New £7M Swansea Digital Economy Centre taking research to the next stage

Swansea University’s College of Science is to become home to a new digital economy research centre worth in excess of £7M, which will help create and deliver digital innovations with real-world impact.

Digital genericThe new CHERISH-DE Centre – or Challenging Human Environments and Research Impact for a Sustainable and Healthy Digital Economy – has received a £3.8M Government funding boost, at full economic costing, through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), with £3.8M investment from industrial and research user contributions from partners.  [EPSRC grant number EP/M022722/1.]

The Government funding was announced as part of Chancellor George Osborne’s Summer Budget, when a £23M investment in six new multidisciplinary Next Stage Digital Economy Centres was confirmed.

The centres, worth a total of £45M with partner contributions, will drive forward the UK’s Digital Economy research, knowledge and skills, helping position the country as a world leader in this field.

The other centres will be hosted by the Universities of York, Bath, and Nottingham, UCL and Newcastle University. With Swansea, the centres will draw in substantial support and leverage from over 150 engaged partners including universities, companies and other regional bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships and Councils.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “This latest investment demonstrates our commitment to maximising the digital revolution for the UK.  These Centres will lead the way in developing innovative digital products which enhance our daily lives – from personalised digital health services to the use of interactive media in education.

“By harnessing our international research excellence, in partnership with local and regional expertise, these Centres will accelerate Digital technology innovation for business and society’s benefit.”

Wales Office Minister Alun Cairns said: "Wales is fast emerging as a leading hub for high-tech research and the Government support for Digital Economy Centres, announced in the Budget, supports that process.

"I look forward to seeing ground-breaking research from these centres turning into products that make our lives easier across a range of fields." 

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive said: “Building on our previous investments, these new Digital Economy Centres will show how multidisciplinary research in the digital economy can be brought to bear on the big societal challenges we face.  Their impacts in the real world will be shown by adoption by policy makers and improvements in services and economic benefits in the public, private and charitable sectors.

“These centres are a result of a collaborative call with our partners the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Innovate UK, the Digital Catapult and others. By working together and involving users we have been able to encourage the leverage of £22 million additional funding and support in kind that will boost the impact of these centres.”

The Swansea CHERISH-DE Centre

The Swansea centre, which will be led by Professor Matt Jones, Head of the University’s College of Science, will explore how to deliver digital innovations that help people relate and respond to our rapidly expanding technological world, with a focus health and social care, resource-constrained communities, heritage, and cybersecurity and cyberterrorism.

The project will combine the expertise of researchers from social science, computer science, economics, medicine, arts and humanities, and law.

The project’s major partners include the BBC, the DVLA, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board (ABMU), Microsoft, IBM and, critically for the economy, a broad and deep network of Small to Medium Enterprises. These include Leadin, a Finnish company attracted to Swansea by the opportunities of growing the regional tech cluster. Supported by a Welsh Government Inward Investment grant, the company has already created five new high-tech jobs.

The Swansea CHERISH-DE Centre has partnered with BBC Research & Development on social engagement with the Digital Economy, developing technologies that make BBC content accessible to all audiences over their lifetime through new, secure interfaces matched to their capabilities.

This forms part of BBC R&D’s wider User Experience Research Partnership, a long-term collaboration project between BBC R&D and leading universities in the fields of User Experience and Human Computer Interaction research.

Professor Richard B Davies, Swansea University’s Vice-Chancellor, said: “This investment, in excess of £7M, will ensure that Swansea’s strengths can be mobilised to help position the UK as a world leader in digital economy innovation.

“It will enable the UK economy to achieve maximum advantage from the current growth of computer science and related research at Swansea. This includes major expansion of student numbers and totally new facilities shortly to be built on our acclaimed Science and Innovation Bay Campus.

“We will be growing and developing a pool of next generation digital economy interdisciplinary researchers, educated in an environment in which interaction between the University and commercial companies and shared space are the norm.”

Professor Matt Jones, who will lead the centre at Swansea University, said: “Over the past decade, the Swansea team has developed a unique focus on multi-disciplinary work within challenging human environments. Specifically, we have collaborated with a broad range of stakeholders to understand and address fundamental challenges connected with health and social care; resource constrained communities; and, safety and security.

“This perspective will allow us to build a platform of enabling concepts, technologies, policies and approaches ready to facilitate next stage digital economy innovations and the people skills required.

“The CHERISH-DE Centre will use the notion of an extreme and challenging human environment as the fulcrum to drive understandings of how future products and services can evolve to fit and extend the human condition.

This is an exciting and important time for the region as it becomes a destination for high tech digital innovation. The CHERISH-DE Centre will be a key resource in making Swansea a beacon for the Digital Economy.”

Adrian Woolard, Head of R&D North Lab, said: “As part of BBC Research & Development’s User Experience Research Partnership, BBC R&D is supporting four Digital Economy research centres to help drive the UK’s creative economy forward.

“By focusing on user experience research, we want to enable our audiences to enjoy genuinely new experiences enabled by an internet-based broadcasting system, data and context-driven insight and connected devices.

“Across all four hubs we will be able to tackle some of the biggest challenges and opportunities in broadcasting today – from immersive and interactive storytelling, to interfaces and services that offer greater accessibility, and flexible content that can be used for a range of learning, social and cultural purposes.”