessons did you learn in your military service that have helped you in your civilian life?
A great many. The first is to be careful what you are doing because things can blow up in your face. Not literally, but things can happen quickly in business and you have to have the resources to deal with them. Things get rough in business and you have to be able to cope. I spent a long time in the forces and I served in a lot of places and that has given me big advantages.
4. Why do you list survival among your interests and hobbies?
Because I am still here. Again, the military has given me some funny jobs to do and I’ve had some strange tasks, but I’m still here. Survival though is a key element with business as well. Even in the smallest business you are being looked at by big companies and some of their attitudes mean even in the simple things they see you as fair game.
You have to deal with it, so survival is still a big component of being in business.
5. How can the government help inventors in the UK?
The government actually do a lot for inventors. The government supported me right from the beginning – this invention happened 16 years ago. The funding has always given us an edge in funding patents and buying time from the local university. We have always managed to find funding from government sources and we are still finding it.
There is a lot more they could do. The difficult one is intellectual property. It serves the purposes of the big companies far better than the small companies. We have had to struggle to keep up with it. There is also a lot of diversity from country to country. This has been a problem. They could make it more understandable for a start.
Things are gradually changing because they see it as a huge problem for some companies. They are working on something called the Patent Box. That is coming in this year. This will help considerably for small companies. It is a government scheme to look after your patents and will keep UK patents on shore. They are doing this to make sure money from the patents comes to the UK. They will reduce the tax on what you make from the patents if you keep the patents on shore.