Research Councils UK has unveiled a five year, £36m programme to develop new digital technologies.
Three research hubs in Nottingham, Newcastle and Aberdeen will work on projects to open up new markets, improve the lives of elderly and socially excluded people and support rural communities.
Science and innovation minister Lord Drayson said the new programme built on the government’s commitment to provide universal broadband connectivity in the UK.
“The hubs will develop new technologies [that] will create jobs, improve public services such as health and transport, reduce waste and bring the digital revolution into people’s lives for the first time,” he said.
Research Councils UK arranged for some of the new projects to be demonstrated at the British Library yesterday.
The Newcastle hub was showing off an “ambient kitchen” equipped with sensors in appliances, cupboards, work surfaces and utensils.
Director Paul Watson said it went beyond apparently similar “intelligent” rooms and homes, by not only using sensors to set off alarms if people left on cookers or taps, but to work out what users were doing and to assist them in doing it.
“One of the problems that people living with dementia can have is that they can get stuck – they just forget what they were doing,” he said.
“The kitchen can monitor people, using the sensors, and then apply a model to work out what they are doing. Then, if they get stuck, they can prompt them about what to do next.”
The Newcastle hub was also displaying ceramic jewellery that vibrates gently when touched, causing a similar vibration in a similar brooch many miles away.
Watson argued this could help overcome the feelings of isolation that elderly people often feel, as well as showing how technology could be embedded into the objects that people use every day.
The Aberdeen hub, meanwhile, had been hoping to show off a body-worn sensor that can transmit health data over a mobile phone connection, but Pete Edwards, its technical director, said it was out on a field trial with a mountain rescue team.
Like Watson, Edwards argued that one of the roles of the new centres would be to take ideas that were already around – such as body worn censors – but make them practical and acceptable to both users and services like the NHS.
The Aberdeen hub will also be exploring how “intelligent software agents” could be used to aggregate and deliver information to complex teams, including ‘virtual’ healthcare teams working across remote areas.
The digital hubs are part of the Research Council UK’s broader digital economy programme, which also aims to create new businesses and markets.