Driving business innovation with research collaborations

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By Heike Schuster James, Senior Development Manager at Birmingham City University

What is the Institute for Sustainable Futures? 

The Institute for Sustainable Futures’ (iSF) is part of Birmingham City University’s suite of innovation services for businesses. It was set up to form a link between businesses and organisations, and the university’s academic and specialists; primarily focusing on innovations in digital technology and environmental sustainability. It sits alongside the two other Innovation Institutes at the university; the Institute for Health and Quality of Life, which looks at health, behaviour, the ageing population and social issues, and the Institute for Creative Innovation, which focuses on art and design and publication to digital media.

The University is sitting on so much knowledge, research and expertise and the iSF’s remit is to broker relationships and share this wealth of information to address real-world business or societal challenges. As a team, we’re responsible for communicating how these advanced research projects can be applied in the real world.            

How does the iSF help businesses?

At Birmingham City University, we support and collaborate with businesses of all shapes and sizes across the country; from entrepreneurs to SMEs to larger established businesses. The iSF is the first port of call for businesses that want to test a new product or have a new idea to improve their business within the areas of digital technology and environmental sustainability. We receive and process the incoming enquiry and then initiate introductions and relationships with the right departments, academics and specialists to advise and progress the project if appropriate.

In this blog, I’ll explore some of the successful relationships in our focus areas to demonstrate how this can help your business.

IoT innovations

The iSF works closely with Dr Adel Aneiba, Associate Professor of the Internet of Things (IoT) at Birmingham City University. The iSF is supporting Adel’s research into big data, smart cities and The Things Network (TTN) to tackle real issues such as traffic congestion and reducing carbon emissions, which could positively impact on the future development of city infrastructure and sustainability. TTN is a rapidly-growing community of around 40,000 members from almost 100 countries and having been inspired by its innovations around the world, Adel brought the initiative to Birmingham and introduced two IoT gateways. TTN Birmingham is now working with West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) who plans to use the network to monitor the city’s traffic and air pollution.  

The technology also carries huge potential for the region’s SMEs, giving them access to real-time data to better inform their business strategies. The iSF can help to connect you with Dr Adel Aneiba and his team’s ground-breaking research.

Augmented and virtual reality

The iSF has played a key role in the marketing of Dr Maite Frutos’s post-graduate research project around natural interaction with AR and VR technologies. Dr Maite Frutos and Head of Research in the School of Computing and Digital Media Technology, Professor Cham Athwal, have collaborated with a local VR company through several years of research to develop an innovative software code library.

AR and VR businesses can implement this software to improve their applications by enabling virtual tools and objects to be moved and handled in a realistic way. This technology can be deployed to help businesses train their workforces, for example, teaching manufacturers how to fix new components onto a car without needing to provide the costly physical parts during the test stages.

On the project’s completion, the institute successfully helped secure a grant so Dr Frutos could showcase her innovation to global businesses. We continue to support the marketing and sales of the product, whilst working alongside the contract team here at the University on the appropriate IP and revenue documentations.

This is a great example of how the iSF can help from concept to delivery on a real-world business project. You can read more about how Birmingham City University is changing the scope of AR and VR by reading Professor Cham Athwal’s blog post.

Supporting government policy

As well as working with business and industry, the ISF also connects to local government and responds to government policy.  One example of this is the recent announcement on 5G.  Due to our understanding of national policy and the telecommunications market, the School of Computing has built up a relevant research portfolio.  This is now supporting our involvement with West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).  WMCA has been chosen as the national 5G testbed, where the government is investing up to £50m to roll out a 5G network across the region. Birmingham City University has supported WMCA during the development to date and continues to do so.  We’re excited to be working with a large consortium to help businesses with the roll out of the 5G network and support them with relevant research and skills provisions.

Why consider a collaboration with iSF and Birmingham City University?

There are so many different benefits to doing so, and the iSF is on hand to provide support and connections to make your R&D project as successful and impactful as possible.  Our academics can help you advance research in your chosen field, develop and pilot new innovations for your business and transfer knowledge and skills into your company.  These projects can provide you with industry insights and help you adopt standards and drive business change.  As a university, we are most interested in delivering real-world impact such as bottom line improvement for a company or increasing a product’s quality or safety, for example. The iSF ensures that research is marketed and shared with the right people, and this can directly influence policies and decision makers.

What is the ISF hoping to achieve?

As an institute we’re really hoping to develop large and long-lasting collaborations and focus on three or four significant projects each year.  We’re looking to develop collaborations in the future of smart cities, data and digital and environmental sustainability, including further AR/VR projects.  We are excited to connect with industries and academics across computing, engineering and the built environment.  However, collaborations become more valuable through multidisciplinary input, hence we are inviting players from all sectors that are interested in our domains.

The beauty of being in academia is that we’re not limited by political boundaries, so regardless of location we seek to share our knowledge and partner with organisations locally and globally to support innovative businesses.

Birmingham City University is the University for Birmingham and we ensure that all of our research and industry collaborations have real world business or societal impact.

Discover how you could collaborate with Birmingham City University’s research knowledge today....


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