Three new digital technology centres will “transform” the lives of disabled and older people, and those living in rural communities, thanks to a £36 million investment in Britain’s “digital future”, the government has announced.
The three new research “hubs” at Nottingham, Aberdeen and Newcastle universities will aim to develop digital technology to “radically improve the way we live, work, play, and travel”.
The centre at Newcastle will focus on research that helps to ensure disabled, older and younger people are not left out of the “digital future”, including work on accessibility and inclusive transport.
Projects at Newcastle will include the use of GPS locating technology to bring independent mobility to people with dementia; an “ambient kitchen”, in which cooking utensils and surfaces will be equipped with sensors to monitor someone with dementia as they cook a meal using a pre-programmed recipe and then offer advice if they make a mistake; and a “walking satnav” to make it easier for someone to navigate their neighbourhood or local shopping centre.
The Newcastle team will work with a group of 3,000 volunteers from north-east England and Dundee, including people from a range of age groups and with a variety of impairments and learning difficulties.
Professor Paul Watson, director of the Newcastle centre, said: “They’ll help determine the direction of our research from the outset. We’ll also be able to work with this group to test potential solutions, including different ways of equipping people with the digital skills they need and providing them with information necessary to access services.
“Our aim is to generate a pipeline of high-quality ideas that can make a real difference to people’s lives, and then to start commercialising them as the hub’s work nears its conclusion.”
He said products could reach the market within three to five years.
The investment, the biggest ever made in digital technology by the Research Councils UK, the government agencies that fund research, was announced by Lord Drayson, the science and innovation minister.
He said: “New technologies can transform our quality of life. The unique thing about the new hubs in Aberdeen, Newcastle and Nottingham is the focus on designing digital technology that includes people from all walks of life – this will ensure that everyone is part of our digital future.”