How we created cyber-physical infrastructure to catalyse innovation

Minister George Freeman speaking at Digital Catapult event

Cyber-physical infrastructure (CPI) is a new way to connect the real word to the digital world. Innovate UK has funded six CPI projects to accelerate innovation.

CPI is a grand way of talking about how virtual and real-world systems work together. In the way that physical sensors and computers can work out what the weather’s going to be, or robots in warehouses can now gather your online shopping order.

CPI is often pioneered by sectors such as manufacturing and the video game industry. We want to see that expertise accelerated for public good.

Data aimed at computers

The internet is really good at displaying information in a way that humans can read but it’s not so good at displaying data in a way that computers can read. CPI creates the next generation of internet for:

  • artificial intelligence
  • robotics
  • digital twins
  • data infrastructure
  • synthetic environments

Lots of companies have been developing this technology over the past few years and the UK is getting quite sophisticated at doing it. But as more and more people develop different systems, we need to keep in mind that we might one day want to put these different technologies together. Technologies such as smart road systems telling the energy network where and when electric vehicles will be arriving to charge.

If everyone develops their own technology without a common set of frameworks or language, we won’t be able to get communication between systems, or ‘interoperability’. Which means it will be necessary to develop everything from scratch.

This means there is a role for government in setting out common approaches and assets that can be shared across a sector. Along with standards and frameworks to allow interoperability between systems.

Six pioneering projects

Innovate UK has been working with Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, UK Research and Innovation, and the Catapult Networks to support CPI. We have funded six projects at our Catapults that will pioneer this new technology and make it accessible to business and small and medium-sized enterprises. Six innovative projects that Innovate UK is already funding are:

Connected Places Catapult (CPC)

Digital twin capability building

CPC is investing in the world-leading Digital Twin Hub, delivering learning materials, networks and connected digital twin events. CPC is further developing the CReDo climate resilience demonstrator, creating a digital twin for infrastructure asset owners.

Across mobility and transport, CPC are creating a 2035 Transport Vision and Roadmap for an ecosystem of connected digital twins that will support the decarbonisation and improved performance of UK transport systems.

London office buildings showing digital connections

Credit: alice-photo, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVM Catapult)

Enabling technologies for CPI and Apollo Protocol

HVM Catapult is characterising CPI by building upon the digital twin framework (ISO 23247) through a manufacturing lens and also engaging with cross-sector activities, primarily with the and environment. The Apollo Protocol is creating a mechanism to formalise communication between sectors that can be followed by other cross-sector digital twin initiatives to achieve common language.

Delegates at an Apollo Forum Hack

Delegates at an Apollo Forum Hack. Credit: HVM Catapult

Satellite Applications Catapult

Prototype digital twin and in-orbit servicing and manufacturing robotics facility

The Satellite Applications Catapult is working on the development of a prototype digital twin of a proposed International Maritime Innovation Centre (IMIC) in Fawley Waterside.

It is hoped this will help investors visualise the development, inform the business case through scenario modelling and ultimately secure investor funding to deliver the IMIC.

Futuristic technology concept in smart business industry using artificial intelligence

Credit: Epstudio20, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Additionally, Satellite Applications Catapult is developing a cyber-physical digital twin system at the In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing (IOSM) facility at the Wescott Venture Park. This provides the ability to allow physical and digital simulation of the complex flight and contact dynamics needed for manufacturing, servicing, and assembly of complex objects in space.

Robotic arm

Robotic arm. Credit: Satellite Applications Catapult

Energy Systems Catapult (ESC)

Energy intelligence and future architecture

The ESC CPI project is exploring the growing role of digital technologies (specifically digital twins) in the energy sector and building assets that will enable the ESC to support the energy transition through better decision making and visualisation of challenging concepts.

Electricity pylons against a city backdrop at dusk, with a network of connected points suggesting the future interconnected digital twin applications for the UK energy system.

Credit: Shutterstock, image courtesy of Energy Systems Catapult

Digital Catapult

Future cyber-physical systems

The Digital Catapult are mobilising a new CPI centre of excellence for research and development, a Futurescope start-up accelerator and a state of nation review of Metaverse and Web3 technologies.

Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult

Grimsby living lab for offshore energy: 5G Testbed and DOME

Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult are leading the development of a 5G Testbed and scalable Digital Operations and Maintenance Environment (DOME).

Based in Grimsby, the world’s largest operation and maintenance hub for offshore wind, the projects will provide a unique test and demonstration environment for:

  • robotics and autonomous systems
  • digital twins
  • remote sensors
  • advanced over-water communication technologies
  • zero emission vessels
  • aquaculture
Hologram wind turbines

Credit: KanawatTH, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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Top image:  Minister George Freeman speaking at Digital Catapult event. Credit: Digital Catapult

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