The future is digital

How the University's investment in digital technology is enabling a smarter, fairer and more connected future for our city

There has perhaps been no resource more valuable during the pandemic than digital. Amidst lockdowns and restrictions, technology has made it possible for businesses to keep functioning, for students to continue learning and for us all to stay connected with our family and friends.

Digital will also be key to driving innovation as we move out of the pandemic. A recent report from the University, entitled ‘A blueprint for digitally-driven recovery from COVID-19’, explores the drivers behind the increased use of technology in the workplace through a survey of North West business leaders from a range of sectors. It revealed that 80% of companies in the area have increased their investment in digital technology in direct response to COVID-19, and a quarter have made major digitally-led changes to the way their business operates.

Professor Simon Maskell is an academic, trained engineer and self-described “native of the digital world.” He’s drawn to developing pragmatic solutions to real-world digital problems and responding to challenges posed by interactions with industry. “Digital is a hot topic,” says Simon. “The University is well-configured to welcome external organisations who need help navigating this arena – whether they need support for specific short-term objectives or want to engage in longer term strategic activities, such as our work to train the graduates of tomorrow to become future leaders in digital.”

Fuelling innovation

The University of Liverpool sits at the heart of the city’s Knowledge Quarter, an urban regeneration district dedicated to innovation in science, technology, education and health. Our digital expertise spans the sciences and humanities, and is captured in our institutional digital research theme, which represents a critical mass of interdisciplinary collaborations that are flourishing in the University. The area is home to many new facilities that will make the city of Liverpool a hub for world-leading academic research in emerging technologies and bolster the city’s future, with particular developments anticipated as part of the city’s £1.4bn post-COVID recovery plan. 

The Materials Innovation Factory (MIF), established in 2017 by the University in collaboration with Unilever, provides industry with open access to one of the highest concentrations of materials science robotics, automation technologies, and data-driven AI and machine learning. One example of its research is the development of a cutting-edge intelligent robot that is improving the efficiency and safety of labs during the pandemic. The robot can not only work autonomously on individual experiments, but can autonomously choose which experiment to carry out next. In addition to reducing the number of technicians needed, it frees up headspace for researchers and supports further breakthroughs.

Elsewhere in the city, the University’s Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) provides innovative solutions for industry problems by maximising the potential of Liverpool’s research and access to the latest technology. It is the UK’s only facility offering multi-disciplinary virtual engineering experts and exploratory laboratories, specialising in virtual test and engineering reliability, digital design and manufacture, and autonomous and intelligent systems. The centre’s experts work with clients across a broad range of industries including aerospace, automotive, energy, transport, FMCG and space to develop and integrate virtual technologies, allowing companies to explore new possibilities, maximise quality and safety, reduce costs and gain a competitive advantage in increasingly challenging global markets.

2021 will see the opening of the brand new Digital Innovation Facility (DIF) (pictured above) within the Knowledge Quarter. The £12.7m investment, co-funded by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s Local Growth Fund, will provide a new home for world-leading academic research dedicated to maximising the potential of emerging technologies. Purpose-built for collaboration, the DIF will contain state-of-the-art lab spaces, providing new opportunities to assist our industry partners in developing meaningful research partnerships across multiple academic disciplines including robotics, AI and data analytics. The DIF is expected to create approximately 400 jobs over a ten year period and boost the city region economy by £44.5m. ●

Digital is a hot topic. The University is well-configured to welcome external organisations who need help navigating this arena

Professor Simon Maskell

Our digital innovation network

Companies can gain a competitive advantage by embedding emerging technologies and new thinking into their business with the University of Liverpool’s digital innovation capabilities. The University is working to bridge the gap between academia and industry, allowing businesses and entrepreneurs from any sector to benefit from ground-breaking research, world-class facilities and expertise.

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