It has been one year since the University of Liverpool’s Digital Innovation Facility (DIF) officially opened in a memorable ceremony with Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram, Sir Robin Saxby, Professor Dame Janet Beer and former Vice-Chancellor and Dr Andrew Levers, Head of the Institute of Digital Engineering and Autonomous Systems (IDEAS).
The £12.7 million Centre of Excellence is home to emerging technologies and cutting-edge equipment within six state-of-the-art digital laboratories that cover a magnitude of capabilities and disciplines such as mixed reality, chemistry, drone technology, computer and data science, robotics, AI, machine learning, modelling, and engineering. The 1,500sq metre innovative centre drives local digital skills, generating new jobs and career opportunities whilst supporting research collaborations between academics, researchers, and industry leaders.
Since launching, the DIF Team has created over 50 new collaborations, including being heavily involved in the new research partnership with Sumy State University in Ukraine, helping to develop stronger research links and long-term partnerships focusing on digital infrastructure and digital transformation. Working closely with other departments of the University, the teams at the DIF will be supporting as key players in the University’s digital theme.
Other collaborations have included aerospace giant Airbus, St George’s Hall Trust, School of Health Sciences (Department for Orthoptics), Civic Data Cooperative, Unilever, University of Exeter, Dogs Trust, and many more, crossing over multiple sectors and industries for broader learning, cooperative working, and effective economic delivery.
DIF residents include the Materials Innovation Facility (‘MIF’) and the Institute of Digital Engineering and Autonomous Systems (IDEAS), comprising the Digital Innovation Facility and Virtual Engineering Centre, are working together to co-develop the technical foundation and key technologies to demonstrate the value and efficacy of Laboratories of the Future.
The DIF has also generated over 70 new jobs as it nurtures skills advancements within the Liverpool City Region. The newly created jobs have been placed within areas including digital engineering, Virtual Reality specialists, translational research, lecturers, data science and software engineering, to name but a few.
The centre is home to the VEC’s Mixed Reality Lab containing the latest in VR technology and the UK’s first active stereo projection system, capable of rendering multiple unique tracked viewpoints for seamless collaborative working and exploration. The DIF is also home to an Extreme Environment Lab that simulates real-world hazardous conditions for testing robotics and autonomous systems within a safe and controlled space.
Dr Andrew Levers, Lead for the Institute of Digital Engineering and Autonomous Systems (IDEAS), reflects on the success of the DIF within its first year:
“The response to the DIF as a facility and research centre has been enormous and a credit to the University and the collaborative work we undertake. The number of jobs created, and innovative projects undertaken across sectors, speak for themselves and the value delivered across the city. We have experienced numerous visitors across industry, research, and educational services, all eager to learn more about the state-of-the-art laboratories available within the facility, meet the great minds who work here and discover how they can take advantage.
The future of DIF is an exciting aspect as the Mixed Reality laboratory alone plans to showcase our Future City, a digital twin of the Liverpool city region, supporting combined authority and multiple organisations in exploring their data like never before in the first of its kind tool, revolutionising the way we work in the future.”
Co-located in the DIF are the University’s Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC), the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Hartree Centre and the Civic Data Cooperative. The DIF is co-funded by the University of Liverpool and Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s Local Growth Fund.