UK funding boost for life-changing technologies

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The UK government has announced a record £743.5m investment into future technologies designed to help secure the UK’s place as a global science superpower.

The funds, announced at London Tech Week, will support the development of innovations ranging from autonomous vehicles to airborne laboratories as part of wider government efforts to invest in tech, create skilled jobs and grow the economy.

UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “The incredible work of the vaccine taskforce, housed at my department through the pandemic, demonstrated that this country is home to some of the best scientists and innovators in the world.

“I’m immensely proud of the work we have done to support ground-breaking research so far, having confirmed £40bn in funding for R&D over the next three years and placing it at the very top of our agenda. London Tech Week itself is testament to that.

“And today, we’re announcing over £743m in investment – including in the latest quantum technologies, to ensure Britain has pole position in the global marketplace in a host of new areas.”

Investments include £481m to the UKRI Infrastructure Fund for cutting-edge research and innovation infrastructure projects over the next three years; £118m to the UKRI’s Accelerating Impact programme for  disruptive ideas emerging from UK universities; and £6m to the UKRI’s ISCF Commercialising Quantum Technologies Challenge, where winners will receive funding across 16 projects to help realise a ‘quantum-enabled economy’.

In addition, UK science minister George Freeman has announced Innovate UK’s Fast Start competition, which will provide a new series of Fast Start grants worth £30m to back UK start-ups and entrepreneurs to develop new innovative products, processes and services, building the UK’s future economy in key sectors from healthcare to climate tech.

He also announced the continuation of UKRI’s Future Leader Fellowships, for which a further round is planned with £100m of new funding, supporting universities, businesses, and other research environments to commercialise new technologies.

Finally, Freeman announced the launch of the UKRI’s Enabling a Responsible AI Ecosystem programme, led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and backed by £8.5m – the UK’s first major research programme on AI ethics of this scale, designed to address the biggest ethical issues posed by AI, to build public trust and ensure the technology’s potential can be responsibly harnessed.

Taken together, these amount to £743.5m – part of the government’s £40bn R&D investment planned over the next three years.

Freeman said: “We are living in a time of huge technological change. New technologies are creating new industries at a pace that would have been thought impossible, even 10 years ago. As a responsible government, we must give our researchers and innovators the tools and the wherewithal to flourish.”

The government also announced the 84 winners of the previous round of Future Leader Fellowship funding, which will be supported by £98m being awarded to help commercialise technologies.

These include a fleet of self-driven satellites able to track and mitigate natural disasters, injectable gels to deliver life-changing tissue-regeneration therapies, and clogging-resistant permeable pavements that mitigate against the impacts of climate change and urbanisation-related flooding.

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