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Engineering firms to explore AI opportunities after £1bn 'sector deal' confirmed

Joseph Flaig

The CTi fan system on Rolls-Royce's Advanced Low Pressure System engine demonstrator (Credit: Rolls-Royce)
The CTi fan system on Rolls-Royce's Advanced Low Pressure System engine demonstrator (Credit: Rolls-Royce)

Engineering firms including Rolls-Royce will explore the potential benefits of artificial intelligence after the government confirmed a huge £1bn ‘sector deal’.

The deal includes more than £300m from the government, almost matched by a group of more than 50 technology companies and organisations. Ministers hope the investments will help seize a projected £232bn opportunity offered for the UK economy by 2030 – equivalent to 10% of GDP.

The wide-ranging initiative includes strands in education, industry and enterprise. Across the sectors, AI might be used for predictive maintenance, data analysis and much more.

“There are huge operational efficiencies to be gained through AI and its ability to transform how organisations operate, improve productivity and provide insights for better decision making,” said Salvatore Minetti, CEO of AI company Prospex, to Professional Engineering.

The technology will be “central to unleashing huge value,” said Rolls-Royce chief digital officer Neil Crockett. The company will jointly run research projects with the Alan Turing Institute, exploring data-centric engineering, the application of AI across supply chains and predictive maintenance, among other topics.

Elsewhere, the University of Cambridge will introduce a new £10m AI supercomputer and make its infrastructure available to businesses, while Vancouver-based venture capital firm Chrysalix will establish a European HQ in the UK, using it to invest up to £110m in AI and robotics.

Government money will fund 1,000 new PhDs on the subject. And BT is collaborating with Ulster University by investing in a new £29m AI ‘R&D cluster’ to attract and retain industrial engineers and university researchers to the sector.

After already watching some companies and banks leave the UK after the Brexit vote, the government hopes the sector deal will ensure that future innovators and entrepreneurs are based in the country.

“Artificial intelligence will enable us to work smarter, boost our productivity and make the country richer,” said exchequer secretary to the Treasury, Robert Jenrick. “From search engines to self-driving cars, this technology will be at the heart of our new economy. That’s why we continue to back our AI innovators in order to cement the UK’s position as a world leader in this cutting-edge technology.”

The £1bn deal will also fund a new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, which the government hopes will “enable and ensure safe, ethical and innovative uses of data-driven technologies”.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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