Funding has been announced for two major new research centres, one of which is to be based at the Department of Engineering. This 'Innovation and Knowledge Centre' (IKC) on Smart Infrastructure and Construction will combine business knowledge with the most up-to-date research to harness the full potential of emerging technologies - ensuring the UK is first to develop this cutting-edge research. The centre is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Technology Strategy Board, and by industry.
Professor Robert Mair, the Principal Investigator of the grant, says "Much of our infrastructure is more than 100 years old. Resilience against systemic failure of UK infrastructure is significantly weakening through ageing. Infrastructure owners therefore have a strong interest in emerging technologies in sensors and data management, to quantify and define the extent of ageing and the consequent remaining design life of their infrastructure. The application of emerging technologies to advanced health monitoring of existing critical infrastructure assets will address these needs, improve the management of infrastructure and reduce the risk of failure. By providing cradle-to-grave health monitoring, combined with innovative manufacturing processes, these technologies will also lead to more efficient and economic construction of new infrastructure. The IKC will focus on smarter construction and production processes, employing the latest research developments in intelligent sensing and information processing, decision support, manufacturing strategy and reconfigurable building blocks."
The Cambridge IKC will combine research in sensor and data management with innovative manufacturing processes to provide radical changes to the construction and management of infrastructure. The aim is to transform the industry through a whole-life approach to achieving sustainability in construction and infrastructure, covering design and commissioning, the construction process, exploitation and use, and eventual decommissioning. The IKC will complement the Laing O'Rourke Centre for Construction Engineering and Technology at Cambridge, a new multi-disciplinary academic centre of excellence to advance the engineering profession and leverage innovative thinking to benefit the construction industry.
Talking about the new centres, EPSRC's Chief Executive, Professor David Delpy, said: "Taking exciting research from the university laboratory to the commercial sector through close collaboration with user stakeholders is vital to ensuring the UK's economy continues to be innovative and globally competitive. EPSRC is strongly committed to supporting universities in commercialising their outstanding research and I applaud the innovative approach taken by the successful applicants, and all competing universities."
The Technology Strategy Board's Chief Executive, Iain Gray, said: "These two new Innovation and Knowledge Centres are highly important for the UK and economic growth because they harness specialist academic knowledge and business expertise in areas where we have proved capabilities and we know that we can do well. By pooling know-how, capability, and expertise in one centre, the UK maximises the opportunity to innovate effectively and generate economic growth."
The Cambridge IKC on Smart Infrastructure and Construction will be led by Professor Robert Mair and Professor Kenichi Soga of the Civil Engineering Division of the Department of Engineering. Professor Duncan McFarlane of the Department's Institute of Manufacturing (IfM) will also play a leading role. Dr Paul Heffernan of the IfM will be the full-time IKC Director. The IKC will bring together four leading research groups in the Cambridge Engineering Department and the Computer Laboratory, along with staff in the Judge Business School and the Department of Architecture.
Innovation and Knowledge Centres (IKCs) are centres of excellence with five years' funding to accelerate and promote business exploitation of an emerging research and technology field. Their key feature is a shared space and entrepreneurial environment, in which researchers, potential customers and skilled professionals from both academia and business can work side-by-side to scope applications, business models and routes to market.
Funding for the Cambridge IKC will be £10million from EPSRC and the Technology Strategy Board, with an additional £7million from a number of industry organisations.