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Outlook 2016: Making the links

Steve Welch, director, KTN

The reformed Knowledge Transfer Network ensures all of your connections are in one place.

In the Knowledge Transfer Network – or KTN – we love to make connections and we have made that goal of making connections much easier by merging all of the previous small KTNs into one organisation. Now, whether you are looking for a contact in electronics or forensic science or healthcare or civil engineering – even strawberry production – we have them all in the same place.

Our knowledge and depth of contacts from developers to end-users builds on a substantial historical pedigree and, arguably, completes a journey which started in 1997 with the launch of the Intersect Faraday Partnership. The date is significant because it predates the launch of Google and the pervasive availability of the Internet and a means to find things on it. It also explains why the Faradays were needed as a means for doing person to person networking and why what we do in KTN has had to evolve as our environment has evolved around us.

The Faraday Partnerships were created ‘bottom-up’, with the then Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) accepting bids to run the programmes where a case could be made for an area of UK scientific capability that warranted help to facilitate exploitation.

At the peak, there were 24 separate Faradays, each of which was strongly integrated with the UK ‘knowledge base’. Later thinking from DTI was to take a more top-down strategic approach and the Faradays were replaced by KTNs, which from the start were working more closely with industry. Over the next several years, as various KTN mergers took place, it became increasingly clear that the most powerful work the KTNs did was always at the interfaces between topics and that this could only be helped by having fewer separate KTNs.

Now there is only one

So what do we do now? While we work differently now than we did in the past, some of the basics are exactly the same as they were in 1997. Certainly, we find that there is still no substitute for talking to an end user about what they really want and that finding good routes up and down a supply chain can be hard. These are both things which which we can help and, at its heart, KTN is still all about finding out who’s got what; who needs what and then overcoming the barriers to bringing them together.

Key areas of interest

In KTN, we are interested in everything, but the key areas which we see for electronic systems are:

* Graphene
This has been a major area of research within the UK since the initial work at Manchester. We are starting to see industry-based demonstrators using the novel properties of the material, but it remains unclear whether the early applications for graphene will be in battery technology, touch screens, lighting or some other area.

* Compound semiconductors
These devices have been available for many years and the UK has developed key strengths in this sector. There are increasing opportunities for the use of compound semiconductor in power electronics, photonics and communications.

* Printed, or ‘Large Area’, Electronics
Work in this sector has been supported by the KTN for many years and we provide the link between the various technology centres and industry players by facilitating the work of the Printed Electronics Leadership Group. Our focus is on enabling uptake within industry and, in particular, the integration of conventional and printed electronics.By providing the links to technology experts we can support Interesting new opportunities such as displays and lighting within the automotive sector and opportunities in low cost sensing heads for health.

* Smart Embedded Systems
These are the building blocks of today’s digital economy. They form the subsystem ‘brains’ that combine sensors, embedded processors, energy harvesting and communications. By increasing the intelligence of embedded systems, their capabilities increase from simple adaptive control systems to ones that can ‘think’ for themselves. For example, auto-focus is one element within a digital camera. But a scene recognition system would be able to analyse the image, understand what is being photographed and then set a range of parameters that are appropriate to the circumstances – thus embodying the knowledge of a photographer within its algorithms.

* Internet of Things
This has been around for a while, although it is potentially a bit over-hyped right now. Nevertheless, many advances are required in low power radio, energy harvesting and security before we can realise all of the promised return. This perceived market opportunity will drive technology developments.

* Transport
This rich application domain has passed the point where a car could be described as a computer with four wheels and an engine. Today, it is a complex network of subsystems – from ABS through to the ability to park the car. The need for increased safety will add capabilities for systems that assist the driver – such as monitoring lane markings and automatic braking – and lead towards more autonomy. Electric and hybrid vehicles are already drivers for battery technology and power electronics.A key challenge for EV is charging the battery – networks of fast-charge stations are starting to be implemented with growing interest in inductive charging of batteries.

* Digital Manufacturing
The use of digital technologies within manufacturing will see the manufacturing process become data centric from the early stages of design, with increased use of modelling and simulation, through to the monitoring of performance in use. This requires new sensing and data commination technologies. The opportunities to enable improved efficiency and greater flexibility in manufacturing are needed to respond to the needs of greater product customisation, smaller batch sizes and shorter product lifecycles.

* Healthcare
The cost of supporting our increasingly aging population is becoming increasingly unsustainable. This is already driving the need for improved diagnostics and labour reduction in hospitals and the community. There have been issues with having technology validated/accepted within the healthcare system – and this remains a significant challenge. In the ‘commercial’ healthcare market, there has been an explosion of wearable devices which provide a significant driver for technologies such as miniaturisation, reduced power, energy harvesting. The performance and usability of these devices will continue and the technology developments applied in other areas.

Knowledge Transfer Network

Established to foster better collaboration between science, creativity and business, KTN has specialist teams covering all sectors of the economy – from defence and aerospace to the creative industries, the built environment to biotechnology and robotics. KTN has helped thousands of businesses secure funding to drive innovation. And we support them through their business cycle to see that investment through to success.


Author
Steve Welch

Related Downloads
109110/P28-29.pdf

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