R & D
The extensive output and capabilities of the UK’s academic institutions (in terms of both research and graduates), also underpin widespread R&D activity in the commercial sector. It feeds into both UK and overseas companies. A large number of companies operating in the marine sector are involved in R&D activity. These include:
A long term plan to sustain and develop the UK’s R&D capabilities is part of the UK Marine Industries Growth Strategy. This addresses the development of both technologies and associated skills.
The Role of EPSRC
The UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the single largest public funder of TRL 1-3 research in the engineering and physical sciences. Their marine portfolio has grown recently and they welcome adventurous further proposals from academia, which may be backed by industry.
Small Business Research Initiative Case Study - SBRI Long Endurance Marine Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LEMUSV) - October 2013
Innovate UK (previously the Technology Strategy Board) is the UK's innovation agency. Its purpose is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation. Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the TSB unites business, research and the public sector by supporting and accelerating the development of innovate products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy.
The Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) is a mechanism sponsored by the TSB that enables public sector bodies to connect with technology businesses and provide innovative solutions to specific public sector challenges and needs. New technical solutions can be created through accelerated technology development, while risk can be reduced through a phased development programme. SBRI also provides businesses with a reliable source of early-stage funding.
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has identified the need to identify, develop and adapt new technologies for collecting environmental data. Predictive earth systems models are undergoing a step change in capability, driven by both advances in computational technologies and by improved knowledge of the processes and interactions embedded in the models which require large amounts of physical data.
In September 2012, NERC in conjunction with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) launched an SBRI competition sponsored by the TSB to assess and develop unmanned, self-deploying vehicles to gather data from the ocean over long periods without intervention.
After a three-month pre-selection phase for which 17 companies applied, two SME companies (ASV Ltd. and MOST Ltd.) were selected to develop prototypes that will be used alongside already-funded research projects to demonstrate capability and impact.
The funding made available was £1025k (NERC/TSB/DSTL). The vehicles will be trialled in exisitng NERC funded science programmes primarily the FASTNEST programme. If the trials are successful the next stage will be to integrate the new technology to underwater and airborne vehicles and satellites to allow data to be captured and relayed more frequently and efficiently from previous unexplored locations without the prohibitive expense of deploying the systems from ships.
In October 2013, prototype vehicles from the two companies are in their final stages of development with sea trials to assess capability planned for early 2014. LEMUSV provides a tangible example of how collaboration, innovation can be nurtured using SBRI process to accelerate the development in emerging technologies.