It has been a year since Prime Minister Theresa May announced the launch of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund at CBI’s annual conference. At the time, May said the fund would ‘help to address Britain’s historic weakness on commercialisation and turning our world-leading research into long-term success’.
Since then, Innovate UK has worked closely with the government and research councils to identify the great innovation challenges the UK faces.
‘Innovate UK have been in this right from the very beginning,’ said Ruth McKernan, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, speaking at Innovate 2017. McKernan explained that the organisation has held several engagement events to find out what ‘industry and researchers see as the challenges of the future and where economic growth can be developed in the UK’.
The first three challenges sponsored by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund were announced in April this year: The Faraday challenge, medicines manufacturing, and robotics and autonomous systems.
Andrew Tyrer, Interim Director of Robotics and Autonomous Systems is now responsible for the £69m investment into research on AI in extreme conditions.
Research projects in this cohort include robotics in deep mining, space exploration, and off-shore energy. ‘One of the challenges is that you cannot put people in these environments,’ he said.
Space is just one of the dangerous environments being researched in robotics projects. Image: NASA
However, the UK does not currently have the research capacity to access the global market, Tyrer explained. For example, he said ‘the nuclear decommissioning market in five years will be at £150bn a year in Europe alone’ – a market the UK is currently struggling to make an impact.
‘The programme is about taking academic and business excellence, linking those value chains together, and building those industries,’ Tyrer said.
On the other end of the spectrum, is the Faraday Challenge – a ‘commitment’ to research into the battery development of driverless cars and an area of research the UK has already seen success in – headed by Jacqui Murray and Kathryn Magnay.
The UK have pledged to have all petrol and diesel vehicles off roads by 2040. Image: Wikimedia Commons
‘Automotive has been a real success story in the UK in the last 10 years,’ said Murray, with the UK reaching ‘world-class’ in productivity levels.
However, there are ways the UK needs to improve, said Magnay. ‘In the UK we have a huge gap between the research that we do and how you scale that up in the manufacturing process,’ she said.
This is the inspiration for the upcoming £65m Faraday Battery Institute, which will serve as a hub for universities, as well as other academic institutions and industry partners, to further their science. Magnay said that Innovate UK wants to ‘provide a facility that companies and researchers can go to and take their ideas to trial them at scale’.
Will smart energy solutions be the next challenge?
Further challenges under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund are currently unknown, although there are rumours of an early 2018 announcement. Which challenge will be next?