Prosperity Partnerships: the first year

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One year on, some of our Prosperity Partnerships tell us how the first year of their projects have worked.

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Kedar Pandya, Associate Director Business and User Engagement EPSRC (KP)

New ideas and innovations are built on strong foundations of excellent research and fundamental science. That’s why, a year ago, EPSRC announced a really substantial investment to strengthen the links between the UK’s research base and business partners, driving innovation, growth and productivity.  Here’s a quick update on some of the partnerships a year on.

Jon Hall, Babcock International (JH)

In 2017, Babcock joined forces with the University of Strathclyde to investigate technologies that would help us look after nuclear assets more safely and more cost effectively through life.

Professor Stephen McArthur, University of Strathclyde (SM)

A year into our EPSRC Prosperity Partnership and we have now launched two major projects. A team of six full-time researchers are to deliver new biotechnology solutions for concrete, to deliver the advanced analytics and to deliver the non-disruptive evaluation and inspection technologies; and we have a full programme over the next three years of fundamental research which will then translate into prototypes and delivery on site with Babcock and our other industry partners.

The University and Babcock have the opportunity then to take that to the global nuclear industry. At the event that’s being held today at the University of Strathclyde, around their advanced nuclear research centre, we have partners here from the US, from Canada, and from elsewhere around the world, who are interested in taking these technologies, applying them and using them.

(KP)

What the Prosperity Partnerships allows, is it allows for flexibility of working, a bit of co-construction of ideas, but for businesses to plan strategically for the longer-term.

Professor Seth Bullock, University of Bristol (SB)

Our Prosperity partnership is about autonomous systems and, in particular, about how we can engineer those more confidently to get them into products, into services, that are in people’s homes and environments.

Angus Johnson, Thales Research & Technology (AJ)

Thales designs innovative engineering solutions for the defence, aerospace, transport and security industries.  We also work in the space area.

(SB)

So Thales are a perfect partner for this type of work, because they work across such a wide range of engineering domains.

(AJ)

An example of this would be within our transport sector, where any of the solutions we deploy have to be accredited and known to be safe and reliable.

(SB)

When an autonomous system interacts with people, we need to be confident that we understand how it is going to behave. That poses increasing challenges for us.So this robot is travelling through its environment and it’s monitoring and recording and learning the features in its environment. At some point, those features might change. A door could open and the system will recognise that there is that novelty there and react accordingly.

(AJ)

The benefits of working with a university, rather than independently,is that it allows us to gain insights that we would not normally see from the University and develop a long-term programme.

(SB)

We’ve made a lot of progress in gaining a deeper understanding of the industrial challenges faced across different sectors of the Thales company.

(AJ)

In our first year, we’ve built a framework around which we can build our successive years’ research, that’s including models and simulations specifically starting to address the engineering of hybrid autonomous systems.

(SB)

Every advanced, technologically-driven society is attempting to move forward quickly with autonomy. So whether that’s self-driven cars or autonomous trading agents, in almost all sectors there is uncertainty and that is preventing the deployment of these things.

Britain is already a world leader in this area but if it makes that advance, then it becomes the place that gets to exploit autonomy first.

Professor Barbara Shollock, University of Warwick (BS)

Reducing CO₂ emissions in vehicles is a world-wide challenge and here in the UK we have the opportunity to really get some momentum behind the work that we’re doing.

Tony Harper, Jaguar Land Rover (TH)

What the partnership does, is it allows us to consolidate the relationship at the scientific level, but really it’s the excitement of developing the science to develop the next generation of products that motivates us.

(BS)

I hope that the collaboration will achieve an amazing electric vehicle. We’ll cement that partnership and deepen it and it will allow us to train and skill up the next generation of engineers and scientists in a whole new area.

(KP)

They are multinational businesses, they could invest anywhere and they are investing preferentially in the UK on the back of the research that we are funding.

Johnathan Legh-Smith, British Telecom (JL)

Our partnership is the next-generation, converged digital infrastructure. The kind of digital infrastructure that the UK needs to support both the economic requirements of the businesses and the new services demanded by our consumers.

Professor Nicholas Race, Lancaster University (NR)

The challenge is, in terms of managing that huge growth, that growth in traffic, that growth in users, and how do we automate these systems? So using artificial intelligence to support the management of that infrastructure.

(JL)

This is a unique partnership from BT’s perspective. We are often engaged in bilateral projects looking at particular parts of the problem. Very rarely do we get to bring all of our key partners together and focus on the ambition as a whole.

(NR)

BT will need to manage a huge number of lines in the future so we want techniques that can look at faults, computers that can automatically detect these faults and then remediate those faults automatically. And so looking at those lines and those characteristics around those faults is the starting point to automate the whole cycle, so that the fault that you might have on your broadband line is detected and addressed before you’ve even had the chance to notice it has been an issue in the first place.

(JL)

We are now at full strength as a partnership and will be bringing all of our partners together to look at and explore what the real scale of the challenge is.

(NR)

We have a team now starting to look at the different parts of the research agenda within the project. Already we’re starting to see as these groups come together, the cross-pollination of ideas and exposure to different ways of thinking in other discipline areas and that was really the key of this prosperity partnership, it’s about bringing those groups together.

Speed is naturally important, but also convergence, so one network. Areas around standards, new architectures for networks of the future are all areas in which NG-CDI (Next Generation Converged Digital Infrastructure) as a project can really have influence. So, not just on the UK, but also across our broader spectrum of partners, academics, industry, as we look to try and standardise these types of technology in the future.

(KP)

When you look back in history and you look around the world, long-term, sustainable growth is predicated on the strength of the research base and the long-term investment that goes into that research base. So Prosperity Partnerships are a way in which you bring businesses, large, medium and small together with the excellence of the research base within the UK to deliver those long-term solutions.