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University of Bristol awarded £100m to drive ‘tech for better futures’ research

A new £100m institute, based in the centre of Bristol, is set to transform the way we create, utilise and evaluate new digital technologies to benefit our society now and in the future.

In a unique collaboration, University of Bristol engineers will work with social scientists and with tech giants, corporations, local government and community partners to answer these big questions and create transformational technologies for the future.

The Bristol Digital Futures Institute (BDFI) will be based at the University’s new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus in the heart of the City of Bristol’s buzzing new Enterprise Zone.

This international leading research facility is being funded by a £29m grant from the Research England UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (RPIF), which has received more than double that in £71m of match funding (£16m philanthropy and £55m from 27 partners including organisations such as BT, Dyson, the BBC, Airbus and Aardman).  

  • BDFI will involve 200 people in its research and innovation contributing over £180m to the economy over 10 years.
  • Funding will create a 6,000sqm collaborative co-creation space on the new campus. Facilities will include a state-of-the-art interactive auditorium and the world’s first reality emulator enabling the study of future digital systems at scale.
  • These cutting-edge labs will allow researchers to study a range of scenarios, from emerging challenges in future cities; protecting ourselves against cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure; and exploring how digital technologies are experienced by different social groups. This knowledge will be shared to help create a better digital world.
  • With the UK digital sector projected to be worth £200bn by 2025, the Institute will be ideally placed to investigate the implications of living in a data driven society.
  • The Bristol-Bath region alone is a globally significant digital technology cluster in the UK, with more than 60,000 digital workers across the aerospace, digital technologies, digital creative and Internet application industries.

Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, said: “So many of the research solutions to contemporary global challenges are now discovered through creative collisions at the interface of traditional academic disciplines.

“The new Bristol Digital Futures Institute will apply this multidisciplinary paradigm to exploration of our rapidly evolving digital world. We are creating a unique research ecosystem where world-class engineers, computer scientists, social and behavioural scientists, psychologists and legal scholars can work shoulder to shoulder with our partners from industry, social enterprises and civic organisations exploring the opportunities and challenges posed by new digital technologies.”

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Bristol, said: “This funding announcement is fantastic news for the University, the city of Bristol and the wider region.

“It provides an opportunity to think about our futures differently – to build on expertise from right across the university in collaboration with industry, government and people in the City; to think about the world we are creating with digital innovation and ensure that this ethical, socially responsible and inclusive - helping to support the creation of future ‘tech with a conscience’.

“It will add further to the University of Bristol’s growing reputation as a global leader in responsible sociotechnical innovation, and the epicentre of a unique partnership ecosystem where public participation and citizen co-creation is key.

“It will also ensure the UK can remain at the forefront of a rapidly advancing sociotechnical world by integrating areas of policy, economics, society, law and environmental impact with technical development, to ensure that emerging technology is useful, safe and secure.”

Among the partners who pledged their support and financial support include: Aardman, ACH (formerly Ashley Community Housing), Airbus, ARM Ltd, Babassa, BBC,  Bristol Media Group, Black South West Network (BSWN), BT, Business West, Digital Catapult, Dyson, Evolyst Ltd, Frazer-Nash Consultancy, Gregg Latchams Solicitors, Hargreaves Landsdown, Knowle West Media Centre, National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Quin, System C Healthcare Ltd, Thales UK Ltd, Three, TM Forum, Toshiba, Ultrahaptics Ltd, Watershed, West of England Combined Authority (WECA).

David Sproxton, Co-founder of Aardman, said: “Engaging audiences emotionally and authentically with screen-based entertainment is a little understood art. The Bristol Digital Futures Institute will build new knowledge using state of the art facilities to create truly immersive and engaging experiences with aim of supporting the creation of the next world class character franchise like Wallace & Gromit or Shaun the Sheep here in Bristol.”  

Paul Coles, Group English Regions Director for BT said: “Bristol and the West of England is an incredibly important area for us. Our long-standing research partnership with the University of Bristol underpins the very foundation of modern and future communications technologies. We are very excited about Bristol Digital Futures Institute and are already in discussions about how we grow our partnership further.”

The Institute will aim to generate 30 new collaborative projects per year. It will be jointly led by Professor Susan Halford, a social scientist and professor of sociology, and Professor Dimitra Simeonidou, an engineer and professor of high-performance networks.

Professor Susan Halford added: “The digital world is changing fast – we’re building new artificial intelligence and faster networks, which are becoming much more connected with our day to day lives. This will bring opportunities, but also huge challenges.

“Rather than waiting for the future to happen, we’ll get ahead of it and drive our digital future for the benefit of society, economic growth and prosperity.”

Professor Dimitra Simeonidou added: “The new research facilities are vitally important to understand our digital futures. They will allow a step-change in sociotechnical research and help us to gain new insights on the challenges and opportunities brought by disruptive digital technologies.

“These insights will enable us create new technologies and deliver our vision for a future digital society based on opportunity, trust, human control, resilience, openness, diversity and inclusion.”

ACH's Business Development Manager, Richard Thickpenny, added: “ACH is committed to support the development of the Bristol Digital Futures Institute.  As one of the UK’s leading organisations in the field of resettlement and integration we work with those many consider to be on the margins of society. Organisationally we see the Institute as a pioneering opportunity to develop and exploit technologies that bring about relevant and beneficial digital solutions for our customers, whilst bringing about systemic change within our operating environment locally, regionally and beyond. We’re supportive of the new dialogue proposed to co-create and design relevant support, services and products to connect communities, so their intellectual, economic social and civil assets can be unlocked for the benefit of society.” 

BDFI is being funded through Round 6 of Research England’s flagship capital investment scheme the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF).

It is one of 11 projects being funded totalling over £670m of new investment into UK research and innovation. Funding includes £221m of public funding from UKRPIF and over £450m of committed co-investment from businesses, charities and philanthropic donors.


Image courtesy of UKBlackTech

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