From the discovery of penicillin and the cloning of Dolly the Sheep to John Logie Baird’s invention of the television and the lesser-known Baird oversock (a waterproof sock designed to minimise trench foot for the troops in the Great War), Scotland has a rich tradition of discovery, creation and innovation.
Over the years, Scotland’s technology sector has continued to push the boundaries of innovation, and today is no different. The Scottish Government, for example, has set a £661 million plan in motion aimed at transforming Scotland into Europe’s data capital, and it has set its sights on winning the European space race, too.
At DIGIT, we’ve cherry-picked five developments in Scottish tech in 2019, which prove that tech innovation is very much alive and kicking.
1. Lift-off for Scotland’s space ambitions
Speaking in March during a parliamentary debate on Scotland’s space sector potential, Innovation Minister Ivan McKee outlined Holyrood’s ambitious plans to introduce at least one spaceport by the early 2020s.
More small satellites are built in Glasgow than any other place in Europe, and nearly one-fifth of all UK space jobs are based in Scotland. Findings from the 2018 Size and Health of the UK Space Industry report show a 27% increase in the number of space organisations in Scotland.
There are now more than 130 space organisations in Scotland – including the headquarters of 83 UK space industry firms – and these organisations generate a combined income of £140 million.
McKee said: “Scotland already has an innovative and diverse engineering base, with world-class companies competing in international markets. As a country already punching above its weight in the space sector, we are in a great place to consolidate these existing strengths.
“Our ambitious plans for the space sector need strong leadership to succeed, and we are working with the Scottish Space Leadership Council, which has representatives from all parts of the sector including potential launch sites, satellite manufacturers and data analysis businesses.
“Together I’m confident we will deliver the aspiration for Scotland to become a £4 billion industry by 2030 and be Europe’s leading space nation.”
2. Space research lab opens at University of Glasgow
Cementing Scotland’s space tech ambitions, McKee officially opened the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering space research lab in May.
The Integrated Space and Exploration Technology Laboratory, housed in the University’s James Watt South building, had received about £100,000 in upgrades and is now the home of numerous space-related research projects.
The centre is part of the University’s Space Glasgow network, which brings together engineers, physicists, geologists, mathematicians and computer scientists on cross-disciplinary space research projects.
Projects focusing on micro-spacecraft technologies, which can build large structures in orbit; tunnelling robots to explore other planets or asteroids; and ultrasonic drills capable of operating on Mars and low-gravity environments are some of the innovative projects already underway at the centre.
Research at the lab is supported by around £2 million in funding from a host of agencies, including the UK Space Agency and the Royal Academy of Engineering.
The upgraded lab provides researchers with access to hi-tech facilities, which include a vacuum chamber, a clean room for delicate engineering projects and a groundbreaking device known as a Helmholtz cage – which can simulate the Earth’s magnetic field in orbit.
A device such as this is particularly useful for researchers developing devices and technology for use in space.
McKee said: “This new lab will play a vital role to support the development of the sector in Scotland and I am pleased to see the University of Glasgow supporting these ambitions by providing exciting new opportunities for their students.”
3. EIT Digital Opens Edinburgh Office to Boost EU Tech Relationships
In April, the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT Digital) opened an Edinburgh satellite office in an effort to foster closer ties between Scotland and the EU.
The organisation wants to increase innovation and investment in R&D through its new office while boosting university-industry knowledge exchange and skills development in Scottish businesses.
The company operates at physical ‘co-location centres’ where most of its activities are carried out. It brings together talents, ideas, technologies and investments that turn the co-location centres into vibrant hot spots where students, researchers, engineers and business developers cross-pollinate to succeed in the market.
Funded by Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Funding Council, EIT Digital and hosted by the University of Edinburgh’s Bayes Centre, the Edinburgh office is championing Scottish business innovation to investors and talent across Europe.
EIT Digital is one of eight Innovation Communities of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, with 10 co-location centres across Europe. The Scottish office is the first satellite office to be opened in the UK.
McKee said: “Our vision is for a Scotland where innovation is an intrinsic part of our culture, our society and our economy. For decades, Scotland has participated in European projects, led strategic partnerships and welcomed people from across the EU and around the world.”
“Regardless of the outcome of Brexit, Scotland will continue to be an outward-looking, open and welcoming country. This project will allow academia and businesses to work together to drive innovation. It also enables Scotland to raise the profile of its digital assets across Europe, helping to attract both inward talent and investment while connecting Scotland’s businesses to experts and potential collaborators.”
4. Scottish Innovation Exhibition Hits Funding Milestone
A “groundbreaking” exhibition from the Glasgow Science Centre hit a significant funding milestone in May. The exhibition, ‘Idea #59: We are all Innovators’, due to open in 2020, announced that 18 backers including the Scottish Government, Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Enterprise and Skyscanner have been confirmed.
The organisations pledged to provide financial and in-kind support to the project, which aims to showcase the very best of Scottish innovation.
Described as an interactive educational exhibit designed to nurture critical 21st-century skills, the exhibition will recognise the ability and need of the Scots to continue to innovate, adapt and invent.
McKee said: “Scotland has a rich heritage of innovation – from ATMs to ultrasound, our inventions have helped shape the modern world.
“Innovating is part of our DNA, and with the world now changing faster than ever, it’s even more important for Scotland to continue to stay at the cutting edge.
“I’m delighted to hear that ‘Idea#59: We Are All Innovators’ will open next year, and I’m confident the exhibition will help to inspire our future generations of innovators.
“Innovation works for companies by improving business practices, products, processes and profits; it works for our people by improving and enriching lives; and it works for Scotland by driving growth and productivity. I look forward to visiting the exhibition when it opens next year.”
5. Scottish Government Unveils Plans to Introduce Nationwide IoT Standards
Scotland’s new IoT network was officially launched commercially early this year, and it was also revealed that talks were underway to formally create Scottish IoT standards and protocols.
Glasgow-based Boston Networks said it was working with the Scottish Government to create a set of standards and protocols to ensure the nation reaps the full benefits of a new £6 million IoT project.
The announcement was made at Glasgow’s Science Centre at the official launch of Scotland’s IoT network, dubbed IoT Scotland.
The new network, spearheaded by Boston Networks, will provide a wireless sensor network for applications and services to collect data from devices and send that data without the need for 3G/4G or Wi-Fi, supporting businesses develop new and innovative applications, changing the way they work.
IoT Scotland will enable all businesses to have the ability to monitor the efficiency and productivity of their assets, equipment, scheduling maintenance and improving production. For example, IoT Scotland could support the wider use of smart bins that wirelessly inform local authorities when they require emptying, ensuring the optimal use of bin lorries but also helping to reduce carbon emissions.
Similarly, the network could monitor office environments to lower costs by saving energy, while reducing carbon footprints of buildings.
Standardisation is one of the biggest challenges of the IoT revolution. Without standards, the complexity of devices that need to connect and communicate with each other would likely grow exponentially.
McKee said: “I think it’s important to look back at what Scottish inventors have done over the years to make the world a better place.
“And now in the 21st century, it’s critically important that we continue to play a role in that space. We want to see Scotland as a country where innovation is an intrinsic part of our culture – something that permeates every part of society and is woven right through our economy.
“Emerging technologies like IoT absolutely have the propensity to do just that and we want Scotland to become recognised globally, not just for the quality of our design of technology, but also as a natural testbed for connectivity and innovation around data.
“This is where projects like IoT Scotland are valuable, creating the foundations for others to create, develop and innovate with new devices, applications and services.”
- Ivan McKee will be delivering a keynote speech at DIGITExpo 2019 at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre on the 7th of November. For further details, and to register to attend the event for free, visit: www.digitexpo.uk