Driverless cars, robotics and AI part of £1bn bet on the future announced by UK Government

The UK Government is investing £1bn in cutting-edge technologies “to create jobs and raise living standards”, its Business Secretary Greg Clark has announced. Funding from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) will be spent across six areas over the next four years, “driving progress and innovation that will create opportunities for businesses and sectors across the UK”.

The Government worked with businesses and academics to identify core industrial challenges, where research and innovation can help unlock markets and industries of the future in which the UK can become world-leading. Through the ISCF, the Government will bring together the UK’s world leading research with the ambitions of business to meet these challenges head-on. The funding allocations announced today are designed to help deliver a step-change in the UK’s ability to turn strengths in research into commercialised products.

The first three areas set to receive investment through the fund – healthcare and medicine, clean and flexible energy, and robotics and artificial intelligence – were announced at the 2017 Spring Budget. The Business Secretary today confirmed the total investment in each field (subject to business case approval):

  • clean and flexible energy, or the ‘Faraday Challenge’: an investment of £246m over four years to help UK businesses seize the opportunities presented by the transition to a low carbon economy, to ensure the UK leads the world in the design, development and manufacture of batteries for the electrification of vehicles
  • cutting-edge healthcare and medicine: an investment of £197m to develop first-of-a-kind technologies for the manufacture of medicines that will speed up patient access to new drugs and treatments, building on the exporting strengths of the UK’s biopharmaceutical sector
  • robotics and artificial intelligence (AI): an investment of £93m to make industry and public services more productive, by developing AI and robotics systems that can be deployed in extreme environments which occur in off-shore energy, nuclear energy, space and deep mining.

Greg Clark also confirmed, subject to business case approval, the three additional areas that will be receiving ISCF grants in the next four years.

  • driverless cars: to ensure the UK’s reputation as a world-leader in driverless car technology, a sector predicted to be worth £63bn by 2035, the Government will be investing a further £38m in new collaborative research and development projects, working with industry partners to develop the next generation of AI and control systems need to ensure the UK is at the forefront of the driverless cars revolution
  • manufacturing and future materials: through a new £26m fund for research and development programmes, the Government will support the UK’s civil aerospace industry, a sector which employs over 230,000 people, to develop the next generation of affordable light-weight composite materials for aerospace, automotive and other advanced manufacturing sectors
  • satellites and space technology: building on the UK’s global reputation for satellite technology, a growth industry that underpins mobile technology, the ISCF will provide funding for a £99m satellite test facility supporting new launch technologies and the manufacturing and testing capabilities that will allow the UK to construct future satellites and deliver payloads into orbit.

“The UK is home to some of the world’s best innovators at the very forefront of global excellence,” said Clark. “The funding I am announcing today, providing hundreds of millions of pounds of support to develop the next generation of technologies across a range of sectors, shows our determination and commitment to making sure the UK remains at the very forefront of research innovation for years to come.”

The chair of Research Councils UK, Professor Philip Nelson, added: “For innovation and growth to be successful there needs to be a strong and coherent innovation chain that joins up fundamental research and industrial expertise across all sectors. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund supports the necessary environment for new discoveries to arise, innovation to flourish and novel products and services to be delivered. The first of these challenges will maintain and strengthen the UK’s leading position as the best place in the world to research, innovate and grow business.”

The fund is being administered by Innovate UK and the Research Councils until the new body UK Research and Investment (UKRI) is formed in 2018. UKRI, under the leadership of its recently appointed Chief Executive Sir Mark Walport, will play a key role in strengthening the UK’s competitiveness through the Industrial Strategy.