Launch of new centres to transform the way we live in Digital Britain

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Three new centres which will develop digital technology to transform the lives of the elderly, disabled, and people in rural communities will be announced today by Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation.

Building on plans to provide universal connectivity to broadband in the UK, the new research 'hubs' will be based in Nottingham, Newcastle and Aberdeen universities and are the biggest investment ever made by the research councils in creating a Digital Britain.

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Lord Drayson (LD) – Minister of State for Science & Innovation

The way in which society and the world is full of all things digital is something which we in the UK have already shown we have real world leadership in. And so it’s vitally important that we continue to invest in these areas and in doing so create an economy which will help us succeed in the future.

We’ve announced today three new digital economy hubs. We are investing £36 million in creating three hubs of research to focus on how the digital economy can best be used to improve people’s lives.

Dr Peter Edwards – Technical Director, Aberdeen Digital Economy Hub

The focus of our hub is on the rural aspects of digital economy and I think there are many challenges that rural communities face. Now I live in a rural community myself in the north east of Scotland and I know what my broadband service is like for example, and that immediately limits the services I can use. As soon as you start limiting the infrastructure that people have you limit their access to services. So we need the infrastructure to allow us to deliver the digital technologies to people to help them with many of the other issues they face that disadvantage them in rural communities. So, for example, whether it be transport, now can you use digital technology to help people find ways, through lift sharing, or through maybe sharing patient transport services, to get to main arterial routes. Sarah Sharples – Associate Professor, Human Factors, University of Nottingham

The transport theme within the digital economy research hub is absolutely critical. What we’re doing within this theme is we’re looking at all aspects of transport so were looking at road transport, rail transport, even motorbike or cycling and walking. And we’re looking from the perspective of the passenger or the user, and also from the people who provide the infrastructure. And it’s really important that within this transport theme we understand the way in which information is presented to everyone from a train driver to an operator of a sign on a motorway.

Our driving simulator enables us to understand what future road signage will look like before it’s actually put out into the real world. The added benefit of our driving simulator is it enables us to record the driving performance in quite an accurate way. So we can anticipate if there could potentially be any issues to do with driver distraction for example, of putting too much extra information out into the real world.

Derek McAuley – Director, Digital Economy Hub, University of Nottingham

I think the key thing is to understand how the new technologies, existing technologies and emerging technologies can effect society and change the way we live and work and play. Technologies like GPS that allow us to use location information for example, can be very valuable both at a societal level for understanding how the bulk of people are moving through the transport system, but this can also be a benefit to the users so they can get real time information from the infrastructure as they pass through it.

(LD)

I think we are all aware of the speed at which the digital technology is moving but we’ve got to make sure that this doesn’t exclude certain parts of our community. So for example, how can we get flood warnings more effectively to people in outlying districts? How can we make sure that everyone has access to broadband so that all of these new services which are now available to people with faster broadband access can be available to everyone.

Professor Paul Watson – Director, Digital Economy Hub, University of Newcastle

One of the problems at the moment in society is that there is a lot of evidence of people who are digitally excluded or who are also socially excluded. And so what we are trying to do is think about how do we reduce that risk? So you can see why there are problems, because people who don’t have access to computers or who don’t have the ability to use them, it’s difficult for them to get jobs. Many jobs now require computers, its difficult for them to get training because a lot of training is online, even a lot of healthcare advice is now on-line. So there is a risk, but there is also this fantastic opportunity to use the digital economy to bring people into society. So we are working with older people and disabled people and disaffected youths in ways which will help them to get jobs and to access healthcare and all of the things which most of society takes as the normal nowadays.