Business Secretary Vince Cable has announced £50m of investment for emerging and “world-changing” technologies.
Speaking at Innovate UK’s conference in London today, Cable said that, while the UK has historically excelled in science, it has been less successful at innovation. He said the act of taking scientific ideas and applying them is an issue the government is aware of and preparing to solve.
The funding, which has been secured through Innovate UK, will help connect science and innovation in new technologies, including synthetic biology, energy harvesting and non-animal technologies (see below). It represents a doubling of Innovate UK’s investment in early stage technologies.
“Much of Innovate UK’s funding and expertise goes to support business innovation where the commercial opportunities are well understood and the technological challenges known – even if the solutions are not,” said Innovate UK chief executive Iain Gray.
“But it is vital that we also look further ahead, scanning the horizon for the breakthroughs of tomorrow. With our strong and inventive research base, the UK is an excellent source of high potential early-stage technologies. This new investment will help make the push for full commercialisation, creating real economic growth for the UK in the process.”
The strategy builds on other investments being made in seven emerging technologies through the Catapult centres, one of which opened today in London. The Digital Catapult innovation centre will focus on big data.
Cable admitted the government is short of cash after a series of budget cuts, but said decided to protect the science budget. But when it comes to access to finance in the UK, Cable said he was surprised to find out that he was the biggest venture capitalist in the country.
“That’s not right, the private sector should be taking risks and getting behind business,” he said.
Emerging technology areas funding will tackle:
Synthetic biology - Better methods of producing hard-to-synthesise drugs, such as one of those used to tackle malaria and ultra-specific sensors for food hygiene.
Energy-efficient computing - Reducing the 2% (and rising) of global electricity generation currently consumed by cloud computing data centres and smartphones with longer battery life and standalone, ultralow power sensors.
Energy harvesting - Free power for electronic devices, for places where ‘changing the battery’ is impossible, impractical or dangerous and power for autonomous sensors embedded in bridge and building concrete, detecting potential failure.
Non-animal technologies - New, fundamentally more predictive, methods to enable more effective drugs to be developed and tested in response to global needs and new ways of predicting, and hence avoiding, the possible side effects of new medicines.
Emerging imaging technologies - New, ‘hyper-spectral’ cameras that can detect harmful objects and substances, such as explosives and better diagnosis and treatment of dangerous medical conditions.
Graphene - Ultra-high performance capacitors to store more charge in a range of appliances and new ways of making strong, lightweight composites for a range of applications, such as automotive parts and sports goods.
Quantum technologies - More secure data communication and navigation without needing GPS in underground, underwater or adverse environments – such as building subterranean railways.