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Tech R&D gets cash boost through £113m Future Leaders Fellowships

Projects including a four-legged, multi-terrain robotic walker, ‘biogeobatteries’ and organic smartphone materials are among 97 projects to receive funding

Several cutting-edge uses of technology have a received a financial boost as part of the government’s £113m funding to bring innovations to market.

A total of 97 projects tackling major global issues, ranging from climate change to chronic disease, will receive the funding.

Science minister Amanda Solloway said the money will help to take innovative ideas from the laboratory to the market. “We are putting science and innovation at the heart of our efforts to build back better from the pandemic, empowering our scientific leaders of tomorrow to drive forward game-changing research that could improve all our lives and boost the UK economy,” she said.

“Supported by £113m, the Future Leaders Fellowships will equip our most inventive scientists and researchers across the country with the tools to develop and bring their innovations to market quickly – all while helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.”

Among the projects being backed is RoboHike, which is being led by Dimitrios Kanoulas, an assistant professor at University College London. The project gives autonomous four-legged robots the ability to navigate through difficult terrain, including in construction and agriculture, as well as at the scene of natural disasters. The goal is to develop robots that can navigate reliably and robustly in situations where timely delivery of services and emergency aid is essential.

Yujiang Wang, a career research fellow at Newcastle University, is leading another project, which uses long-term brain recordings, combined with wearable environmental sensors, to capture and analyse fluctuations in epileptic seizures. Wang’s team aims to develop a way to forecast the severity of upcoming seizures for individual patients, as well as developing future treatments that may reduce their severity.

Emily Draper, a lecturer in chemical robotics and automation of chemical experiments at the University of Glasgow, is leading another of the projects to receive funding. Her research project is looking at developing a predictive model that will allow organic materials to replace environmentally damaging and expensive metals in everyday smart devices such as tablets and smartphones. 

Another project to receive funding is being led by James Byrne, a senior lecturer at the University of Bristol, who is looking at how iron-containing minerals found in the ground can act like natural batteries – known as biogeobatteries. His project will investigate how bacteria use these batteries to generate and store energy. 

The funding for the 97 projects will be delivered through UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowships scheme. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and UKRI said the investment will enable researchers at universities and businesses to progress their studies quickly by funding essential equipment and paying for researchers’ wages.

UKRI chief executive Ottoline Leyser said: “The new Fellows announced today will have the support and freedom they need to pursue their research and innovation ideas, delivering new knowledge and understanding and tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

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