Digital twinning research: convening, catalysing, and investing

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Find out how UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is funding research to help to develop the UK national capability in digital twinning.

The strategic and policy context

In our increasingly interconnected digital world, we need to develop a greater understanding of our systems and systems of systems, and in the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy a requirement was identified to develop a national capability in digital twinning to improve our ability to anticipate and respond to crises.

In their cyber-physical infrastructure consultation: government response, the Department for Science Innovation and Technology (DSIT) identified that we have a clear opportunity to pursue a resilient, responsible and innovation-enabling cyber physical infrastructure, where industry, academia, central government and the wider public sector work together to build a sustainable ecosystem. They also noted through the consultation the clear ask of government to help address systemic challenges such as by building security and resilience through supporting the development of systems that can withstand attacks and failures.

Convening, catalysing and investing

At UKRI we recognise the importance of digital twinning and the research challenges that need to be addressed if the UK is to reach its potential in this area. Our mission is to convene, catalyse and invest in close collaboration with others to build a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system that connects discovery to prosperity and public good.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UKRI, has established the digital security and resilience theme. This brings EPSRC’s digital twins research and skills thematic area alongside a wider portfolio of research and skills investments in cyber security and digital resilience. This positions us very well to play our part in the development of the national capability in digital twinning. Building on the investments highlighted in my previous blog, realising the potential of digital twins, we’ve worked closely with policy leads in various government departments and taken independent advice from experts in industry and academia to shape our investment plans.

We are making a series of strategic investments in research supported by EPSRC and UKRI funding as part of the development of the national capability in digital twinning. These will work collaboratively with, and complement, existing initiatives in the UK digital twinning landscape such as:

A series of strategic investments in research

Building the research community and providing thought leadership

We’re launching a new initiative that will bring together academic expertise across the UK and from a wide range of disciplines. The successful consortium is led by the Alan Turing Institute, working with Ulster University, University of Exeter, University of Cambridge and The University of Sheffield.

Together they’ll develop a multidisciplinary UK digital twinning research community and provide thought leadership on critical topic areas, initially on ethics and human interaction, environmental sustainability, and security and resilience. This investment will start in August 2023 and will run for five years supported by £3 million of funding mainly from UKRI’s building a secure and resilient world theme.

A research hub in digital twinning for decarbonising transport

Working closely with DSIT, the Department for Transport and many of the major transport providers in the UK, we’ve seen strong demand for a large-scale investment in research in digital twinning for decarbonising transport. To meet that demand, we launched a competition to find a research leader for digital twinning for decarbonising transport.

This was won by Professor Philip Greening of Heriot-Watt University and Professor David Flynn of the University of Glasgow, for their TransiT project.

Over the next six months they will engage widely before submitting a proposal to EPSRC to establish a national research hub to deliver much needed applied research in digital twinning to support the decarbonisation and improved integration of UK transport systems. If their proposal is successful, we will support the hub with up to £20 million of investment over five years.

Research to improve the operation, security and resilience of energy grids

Under the UKRI building a secure and resilient world strategic theme we’re launching investments in research in digital twinning to improve the operation, security, and resilience of the UK’s energy grids. The first of these investments is the Energy System Digital Twin (ENSIGN) programme. This is a joint investment between Scottish Power and UKRI, with academic leadership from Professor Campbell Booth at the University of Strathclyde.

The project will create a digital twin of future multivector energy networks to inform the drive towards 2050 net zero emissions. Further investments will follow in research into digital twinning to improve the operation, security, and resilience of energy grids.

UKRI has also provided further funding for the Data & Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI) platform. The platform allows researchers to use state-of-the-art modelling, simulation, and visualisation, developing UK capability to reduce vulnerabilities, to respond to and recover from shocks.

Cyber security and resilience

As mentioned in DSIT’s cyber-physical infrastructure consultation response, to complement these digital twinning investments, EPSRC is also supporting the development of the national capability in cyber security research and related skills.

Through a portfolio of investments in cyber security, and working with colleagues in Innovate UK, DSIT and the National Cyber Security Centre, we’re helping to deliver aspects of the National Cyber Strategy. We’re investing:

Future funding

Watch out for funding opportunities in research in digital twinning for energy grids as well as for further research to address other gaps in knowledge and capability in digital twinning.

Further information

If you’re interested in academic research in digital twinning, we encourage you to:

  • engage with our current grant holders
  • join the Digital Twinning NetworkPlus: DTNet+
  • join the Digital Twin Hub

For more information, please contact EPSRC’s digital security and resilience theme:

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