Progress made in computer science means that High Performance Computing can be used to deliver billions of calculations per second. This can be harnessed to help tackle some of the biggest problems facing society, such as climate change or chronic illnesses. As computing power has improved and volumes of data have risen rapidly Artificial Intelligence has become an increasing part of our daily lives as computer programs seek to simulate human intelligence. Allied to AI is Machine Learning which uses algorithms to identify patterns in data so that systems have the ability to automatically learn and improve based on experience. Ultimately for some sectors, such as fraud detection or driver-less cars, the speeds required to make decisions are measured in milliseconds and Real-Time Analytics is a crucial factor.
High Performance Computing or HPC is the application of supercomputing to computational problems that standard computers would find too large to deal with or would take too long. HPC delivers billions of calculations per second and can be used to tackle challenges in many different fields such as modelling weather patterns, simulation to reduce the cost of prototyping for business and that curation of patient data to help deliver new treatments more quickly.
Queen’s and Ulster have recently received funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to establish a £5m HPC centre in NI called Kelvin-2. This acts as a pre-cursor to the City Deal, helping industry partners work with academia in six new HPC driven projects.
Artificial Intelligence or AI is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines and more specifically by computer program. AI first emerged as a concept in the 1950’s but in recent years, with rapid growth in volumes of data and improvements in computing power and storage, it has become a bigger part of our daily lives.
A recent report by the Alan Turing Institute found that the combined strength of research at Queen’s and Ulster ranked 6th in the UK.
Real-time analytics relates to the use of mathematics and logic to return data to users in the time in which they need it. Checking customer creditworthiness in banking may take just a few minutes to analyse but for point of sale fraud detection or with self-driving cars the speeds required to make decisions are measured in milliseconds.
Ultimately real-time analytics speeds up decision-making by businesses helping them to capitalise on opportunities or prevent problems.
Machine learning focuses on the development of computer programs that can access data and use it in order to learn for themselves. It is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems with the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed by people.
Machine learning methods rely on algorithms to help identify patterns in data and make decisions and it can therefore take time and resources to develop accurate models. However, machine learning, especially when combined with AI, can deliver faster and more accurate results for business.
The future direction of many businesses is being hugely influenced by digital technologies and data analytics. Based on advances in computer programming and the collation of vast amounts of data, Process Automation is helping to streamline tasks and free up employee time to focus on high value-added activities. By combining digital footprints and data with intelligent analytic tools businesses can better develop marketing, product and services strategies to exploit opportunities through Predicting Consumer Behaviour. While some industries require physical prototyping many can use High Performance Computing to undertake Rapid Simulating & Prototyping techniques to improve design and transform performance. As the boundaries between the physical and virtual worlds begin to blur, businesses are beginning to transform how content is experienced by Creating Immersive Experiences in sectors spanning the arts and culture through to healthcare and manufacturing.
Process automation uses digital technology to help streamline tasks and to improve efficiency and services. In recent years advances in computer programming and the collation of vast amounts of data have made it easier to automate tasks and free up employee time to focus on high value-add activities.
This has spanned a vast range of sectors, including business and professional services right through to automated machines and robotics within the manufacturing setting.
Predictive analytics uses data to better understand consumer behaviour and understand individual motivations, preferences and purchasing patterns by using data analytics.
By combining digital footprints and data with intelligent analytic tools businesses can better develop marketing, product and services strategies to anticipate consumer needs.
There is still a strong need for the physical prototyping of new products for many reasons, such as regulatory compliance and to aid design development; developments in 3D printing for example can deliver high levels of productivity at lower costs.
However, advances in High Performance Computing mean that businesses can reduce the levels of prototyping required and increasingly apply virtual simulation techniques to improve design and transform performance and manufacturing techniques.
Taking this further, ‘digital twins’ allow designers to take precise, virtual replicas of existing infrastructure – in the automotive or construction sectors for example – to analyse operating conditions, collect analytical data and improve performance in the physical setting.
Immersive technologies span Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR). As the boundaries between physical and virtual worlds begin to blur businesses are beginning to transform how content is experienced from the arts and culture sectors through healthcare and in to manufacturing.
Immersive technology has the potential to combine the digital world with the physical environment by superimposing text, images and media.
The Belfast region has identified the following sectors as areas of strength that have the potential to be transformed by digital technologies and data analytics:
Northern Ireland is a leading global location for investment in finance, business and professional services companies.
The sector includes contact centres, IT services, facilities management, recruitment services and business to business services, with expertise in knowledge and customer services as well as in staff augmentation.
Northern Ireland is home to a growing cluster of creative businesses which are heavily reliant on technology.
These span a range of areas including Film and television, gaming and animation, e-learning, software/music and mobile and web content.
Encompassing the production and processing of food, Northern Ireland’s agri-food sector makes significantly contributes to balancing the Region’s economy. Agriculture here is mainly grass-based and focused in the growing of crops and rearing of livestock. A large quantity of finished meat products and milk is exported. This is supported by the contribution of distribution, packaging, and retail to the economy.
Northern Ireland’s Life and Health Sciences sector spans a variety of specialisms and it has internationally recognised R&D capability in sensors, diagnostics, oncology, diabetes and vision science, respiratory medicine and clinical research.
Northern Ireland's Advanced Manufacturing, Materials, and Engineering sector is diverse, leveraging notable strength in its aerospace, polymers, materials handling, agri engineering, automotive and construction products.
Through the City Deal a number of coordinated investments are emerging that will see the development of a flagship Smart District and Regional Testbed Network to foster the early adoption of a range of products and services at a large scale. While data assets are potentially hugely valuable a clear framework that will enable the academic research community, tech entrepreneurs and industrial partners to come together to share data is being developed through a Digital Innovation Partnership. A new Regional Innovators Network is being developed to create a collaborative environment in which innovation communities across the Region will be better coordinated.The pervasive nature of data and its central role in transforming the businesses of today mean that demand for skill sets are shifting dramatically and that Digital Skills Development programmes are a central element of underpinning growth in the region.
Consisting of network providing a hub for the development of advanced digital and physical infrastructure, the Smart District and Regional Testbed Network will foster the early adoption of a range of products and services at a large scale. It will focus on developing solutions in key sectors of health, tourism, agriculture, logistics and advanced manufacturing.
The Regional Innovators Network will create a collaborative environment in which the districts across the Belfast Region will be able to work together. The space will provide SMEs with the environment required to develop new products and services and the opportunity to connect and work with the larger businesses in the Region.
The pervasive nature of data and its central role in transforming the businesses of today mean that demand for skill sets are shifting dramatically.
Further and higher education sectors in the UK have been unable to keep up with the demand for data science and digital skills from businesses and as such the need to address the skills gap through the BRCD is vital.
The suite of BRCD innovation projects has sought to detail skills needs for businesses as part of the development of new R&D facilities.
While the UK has an enviable track record of being at the forefront of industrial revolutions, it has fallen behind other countries in recent decades as it has not exploited assets such as its university research base and capturing IP for UK benefit.
As digital technologies and data are transforming manufacturing across the globe, competitors are developing skills needed to sustain growth. The importance of manufacturing to the UK economy is such that it cannot fall further adrift in this next industrial revolution.
Digital technologies, data and automation are transforming the manufacturing industry. This Industry 4.0 revolution provides the platform for the UK to be an early adopter of new technologies and has the potential to transform the industry and create totally new businesses. Industry 4.0 also presents an opportunity to build upon leading UK research in advanced manufacturing, harness industry leadership and invest in facilities to scale up and demonstrate new manufacturing processes.
The Belfast Region has a rich manufacturing heritage and it remains the backbone of the NI economy in terms of its jobs, sales and exports. We have a number of exceptional manufacturing facilities including NIACE, PPRC and NITC. However, these lack coordination with the UK Catapult network and there is an absence of facilities for manufacturing businesses to scale-up R&D within a 'smart factory' setting. AMIC provides regional link-up, national tie-in and the facilities to trial Industry 4.0 technologies at scale.
Ensuring that the innovation projects are linked to digital skills initiatives, data sharing platforms and smart districts plans across other elements of the City Deal is critical to capitalising on the opportunities that lie ahead.