The University of Cambridge will receive £18 million in funding to ensure that the UK’s infrastructure is resilient and responsive to environmental and economic impacts, as announced by the Chancellor in last week’s budget. The Cambridge funding will be used to support research in the application of advanced sensor technologies to the monitoring of the UK’s existing and future infrastructure, in order to protect and maintain it.
The funding is part of the wider UK Collaboration for Research in Infrastructure & Cities (UKCRIC), which is a £138 million capital investment that will be centred around the Olympic Park in Stratford and will include 13 university partners from across the UK. A formal business case will be developed over the next few months.
The proposed research stems from a need for UK national and local infrastructure (such as transport, water, waste, energy and ICT systems) to be fit for purpose for supporting societal development in a changing world.
UKCRIC will integrate knowledge, tools and methods from a wide range of disciplines. Its initial case proposes four strands:
(A) Investment in capital equipment and facilities (national ‘Laboratories’) that underpin transformative research for all partners and stakeholders
(B) A national ‘Observatory’ and living laboratories that will establish a network of linked infrastructure ‘observatories’ to test current and proposed urban infrastructure systems, and to enable rapid trialling of solutions
(C) A multi-level modelling and simulation environment that allows ‘what if’ experiments to be carried out in a high performance computing environment
(D) Creation of a Coordination Node (CN) to integrate activities and industry collaboration across UKCRIC
Once a business case for UKCRIC has been agreed, the Collaboration will hear further details on funding allocation and capital investments.
The Cambridge funding will be used to build a National Research Facility for Infrastructure Sensing on the West Cambridge site, which will build upon the expertise of the University’s Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC). The new building will be an interdisciplinary centre for sensors and instrumentation for infrastructure monitoring and assessment, spanning scales from an individual asset, such as a tunnel, building or bridge, to a complex system such as a railway or a city district. More advanced sensors and appropriate data analysis will ensure better product quality, enhanced construction safety, and smarter asset management.
“Building a UK infrastructure research community like UKCRIC is important to help us design, build and maintain infrastructure which is resilient, adaptable and sustainable,” said Professor Robert Mair, Head of Civil Engineering and of the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) at the University of Cambridge. “The UK needs to do more to invest in its infrastructure and infrastructure services, which are so important to its citizens. This is an issue which cannot be ignored, so we welcome this new investment as a positive way to engage academia and industry in protecting and growing the UK’s infrastructure base.”
EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)’s Chief Executive, Professor Philip Nelson, said: “EPSRC welcomes any additional investment in science and engineering, as these are the drivers of innovation and growth. We are particularly pleased to see the need to continue support for research in areas such as infrastructure and energy recognised, as they are so critical to ensuring the economic growth and prosperity of the UK. These announcements will build on our previous investments and provide the expertise and skills we need for the future.”
Cambridge is one of 13 universities receiving funding from UKCRIC. The consortium is being coordinated by University College London.