How knowledge transfer at Aston University drives business forward
Apr 6 | 6 minutes read
The internet has reinvented the global economy. The digitisation of everything means that companies too slow to adapt their processes will become dinosaurs of their time.
Consider this: the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company was 60 years back in the 1950s. Today, that number has dipped to under 20 years.
And while it’s true that technological revolution has brought about staggering improvements to life and work in ways we never thought possible, it has also created a culture of frenzied competition. Today, every individual, company and country from Singapore to Switzerland is in a mad scramble to find the formula to be the next Google or Facebook.
For businesses big or small, this is a race they can neither run nor win, alone. In fact, this isn’t even a race – it’s a series of marathons. And no matter where you operate in the world, you will need help to reach the finish line.
In the UK, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) offer that help. Funded by national innovation agency Innovate UK and created to plug innovation and productivity gaps, these partnerships connect businesses with universities on projects lasting between six and 36 months.
Funding for the project is determined by the size of the company involved and the nature of the project. A KTP associate will be hired to work full time within the organisation to manage the project, with the firm also receiving access to university resources and relevant academic expertise.
This arrangement enables companies to draw from a university’s vast bank of knowledge, on top of gaining access to its technology and talent pool, to solve an innovation challenge.
Running for over 40 years, it has become a highly popular scheme, with many participating companies saying they’ve seen profitability rise significantly as a result of their work with the university.
Yet, there remain others who have yet to make the leap, perhaps uncertain of how teaming up with academia would improve their business operations or meet their innovation needs.
A knowledge transfer success story
Aston University is a research-active, technical university located in central Birmingham comprising three Colleges – Business and Social Sciences, Health and Life Sciences and Engineering and Physical Sciences. It is a ‘dual intensive’ institution, valuing excellence in education and research equally.
The University has consistently responded to the needs of the city and its surrounding regions, partnering with employers to advance the knowledge and skills of citizens. Its pioneering reputation for graduate employability, student entrepreneurship, and business growth and innovation programmes was recognised through the ‘University of the Year 2020’ accolade from the Guardian and the ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year 2020’ award from The Times.
With 30 knowledge transfer partnerships (KTP), Aston University is the leading KTP provider in the West Midlands and sixth nationally. The University is working with some of industry’s biggest hitters to solve their business challenges.
A recent example is the University’s partnership with Aurrigo to develop sophisticated machine vision for autonomous vehicles.
Aurrigo, a division of the RDM Group, are leaders in the UK’s Low Speed Autonomous Transport System (L-SATS) sector and introduced the first-ever driverless vehicle in 2017.
These driverless pods are now being produced by the company in four- and 12-seater versions, along with a Unit Load Device (ULD), which is an automated vehicle suited for use in airport baggage handling or warehouse situations.
The company is looking to develop their driverless vehicles to run at Level 5 autonomy, which means they can run outside confined vehicle free spaces such as airports and closed campuses. This will require the development of an ‘Avoidance Dynamic Path Planning’ capability.
To achieve this, the company needs to embed expertise in Machine Vision (MV) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) into its products, which requires complex reasoning and AI-based decision-making techniques that are not readily available outside of academia.
Through the KTP, the company will gain access to Aston University’s academic expertise in machine learning and artificial intelligence to develop and implement a sophisticated vision detection, recognition and decision-making solution for driverless vehicles to identify and avoid unexpected obstacles, making their use safer.
The KTP has so far completed the simulation phase, which is proving that the system works. Next stage in the project is to develop the camera-based detection system using machine learning. The project will run until September 2022.
Nick Riddler, Engineering Manager, RDM Group, said: “The expertise of Aston University’s academics and their specialist labs are key, allowing us to run detection and recognition of obstacle scenarios. This data will be used in our decision-making algorithms, which will choose the optimal solution based on the environment. This project will allow us to run accurate detection and obstacle recognition scenarios without having to ‘field test’ our driverless vehicles.”
The RDM KTP is just one of many ongoing projects handled by Aston University.
Its expertise in a wide range of disciplines means its corporate partners operate across a variety of sectors and niches. With each project, a whole new dimension of experience is added to the University’s knowledge transfer portfolio, further cementing its reputation as the go-to academic partner of companies across the West Midlands and beyond.
For example, world-leading optometrists from Aston University partnered with Rayner, the world’s first intraocular lens manufacturer, to develop the next generation of contact lenses that mechanically mimic the natural focusing mechanism of the human eye, giving patients a high-quality full range of vision without the need to use spectacles.
The University’s behavioural science experts are working alongside Cognition to trial electroencephalography (EEG) technology to be the first UK marketing agency to measure the effectiveness of future marketing campaigns in this way.
Optimec Systems, a leading developer and manufacturer of precise geometric measurement instrumentation, completed two KTP projects with Aston University. The first created the is830, a unique-to-market instrument for measuring contact lenses and curved objects using Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) technology. The second project focused on improving the calibration processes of the machine.
Steel etching company Qualitetch Components Ltd partnered with the University to develop novel membrane filtration technologies used in precision component manufacture. The solution raised the company’s productivity, product quality, process consistency and reduced their environmental impact.
For all these businesses and more, Aston’s academics and highly qualified graduates have contributed to leading-edge solutions that do not tackle only real-world innovation challenges but also unlock new market opportunities and increase profitability.
Driving business forward
That surviving the digital era is a tough challenge for any business isn’t anything new. This notion is repeated in virtually every headline about the future of business in an ever-evolving world of work.
Advances in intelligent systems, access to a growing body of data and the democratisation of knowledge mean today’s organisations must keep on innovating to stay ahead of the curve.
More than just creating the products and services on which tomorrow’s industries will be built, they must constantly seek ways to build value and create impact to meet 21st-century demands.
But as daunting as this may seem, as this article has established, businesses needn’t face this challenge on their own – knowledge transfer partnerships can help. And if their operations are stationed somewhere in the West Midlands and its surrounding regions, Aston University is the partner they want.
Does your business have an innovation challenge that needs solving? To learn more about what Knowledge Transfer Partnerships at Aston University can do for you, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call John Richards, Director of Knowledge Exchange, on 0121 204 4254.