On the Road Again

After a vacation period of uncertain weather through July and August there was a real feeling that summer was over as I caught the 7.30am train out of Bristol on the Monday morning .. darker mornings, queues for tickets and fuller trains. At the Technology Strategy Board progress has continued to be made on various initiatives through the summer but with a series of workshops and regional events planned through September there was also a feeling of getting back "on the road again".

The exciting thing about being out on the road is meeting businesses and seeing first hand many of the good things going in our country. The week finished with a weekend visit to the Science Museum Festival of Innovation at Wroughton which seemed to capture in so many ways what Innovation is all about.  There were so many amazing examples of innovation to see from the past - from the ACE computer of the 1950's, the first electron microscope, the laboratory apparatus from Alexander Fleming's experiments, the log book for the first moon landing - and the list could run and run. But the event was not just about innovation from the past, it was about innovation in the present and innovation for the future. It was fascinating to see the computer game exhibits from the Swindon-based Museum of Computing but the kids were much more focused around the hands-on displays of the ICT technology and games technology being developed for the future. There was a fascinating display of bikes through the ages but again the centre of attraction was the new electric bikes being raced on the runway; and whilst I was greatly interested in the original design drawings of Donald Campbell's Bluebird, it was the excitement of young children making their own balloon powered models on the Bloodhound SSC stand that was capturing the imagination. It all helps reinforce the importance of engaging the public in what is going on across our country in the Innovation landscape - because there are some great things happening.

This week's visits to the regions had reinforced this for me. On Tuesday I met the Yorkshire Science and Innovation Council at the Food and Environmental Research Agency's facility at Sand Hutton, York, where some 400 world class scientists work. It was fascinating to see first hand some of the work going on in areas such as crop and food security and diagnostics, and to hear of their developments in genome biology. The facility and its capabilities stretch way beyond a Regional Centre, reaching International significance. Yorkshire Forward can also boast world beating manufacturing capability in its region. The cluster emerging around the Advanced Manufacturing Centre at Sheffield is world-class and providing benefits to the UK manufacturing supply chain across a range of sectors. It is not in the Yorkshire physche to brag, but instead to quietly get on with things. But if you take their manufacturing capabilities and build on the developments through their South Yorkshire Digital Region project I am confident they can create real business opportunity across the region - and that we can ensure it contributes to the UK's innovation economy.

Yorkshire was followed by a trip to the Low Carbon Vehicle Event at Millbrook. An annual event in a fast moving market is a good way to illustrate the pace of development and momentum in this important area. The Technology Strategy Board Low Carbon Vehicle projects from 2007 are starting to deliver real results for the businesses involved. Nowhere was this more apparent in the display hall with the Jaguar Limo-Green vehicle and the Lotus Range Extender engine. The press coverage of Low Carbon Vehicles in recent months has been very positive and I sense real opportunity for UK business in the development of Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle technology. My discussions with Mercedes-Benz about their commitment to our ULCV demonstrator programme with their 100 Smart EV's shows the importance of these investments to foreign owned companies in their decision making process. It is also important to the UK supply chain. Every Smart EV uses the electric drivetrain developed by West Midlands based engineering company Zytek Automotive Ltd.

However one thing we are still not good at, both as a Technology Strategy Board and also as a nation, is public engagement in communicating these business and innovation success stories.

The Science Museum Festival of Innovation was just one good event to help promote innovation - past, present and future. We all need to find  ways of engaging the public in better understanding and promoting our innovation and technology success stories.

"Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity - not as a threat" - Albert Einstein


Last updated on Friday 24 February 2012 at 10:14

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