The UK government’s flagship Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) is now open to applications from businesses and researchers.
The fund was announced last year by Prime Minister Theresa May at the CBI Annual Conference in November as a strategic part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.
The ISCF aims to bring together businesses and researchers to identify core industrial challenges that offer opportunities that the UK might exploit – where it already has a world-leading research base and businesses ready to innovate, for example, or where there is a large or fast-growing and sustainable global market.
The fund will address six key areas, with a total pot of £699 million in investment available. These funds will be managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the UK government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.
The largest sum will go to the ‘Faraday Challenge’, which is looking for business to develop and manufacture batteries for electric vehicles. Some £246 million will be invested in research, innovation, and to foot the bill for scale-up costs over four years, as the UK looks to move towards a low-carbon economy.
Meanwhile, £197 million will be available over four years for businesses developing first-of-a-kind technologies for the manufacture of medicines, while £93 million will be provided for the development of robotics and AI systems in extreme environments, such as those found in the offshore energy, nuclear energy, space and deep mining sectors. The hope is to make these industries safer and more productive.
An additional £99 million will be used to support a satellite test facility; £38 million will be pushed towards the development of the next generation of AI and control systems for driverless cars; and £26 million will be provided for the manufacture of the next generation of affordable lightweight composite materials for aerospace, automotive and other advanced manufacturing sectors.
Building for the industrial future
Professor Philip Nelson, Chair of the Research Councils and EPSRC chief executive, commented: “The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will target areas that are crucial to the economic and societal future of the UK. It will help research and innovation to thrive and open up new possibilities for the country.
“We can lead the world in developing science that underpins new technologies and their applications. The Research Councils and Innovate UK will be working closely to bring about advances in all the first six areas,” said Nelson.
AI and robotics first
The program will kick off with three funding rounds in the field of AI and robotics in extreme environments.
In the first round, EPSCR will lead on a £42 million call for research hubs dedicated to translating fundamental science in robotics and AI into real-world applications.
In the second round, Innovate UK will lead, providing £10 million to support collaborative research and development, co-funded by businesses.
Innovate UK will also lead the third round, which will provide £6 million for technical feasibility studies of individual technologies, systems or subsystems for offshore energy, nuclear energy, space and deep mining applications, with the opportunity to test these systems in facilities across the UK.
“There is huge interest from business in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund because of its bold ambitions to break new ground for research and innovation in the UK,” said Ruth McKernan, chief executive of Innovate UK. “I am therefore delighted that our first competitions for businesses are launched this week for the development of robotics and artificial intelligence systems that can be deployed in extreme environments.”