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Towards data-centric engineering.

The Lloyd’s Register Foundation, the leading UK charity supporting engineering-related research and education worldwide, today launched its Foresight review of big data and announced a conditional grant offer of £10 million over five years to support research by the Alan Turing Institute on engineering applications of big data.


The Foundation’s Foresight review of big data: towards data-centric engineering looks forward at how developments in the area of big data might impact the safety and performance of the engineering assets and infrastructure on which modern society relies, such as energy, transportation and shipping.

The report draws on the findings of an international expert advisory panel led by Prof Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Southampton and Chairman of the Open Data Institute.

Prof Richard Clegg, Managing Director of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation said: “Our report concludes that within the next five to 10 years we are going to witness step changes in sensor technology, data-driven intelligent systems, computer science and algorithms for data analysis, impacting all aspects of the business life-cycle - from design to manufacturing, maintenance to decommissioning.

“This report sets the high-level strategic direction and funding priorities for the Foundation in the field of ‘data-centric engineering’. Big data is going to bridge the gap from monitoring 'what is' to predicting 'what if'. The Foundation intends to become a major supporter of international research in the field, partnering with organisations including the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.”

The Foundation has set out four priority action areas:

Technology road-mapping: collaborating with the research community to forecast technology developments in data-centric engineering and plan and co-ordinate efforts.

Design for data: recognising that embedded sensors, intelligent systems and data management will form part of engineering design requirements.

Codes and standards: as more data is generated, collected, transmitted, stored and manipulated by engineering systems, there is a need for assurance of the quality, traceability, security and integrity of that data.

Data analytics: developing algorithms and mathematical models for data analysis, helping make informed decisions to enhance the safety, reliability and performance of assets and infrastructure.

In support of these objectives, the Foundation has offered a conditional grant of £10 million over five years to the Alan Turing Institute for the purpose of supporting its research in the engineering applications of big data. The outputs and benefits would be aimed at enhancing the safety, reliability and performance of the major infrastructure on which modern society relies, in line with the Foundation’s charitable aims.

UK Chancellor George Osborne confirmed in his autumn statement that the Alan Turing Institute, named in honour of the wartime code breaker, will be headquartered at The British Library in London.  

The UK government has committed a total of £42 million to March 2020 to help fund the new internationally-recognised institute to lead research, education and knowledge transfer in the data sciences. The Institute will provide a national centre to promote advanced research and translational work in the application of data science. 

The Foundation is a global charity so international collaboration and engagement is critical. The Foundation recognises the Institute will fulfil a role at the centre of an international network, collaborating with other world-leading centres.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is responsible for delivering the £42 million Institute and realising its ambition. Prof Philip Nelson, CEO of the EPSRC said: “We warmly welcome the Foundation’s generous grant offer. 

“The Alan Turing Institute is set to be another great example of collaborative work. It will help support further data science research in areas in which we have already invested and for which the UK has an excellent pedigree.

“Big data has huge potential to impact all areas of society and the economy and investment in research will help realise that potential.”

Speaking at the launch of the Foundation’s big data report, Prof Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Adviser said “The Lloyd’s Register Foundation has today shone a spotlight on how big data is increasingly central to the design and management of the engineered world. Their £10 million grant offer to the Alan Turing Institute will build knowledge and skills that will not only make that engineered world a safer one, but will also support growth and public service provision."

Download: Foresight review of big data.

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