A Cambridge software start-up whose technology allows drivers to access smartphone apps via their car dashboard has been awarded one of the UK’s most prestigious engineering awards and been tipped as a billion-dollar company.

RealVNC was chosen as the winner of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award last night by a panel of judges who said they expected the small company to be worth more than a billion dollars within the next five years.

RealVNC’s software allows computer, smartphone, and other device users the power to remotely take control of another device from anywhere in the world. This means IT workers can solve problems on people’s computers or smartphones without having to leave their own desk, for example.

John Robinson, chair of the MacRobert Award judging panel, said: “RealVNC was selected because of the engineering excellence and tenacious entrepreneurship required for them to have opened the door to countless new markets for new product and services.

“For a relatively small UK company with no external investors to have grown to work with the world’s biggest technology companies is truly inspiring.”

The Cambridge Computer University Laboratory spinout was founded in 2002 by former AT&T employee, Andy Harter.

The company’s remote access software uses algorithms to send data about the parts of a screen that are changing (rather than all of it), minimizing the amount of data sent and ensuring that sharp images are sent quickly.

More than a billion devices now use RealVNC technology, the company claims.

RealVNC is working with Jaguar Land Rover to bring smartphone capabilities into car infotainment systems. The technology is scheduled to be inside all new Jaguars and Land Rovers rolling off the production line this year.

It is also being built into millions of Intel chips so laptop users don't have to download the remote access software, and computers can be controlled remotely even if they are faulty and unresponsive or hibernating.

The company said most distributions of Linux contain VNC technology, while Apple incorporates the software in its Remote Desktop Tool. Meanwhile, the company said it is also working with Google to provide remote access capabilities for its Chrome products.

The prize is awarded to firms that have shown engineering excellence and the ability to be profitable and general social benefits. It was first presented in 1969 and is one of the most coveted in the industry.

Previous recipients include Microsoft Research’s Xbox Kinect human motion-capture system, Arup's 'Water Cube,' the dramatic centrepiece of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and last year’s winner, Jaguar Land Rover’s Evoque SUV.

RealVNC picked up £50,000 in cash at Battersea Power Station when they beat other finalists Oxford Instruments and Concrete Canvas to first place.