AI projects supporting small businesses in fashion, farming and fire-fighting to get funding boost ahead of UK AI Safety Summit 

14/10/2023
Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan

ARTIFICIAL intelligence projects in areas as diverse as fashion, farming and fire-fighting are being backed with a further £37m, as the Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan highlights how AI can be a force for good ahead of next month’s AI Safety Summit.

Research teams and businesses of all sizes in high-growth industries – from transport to agriculture and construction to creative industries – are encouraged to apply for a share of £32m, which is now open for bids. The funding will help grow their AI initiatives in a safe and responsible way and boost the wider sector, support their workforces and help the UK towards the Prime Minister’s priority of growing the economy.

A further £5m has been awarded to feasibility studies for 100 projects involving small businesses across the UK, helping to sow the seeds of an idea that could flourish into game-changing technology, part of a push from Government to grasp the positive effects of AI to boost productivity and growth. This funding will support AI tools being used right across the economy, from managing the power supplies to EV chargepoints and reducing delays on the railways, to using AI to reduce the waste produced by the construction industry, and monitoring the health of dairy cattle.

The Technology Secretary unveiled the latest support to drive forward safe, responsible AI solutions in a visit to Kapdaa, a sustainable fashion brand in Kingston Upon Thames, which has received backing for its AI4Fibres project, using AI for textile and fibres recycling.

Kapdaa, among the winners of the £5m fund announced today, is developing AI-powered cloth recycling to reduce the fashion industry’s environmental footprint and cut back on the estimated 921,000 tonnes of used textiles disposed of in household waste in the UK each year – the equivalent of more than 70,000 London buses. 

Its technology can effectively sort and process textile waste by material, while removing zips and buttons to increase recycling and reduce landfills. Current manual methods, reliant on accurate labelling or use of handheld machines to scan the garments individually can make the process labour intensive and expensive. 

Other funded projects include TradeWork’s AI-assisted project management systems to enable more efficient work scheduling, resourcing, budgeting and completion that in turn drives faster and cheaper housebuilding and DeepPlanet, which is working to detect and predict diseases in wine grape plants through satellite imagery to prevent waste.

Meanwhile DigiLab in Exeter is helping farmers to identify and verify carbon capture and Better Environment and Transport is exploring AI solutions that will help UK Fire and Rescue services to move their fleets towards net-zero, saving on fuel bills and cutting pollution.

Science and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, said:

“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 £32m 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.

Co-founder of Kapdaa, Nishant Parekh, said:

“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.”

The £32m competition is open now and closes on 8 November, days after the UK hosts leading AI nations, technology companies, researchers, and civil society groups at the world’s first major summit on AI Safety, driving national and international action for the safe and responsible development of frontier AI around the world.

Funding, through the UKRI Technology Missions Fund and delivered by the Innovate UK BridgeAI programme, will be granted to at least one micro business, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), one large enterprise and one academic institution or research and technology organisation (RTO).  

Dr Kedar Pandya, Executive Director, Cross-Council Programmes at UKRI, said:

“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.”

The latest funding boost comes weeks after the Technology Secretary committed £2 million towards four projects exploring AI solutions to some of the hardest-to-treat cancers and followed £13 million, pledged through the UKRI Technology Missions Fund, for research that will deliver pioneering AI innovation in healthcare, with 22 winning university and NHS trust projects stretching from Edinburgh to Surrey receiving a share.

In June, the Government also announced £31 million to create a UK and international research and innovation ecosystem for responsible and trustworthy AI.

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