Birmingham will play a role in one of seven new research programmes that aim to tackle some of the major challenges facing science and engineering. These new projects were given the green light today (16 October 2015) by the Science Minister, Jo Johnson.

Academics, industrialists and policy makers will address issues such as:

  • how to ensure clean water supplies in the UK and around the world
  • how new ways of using robotics and autonomous systems can restore the balance between engineered and natural systems in the cities of the future
  • how to understand the nature of new meta-materials and advanced materials for use in electronic systems and the manufacture of new devices
  • how to understand the complexity and interconnectedness of systems, identify critical and vulnerable dependencies, prevent their failure and improve their resilience and reliability.

Funded by £21 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the research consortia will involve twenty UK universities and eighty partners. They will begin work in December.

The projects were developed in response to a call, Towards Engineering Grand Challenges: Network and Multidisciplinary Research Consortia, from EPSRC in early 2015 which listed four Engineering Grand Challenges. These were developed at a special two-day event in 2014 involving academics from many disciplines, representatives from industry and government.

The UK is somewhere the rest of the world looks to for innovation and new thinking, we have a proud history of discovery and invention. This £21 million investment will enable some of our best minds to address real world challenges and build modern, more sustainable cities, create new industries and products and ensure we have resilient engineering systems.

Economic and political forces will shape the world of the future but these are often led and influenced by advances in science and engineering. The projects announced today will help us plan and maintain our cities, reduce our energy consumption and develop new materials, innovative devices and technology. The UK has world-leading academic talent to enlist in the challenges we face as a country and as a species. Investing in research is investing in the UK’s future.

Birmingham will participate in the project called ‘Balancing the impact of City Infrastructure Engineering on Natural Systems using Robots’ - a £4.2 million study led by the University of Leeds, with UCL and Southampton. Street-works can result in significant traffic delays due to road management schemes - these cost billions of pounds due to lost time and also result in an increase in CO2 emissions. The consortium aims to develop novel robotics and autonomous systems technologies for infrastructure management and repair. Repairing buried pipelines can be challenging as these are hidden beneath the ground surface. Often, these are repaired by digging a hole from the surface, which is subject to risks associated with unknown ground conditions and uncertain locations of the pipes and cables. The University of Birmingham will assess the potential of robots to not only be used to repair pipes, but also to detect their condition.

Our vision is that these robots could live in the pipe network and become active when they detect a change and then are able to repair the pipe. This would make a step-change in the maintenance of our pipe network.


For further information please contact the EPSRC Press Office on 01793 444 404 or email or Kate Chapple, Press Office, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772 or 07789 921164, email:

Notes for Editors:

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate.

By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture.

We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.