An international leading research facility is to be built at Bristol University’s new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus.
Part of a unique collaboration between university engineers, social scientists, corporations, councils and community partners, the £100m institute is being hailed as a chance to transform how digital technologies can be applied to benefit society.
Professor Nishan Canagarajah, pro vice chancellor for research at the University of Bristol, says the centre will not only further the city’s reputation as a global leader, but also presents the opportunity to ensure digital innovation is ethical, socially responsible and inclusive.
The Bristol Digital Futures Institute (BDFI) is being funded by a £29m grant from Research England UK’s partnership investment fund, plus an additional £55m from 27 partners in the city and £16m philanthropy donations.
The new facility will include a ‘collaborative co-creation space’, state-of-the-art interactive auditorium, cutting edge labs and the world’s first reality emulator, which will enable the study of future digital systems at scale.
It will be built at the university’s new £300m campus and is expected to involve some 200 people in research and innovation, contributing more than £180m to the economy over ten years.
“It provides an opportunity to think about our futures differently,” said Canagarajah.
“To build on expertise from right across the university, in collaboration with industry, government and people in the city; to think about the world we are creating with digital innovation and ensure that this is ethical, socially responsible and inclusive – helping to support the creation of future ‘tech with a conscience’.
“It will also ensure the UK can remain at the forefront of a rapidly advancing sociotechnical world by integrating areas of policy, economics, society, law and environmental impact with technical development, to ensure that emerging technology is useful, safe and secure.”
The institute will aim to generate 30 new collaborative projects per year and will be jointly led by professor Susan Halford, a social scientist and professor of sociology, and professor Dimitra Simeonidou, an engineer and professor of high-performance networks.
The cutting-edge labs will enable researchers to study a range of scenarios and challenges – from protection against cyber attacks on critical infrastructure to exploring how digital tech is experienced by different social groups.
With the UK digital sector projected to be worth £200billion by 2025, and Bristol recognised as a hub of tech innovation, those leading the project say the institute will be ideally placed to investigate the implications of living in a data driven society.
Professor Hugh Brady, vice chancellor of Bristol University, said: “We are creating a unique research ecosystem where world-class engineers, computer scientists, social and behavioural scientists, psychologists and legal scholars can work shoulder to shoulder with our partners from industry, social enterprises and civic organisations exploring the opportunities and challenges posed by new digital technologies.”
Professor Halford added: “Rather than waiting for the future to happen, we’ll get ahead of it and drive our digital future for the benefit of society, economic growth and prosperity.”
Partners who have pledged their support include: Aardman, Ashley Community Housing (ACH), Airbus, Arm Ltd, Babassa, BBC, Bristol Media Group, Black South West Network, BT, Business West, Digital Catapult, Dyson, Evolyst Ltd, Frazer-Nash Consultancy, Gregg Latchams Solicitors, Hargreaves Landsdown, Knowle West Media Centre, National Physical Laboratory, Quin, System C Healthcare Ltd, Thales UK Ltd, Three, TM Forum, Toshiba, Ultrahaptics Ltd, Watershed and the West of England Combined Authority (WECA).
Speaking about the new institute, Aardman co-founder David Sproxton said: “Engaging audiences emotionally and authentically with screen-based entertainment is a little understood art.
“The Bristol Digital Futures Institute will build new knowledge using state-of-the-art facilities to create truly immersive and engaging experiences with aim of supporting the creation of the next world class character franchise like Wallace & Gromit or Shaun the Sheep here in Bristol.”
BDFI is one of 11 projects to receive a combined total of £670m of new investment into UK research and innovation. These includes £221m of public funding and more than £450m of committed co-investment from businesses, charities and philanthropic donors.