Transforming the way we live in Digital Britain

29 Apr 2009 00:01:00.000

PA 118/09

A new £40m research centre at The University of Nottingham will develop digital technology to transform modern living.


The Horizon Digital Economy Research Hub centre, one of three announced today (April 29) by Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation, will help to connect people with digital technology to radically improve the way we live, work, play, and travel to ensure that everyone is included in the digital future.


The University of Nottingham centre will develop new ways to use the electronic ‘footprints’ we leave behind whenever we use mobile, internet and other digital technologies, and new ways to utilise digital technologies to help business and stimulate economic growth.

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The Nottingham hub will focus on ‘always on, always with you’ technology. The hub will promote creative industries such as internet and mobile phone gaming as well as online smart marketing tools for retailers. The centre will also help reduce carbon levels by developing communication tools to encourage more car sharing — by combining global positioning systems (GPS), social networking sites and mobile digital technologies.


Building on plans to provide universal connectivity to broadband in the UK, the new research hubs are the biggest investment ever made by Research Councils UK (RCUK) in creating a Digital Britain. The £40m Nottingham hub combines the contributions of RCUK, The University of Nottingham and its industrial partners. The other two hubs will be based at the Universities of Newcastle and Aberdeen.


Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson said: “New technologies can transform our quality of life. The unique thing about the new hubs in Nottingham, Aberdeen and Newcastle is the focus on designing digital technology that includes people from all walks of life — this will ensure that everyone is part of our digital future.


“The hubs will develop new technologies utilising wireless networks and GPS, which will deliver hi-tech digital solutions across many sectors. They will create jobs, improve public services such as health and transport, reduce waste and bring digital revolution into people’s lives for the first time.”


The Nottingham Hub, to which the Universities of Cambridge, Reading and Exeter are also contributing, will investigate the technical developments needed if electronic information is to be controlled, managed and harnessed — for example to develop new products and services — for societal benefit. It will combine technological advances with an exploration of the ethical and business transformation issues involved and seek to stimulate a public debate on potential concerns over the so-called ‘surveillance society’.    


Professor Derek McAuley has joined The University of Nottingham as Director of the Hub. He said: “The world that’s emerging is one where sensing technologies will be more pervasive in the places we live and work, and where computing technologies are more mobile and embedded in infrastructure around us and things we use. This could bring big benefits, but we need to understand the extent to which people are happy for their behaviour to be monitored.”


The Hub brings together researchers with backgrounds in social science, technology and business to build-in an understanding of people and society from the outset and to ensure we all benefit from these advances.


The Hub’s work will focus on two key sectors — Culture & Creative Industries, and Transport — and will specifically examine how the digital footprints we leave behind could be harnessed to transform the way those sectors operate.


In Culture & Creative Industries

, digital technologies could fundamentally reinvent the way we pursue leisure and pleasure. For example, Aerial's Thrill Laboratory, in collaboration with the University's Mixed Reality Laboratory, is already evaluating how physiological data showing individuals’ reactions to fairground rides could change future ride design in order to customise the ‘thrill level’ provided for each individual rider. Such data could also be used to suggest an optimum ‘path of pleasure’ for every theme park visitor. It might even be possible to check visitors’ underlying health and fitness, and highlight where a check-up would be advisable.  Sensor networks could also be used to send targeted data to mobile devices on queue lengths or to identify the location of friends/relatives around the park.


In Transport

, too, the possibilities are enormous — in terms of cutting costs, congestion and pollution. “Digital technology could reinvent the concept of hitchhiking, for instance”, said Professor Tom Rodden, a senior researcher in the Hub. “Many people drive around with empty cars. But it should be possible to devise technology that informs them when they’re driving past the home of someone they know through social software sites such as Facebook and who needs a lift at that precise moment.”


It should also be feasible to enhance GPS receivers (or ‘Sat-Navs’) so they not only target drivers of vehicles, for example with information on ‘least-fuel routes’, but also provide games and other in-car entertainment, and enable passengers to access or leave commentaries about places they are passing through.


The Hub will be developing projects with input from organisations including the BBC, Alton Towers, BT, Experian, Jaguar, Oracle, Network Rail, Invensys and the Institute of Practitioners of Advertising; it is also forging important partnerships with the Location and Position Technologies Network and the Creative Industries and Knowledge Transfer Network, as well as working with established artist groups such as Blast Theory and Active Ingredient.


Steve Wright from BT said: “Bringing together as many stakeholders as possible and using a workshop approach to identify needs and issues, and generate project ideas to tackle them, is central to the approach of the Hub.”


The Hub will build on the track record Nottingham has already established in digital research. To take one example, GPS and WiFi technology has enabled cyclists to hear sound bytes from a film based on a book by Alan Sillitoe, and listen to interviews with the author himself. Bytes are played automatically as visitors to the city cycle around a specified route round relevant parts of Nottingham linked with Sillitoe.


Professor McAuley concluded: “Our overall aim is to explore how technology can capture richer data about people’s behaviour and use it to positively change how they interact with the world. We’re looking forward to working closely with the Aberdeen and Newcastle Hubs to ensure the digital economy has a positive impact on people’s lives.”


The Aberdeen digital research hub will focus on rural issues such as access to broadband, health and public transport, and natural resource, to transform rural areas. The project will revolutionise how the NHS delivers healthcare in these communities. The Newcastle hub will make sure everyone — young, older and disabled — is included in the digital future. Newcastle will work with older people to design simple, intuitive interfaces tailored to their needs. One example of their work is the use of GPS locating technology to bring independent mobility to dementia sufferers.


— Ends —


Notes to editors: A video news release

is available from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Press Office on +44 (0)1793 444514, or mobile +44 (0)776 889 4281.


The University of Nottingham

is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.


More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.


The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's “only truly global university”, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.


Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives ( in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.


The Digital Economy Research Hubs are part of the RCUK’s broader Digital Economy programme aimed at realising the transformational impact of information and communication technology for all aspects of business, society and government. The EPSRC is working closely with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Medical Research Council (MRC) and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to ensure the delivery of this important programme.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Sophie Dale , Interdisciplinary Bridging Officer, School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham, on ; or Professor Tom Rodden , School of Computer Science, University of Nottingham,, +44 (0)115 8466896, mobile +44 (0)779 694 6966; Professor Derek McAuley on +44 (0)7795 388096; Dr Sarah Sharples , Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering, University of Nottingham,, +44 (0)115 9514196, mobile +44 (0)7790 816282; EPSRC Press Office ,, +44 (0)1793 444514, mobile 0776 889 4281.

Tim Utton

Tim Utton - Deputy Director of Communications

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 846 8092 Location: University Park

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