The UK Government outlined plans in the lastest budget allocation of a pledge for £270m fund for of research in robotics, next-generation batteries and biotech. The announcement, made on Wednesday 8th March 2017, was criticised by some members of the industry as woeful despite being a key pillar of the Government’s industrial strategy.

The Treasury announced the first phase of its “Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund”

Mr Hammond's spending commitments included:

  • £270m to put the UK "at the forefront" of disruptive technologies including robotics, biotech and driverless vehicle systems
  • £16m to create a 5G hub to trial the forthcoming mobile data technology. A 5G standard does not yet exist, but the technology is expected to surpass 4G to provide faster data uploads and downloads when it is deployed, some time after 2020. In particular, the government wants there to better mobile network coverage over the country's roads and railway lines than at present
  • funds for 1,000 new PhD and fellowship positions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) subjects
  • £200m to support local "full-fibre" broadband network projects that are designed to bring in further private sector investment

Research teams will have to compete for funds aimed at solving three key challenges: batteries that can power electric cars, artificial intelligence and robots that can be used to replace humans in dangerous environments such as nuclear stations and oil rigs, and new ways of manufacturing medicines.

The money will be earmarked for British businesses and universities to meet specific challenges with huge potential, which will include the use of robots to work in nuclear and offshore power generation, space and deep mining. There will also be cash set aside for companies developing the kind of batteries that will unlock the potential of electric cars.

The National Productivity Investment Fund is already working to upgrade the country’s mobile and broadband network, and the budget will outline the UK’s first 5G strategy, including trials spread across leading research institutions. 5G will be significantly faster than current 4G networks. It also has implications for health, with companies developing wearable sensors that can foresee and warn of an imminent stroke or heart attack.