From green technology through to robotics, the R&D taking place right now will improve all our lives in the future and produce endless business opportunities for UK SMEs.
But what are the hottest areas for innovation going to be over the next few years?
Trends in the UK grand funding scene provide fantastic clues so we’ve done a little future-gazing to identify the industries everyone is going to be talking about in 2023. These are the sectors that are set to grow fastest as they scale to meet global demand for better and greener technology.
This rapidly-emerging technology is extremely complex, harnessing the laws of quantum mechanics to solve calculations too complicated for classical computers. Yet if the technology can be improved, it will unlock new avenues for scientists, researchers and engineers in all sorts of fields, such as nuclear fusion, cybersecurity, finance and pharmaceuticals.
Current computers — which can be found everywhere from your car to your dishwasher and your smartphone — deal in binary codes of 1s and 0s. But when problems become more complex and multi-layered, it takes a long time for those computers to make the calculations, if they can at all.
In quantum computing, data is recorded and stored in a different way, so calculations can be performed much more quickly. It means that once the challenges of quantum computing are solved, major advances will be simultaneously unlocked in many other industries. It’s exciting stuff with almost limitless potential.
Energy security and net zero
2022 really brought home the necessity of the UK producing and storing its own energy. Alternative and renewable energy sources already generate a significant proportion of our power — now we need to find a way to maximise this technology.
We expect to see more research and development projects advancing battery technologies so that we can store the renewable energy we produce. Other projects will focus on ways to improve the UK’s inefficient housing stock, as there is no way to reach net zero without improved insulation. Millions will be spent developing cheaper alternatives to gas boilers, whether that’s through hydrogen, heat pumps or an entirely new technology.
We also expect to see companies finding ways to make renewable energy possible in difficult conditions, such as creating solar panels that can still work in areas which receive less direct sunlight.
All these efforts will ultimately help the UK make its energy future more secure, and hopefully cheaper and greener for all of us.
It’s a tough time to work in agriculture. Farmers in the UK have had to cope with the rising cost of fuel, feed and fertiliser, not to mention a hot and dry summer.
Then there is the issue of staff shortages, with not enough people available to pick fruit and veg. This is why agriculture is one of the industries that could see the biggest benefit from robotics.
Already people are exploring the possibility of developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) that could be incorporated into robots to allow them to identify certain plants, pick fruit and vegetables when they’re ready to harvest and work in harsh weather conditions.
Removing labour constraints using robotics could alleviate some of the problems farmers face.
Seeing things in a new way
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) might be commonly associated with gaming but they’re going to play big roles in all our lives.
VR and AR are already being used in classrooms, medical training and retail, and will surely become much more widespread as the technology shrinks.
Maybe we will all soon be wearing glasses that can add data to your real-world experience. If so, components will need to be miniaturised, new battery technology developed and special lenses produced.
What to do about plastic?
There are two strands to the plastic pollution problem — what are our alternatives, and what do we do with the products that already exist?
We’re already starting to see some innovative new uses for existing plastic to ensure it is reused rather than taking up space in landfill, or worse, in our oceans and woodlands.
One company we’ve worked with has incorporated plastic lumber made from recycled McDonald’s toys into children’s play equipment, for example.
Yet with so many plastic products still being made every day, there is a long way to go to ensure all of them go on to have alternative uses.
Meanwhile, biodegradable and compostable plastic alternatives are in the works but none have yet proved to be a magic bullet. Clearly we need to move away from plastic, and a lot of R&D is going to be needed to make that happen.