£37m for AI projects from farming and fashion to fire-fighting

UKRI Technology Missions Fund includes competition for some 80 businesses and 20 consortia to share £32m on AI work, plus a £5m feasibility fund to support 100 micro, small or medium-sized businesses. 

Ahead of the UK’s AI safety summit in November, Michelle Donelan, the Science and Technology Secretary, has announced government funding for projects exploring artificial intelligence.

closeup photo of white robot arm

Photo by Possessed Photography

Most of the money is in a pot of £32m to be shared among research teams and businesses of all sizes working in high-growth industries, from transport to agriculture and construction to the creative industries. Such groups are encouraged to bid by November 8 for funding to support the growth of their AI initiatives in a safe and responsible way, while also boosting the wider sector, supporting their workforces and helping to grow the UK economy – the latter a priority of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. 

A further £5m has been made available to some 100 smaller businesses to fund feasibility studies for projects. The hope is to help ideas flourish, again boosting productivity and growth. Examples of applicable projects include managing the power supplies to charge points for electric vehicles (EVs), reducing delays on railways, reducing waste produced in construction and monitoring the health of dairy cattle. 

One winner of money from the £5m fund is Kapdaa, a sustainable fashion brand based in Kingston Upon Thames. The win will support its AI4Fibres project, which uses AI in recycling textile and fibres to reduce the fashion industry’s environmental footprint. At present, an estimated 921,000 tonnes of used textiles are disposed of in household waste in the UK each year. The AI tech sorts and processes textile waste by material, removing zips and buttons to increase the volume being recycled. The idea is to be more efficient and effective than current manual methods which are labour intensive – and so expensive – relying on accurate labelling or the use of handheld machines to scan each garment.  

Another project to receive funding is TradeWork’s AI-assisted project management systems for more efficient work scheduling, resourcing, budgeting and completion, which results in cheaper housebuilding. Another project by DeepPlanet uses satellite imagery to detect and predict diseases in wine grape plants, preventing waste. 

DigiLab in Exeter helps farmers to identify and verify carbon capture. Better Environment and Transport is exploring AI solutions to aid UK Fire and Rescue services in moving their fleets towards net-zero, which will save on fuel bills and cut pollution. 

The money is provided from the UKRI Technology Missions Fund and delivered by the Innovate UK BridgeAI programme. 

Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, says: ‘When it is deployed safely and responsibly, AI can and will transform what is possible in the world of work, unlocking gains in productivity and efficiency that could never have been imagined before. 

‘That is why we are backing 100 small teams with the seed of an idea – from using AI to boost clothing recycling to driving housebuilding – to drive them forward. At the same time our £32 million competition will support teams of all sizes to kick their ideas on to the next level, further helping us shape how this vital technology of the future can work for us and grow our economy. 

‘It is also why we are bringing world leaders and tech experts together in just a few weeks’ time for the AI Safety Summit, to build cooperation around the risks and opportunities of this incredibly promising technology and how we manage it safely.’ 

Nishant Parekh, Co-founder of Kapdaa, adds: ‘Our aim is to make the UK self-sufficient for its own textile waste. We are creating a one of a kind AI system completely conceptualised and built in the UK, providing a unique way to reduce landfill. 

‘Eventually, it will create an entirely new sector and inspire young generations to support sustainability.’  

Dr Kedar Pandya, Executive Director of Cross-Council Programmes at UKRI, says: ‘The feasibility projects UKRI is funding will demonstrate how AI can aid and be incorporated into many of the UK’s industries and sectors.   

‘Similarly, the new competition will develop consortia that involve small, medium and large business partnering with academic and research bodies. This will mean drawing on both the knowledge and practical experiences of partners.’

In related news:

Opinion: Can synthetic data supercharge public sector tech?

£60m Regional Innovation Fund (RIF) to boost R&D

Bristol to host UK’s most powerful supercomputer for pioneering AI research


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