Next-generation cameras that can see round corners, human-centred robots that can adapt to an individual’s assistive needs and light-powered retinal implants that can restore people’s vision are among the disruptive innovations championed by the Royal Academy of Engineering’s latest Chairs in Emerging Technologies announced today.
The Academy has made awards totalling over £20 million in research funding through its Chairs in Emerging Technologies programme, providing long-term support to nine world-leading engineers across the UK to advance emerging technologies.
The new technology areas developed by the Chairs in Emerging Technologies have the potential to considerably benefit society and the UK economy, and enable the nation to remain at the global forefront of engineering innovation. The areas of research funded reflect the UK’s wider technological priorities, with many of the projects directly aligned to the government’s Industrial Strategy and designed to tackle some of the biggest industrial and societal challenges of our time.
The ten-year support provided to the Chairs will enable them to progress their pioneering ideas from basic science through to full deployment and commercialisation.
Professor Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “The new technological areas advanced by our Chairs in Emerging Technologies have the potential to transform our everyday lives, as well as positively impact to the UK’s economy and generate new sources of wealth. Engineering is critical to achieving the goals of the UK government’s industrial strategy, and investment in emerging technologies means that we can secure our footing in important future markets.
“For these technologies to reach their full potential it is important to invest in the pioneering individuals who advocate for them, as without their vision and foresight it is difficult to identify the products and services of tomorrow.”
Dr Dame Frances Saunders DBE CB FREng, who leads the Chairs in Emerging Technologies steering group, said: “It has been a privilege to meet these outstanding individuals who have a passion for applying their engineering and scientific ideas to solving some really challenging problems. Their areas of research are all different, but what unites them is their clear vision and ambition for how they will make a difference through their work. I look forward to seeing what they will achieve over the next 10 years as recipients of these awards.”
The nine Chairs in Emerging Technologies are supported through the UK government’s Investment in Research Talent initiative. In recognition of the importance of engineering research to the UK, the government has provided the Royal Academy of Engineering with a significant increase in funding to attract and retain the best research talent to the UK and support their work.
The nine Chairs in Emerging Technologies and their research projects are:
Professor Yiannis Demiris, Imperial College London
Personal assistive robots
Professor Demiris will develop a world-leading innovative engineering research program in personal assistive robots. His research will focus on the development, implementation and validation of artificial intelligence (AI) systems that will enable robots to intelligently assist those who need support and adapt to meet people’s individual needs.
Professor Judith Driscoll FREng, University of Cambridge
Scaleable ultralow power memory through materials innovation
Professor Driscoll will develop and bring to industry highly innovative materials technology that can be used in non-volatile memory (NVM) storage. New NVM storage is essential to a wide range of growing data-centric technologies including Internet of Things, transport, medicine, and AI. Professor Driscoll will explore potential materials for NVM, develop compositions and nanostructures, test a range of different memory device forms and liaise with industry on commercialising the devices.
Professor Daniele Faccio, University of Glasgow
Artificial intelligence and quantum-inspired imaging
Professor Faccio will develop new light-based imaging devices that combine artificial intelligence with emerging quantum detection technologies. These devices will have a range of applications, including the ability to see inside buildings and behind walls for use in self-driving cars and security systems, and devices that can see inside the body, providing cheap, accessible medical imaging for first-point-of-contact healthcare.
Professor Michael Fisher, University of Liverpool
Responsible autonomous systems
Professor Fisher’s research focuses on the development of formal verification techniques to uncover and understand why a robot might make a particular choice. Taking a new approach to the construction autonomous systems, his techniques will capture and analyse key decision-making within software to provide formal proof that an autonomous system will always make the safest and most ethical decisions.
Professor Alejandro Frangi, University of Leeds
Computational precision medicine for in silico trials of medical devices
Professor Frangi will investigate the role of imaging, modelling and simulation as an alternative and complementary method of discovering, developing, and testing new medical devices. Using ‘in-silico’ trials, where computer analysis is used to engineer medical devices from their conception, his research aims to optimise clinical outcomes by designing systems for specific patient groups, and with minimal harm to animals and humans compared with current medical technology trials.
Professor Peter Lee, UCL
Transforming additive manufacturing via multiscale in-situ imaging (TAMMI)
Professor Lee will use synchrotron imaging to develop more efficient, environmentally friendly and cost-effective additive manufacturing technologies. Using ultrafast x-ray imaging and diffraction, Professor Lee will develop additive manufacturing machines that can see inside the 3D-printing process to capture key phenomena. These insights will be used to accelerate the development of new materials, design rules, AI control algorithms and multi-scale predictive models and remove expensive trial-and-error development in 3D-printing.
Professor Barry Lennox FREng, University of Manchester
Transforming operations in the nuclear industry using robotics
Professor Lennox will lead the development of robotic systems for use in nuclear facilities, helping to reduce the risks associated with humans entering hazardous environments. The project will deliver cutting edge technology to enable robots to carry out complex operational tasks in “dirty” and unstructured environments, helping robots to become commonplace in all areas of the nuclear industry.
Professor Keith Mathieson, University of Strathclyde
Neural interfaces for the understanding and treatment of neurodegenerative conditions
Professor Mathieson’s research will focus on brain-interfacing technologies that could further our understanding of brain circuits and how they are affected by neurological disorders. Using these findings, Professor Mathieson will develop neurotechnologies to treat a number of conditions, including brain disorders, dementia and systems for restoring functional vision to blind people.
Professor Guy-Bart Stan, Imperial College London
Accelerating engineering biology: efficient engineering of reliable and high-performance biosystems
Professor Stan will use systems and control engineering techniques to design and implement robust, high-performance biosystems that can perform tasks autonomously and reliably. The resulting biomolecular and cellular systems will have applications in biotechnology, sustainable manufacturing, next-generation therapeutics, and lifelong health and well-being, and will help to transform synthetic biology from an emerging technology to a mature engineering discipline.
Notes to editors
Royal Academy of Engineering Chairs in Emerging Technologies
The Academy’s Chair in Emerging Technologies scheme aims to identify global research visionaries and provide them with long term support to lead on developing emerging technology areas with high potential to deliver economic and social benefit to the UK.
Applications for the next round will open in October 2019 – the Academy particular welcomes and encourages applications from women and other groups underrepresented in the engineering profession. To find out more, please visit: https://www.raeng.org.uk/grants-and-prizes/grants/support-for-research/chair-in-emerging-technology
About the Royal Academy of Engineering
As the UK’s national academy for engineering and technology, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers from academia and business – our Fellows – to advance and promote excellence in engineering for the benefit of society.
We harness their experience and expertise to provide independent advice to government, to deliver programmes that help exceptional engineering researchers and innovators realise their potential, to engage the public with engineering and to provide leadership for the profession.
We have three strategic priorities:
- Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation and businesses
- Address the engineering skills and diversity challenge
- Position engineering at the heart of society
We bring together engineers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, academics, educators and the public in pursuit of these goals.
Engineering is a global profession, so we work with partners across the world to advance engineering’s contribution to society on an international, as well as a national scale.