This is the second stage of a two-stage process designed to launch a new EPSRC research hub that will tackle key digital twinning research challenges, following a ‘learning by doing’ approach, to support and accelerate the UK transport systems’ transition to zero emissions, improve integration across the systems of transport and support economic growth. The stages are as follows:
- Stage 1 – Digital Twinning Transport Leader for the decarbonisation and integration of transport systems in the UK
- Stage 2 – Digital Twinning Research Hub for the Decarbonisation and integration of transport systems in the UK
Digital twins offer the potential to accelerate progress in achieving net zero, improving national security and national resilience, as well as delivering wider economic and societal benefits. The requirement for a national capability in digital twinning was identified in the Integrated Review, and digital twinning also features within the following publications:
This funding opportunity is a major part of our contribution to the national capability in digital twinning.
We are looking for a leader or co-leaders, who will create a security-minded, cross-sector, interdisciplinary consortium and research plan for a single new EPSRC digital twinning research hub. The research hub is a five-year investment to undertake transformational and application driven research to address important digital twinning research challenges to support and accelerate the decarbonisation and integration of the transport systems in the UK.
This mission-led investment will form a key part of our contribution to the development of the national capability in digital twinning. The leader will need to continue to build and lead the research hub to tackle key research challenges in digital twinning for decarbonising and improving the integration of UK transport systems, while also working collaboratively with other EPSRC digital twinning, decarbonisation and related, research investments as part of a cohesive enterprise targeted at addressing nationally important challenges.
The transport systems are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for 27% of UK emissions. Achieving sustainable transportation systems will require rapid technological change in the way people, goods and services are transported.
Digital twin development presents an excellent opportunity to improve the user experience with increased journey reliability and decreased congestion and to reduce carbon emissions as next generational computation capability improves efficiencies, such as reducing air traffic stacking, smoothing traffic interchanges, and improving logistics.
Digital twins are virtual replicas and representations of assets, processes, systems, or institutions in the built, societal, or natural environments. They provide real- or right-time insight into how complex physical assets and citizens behave, helping organisations improve decision-making and optimise processes.
Digital twins fundamentally differ from computer models as they can provide significant amounts of real- or right-time data, allowing an appropriate level of interaction with the physical twin. At the same time, certain types of proposals, actions and events can be modelled with unprecedented accuracy effectively offering the ability to experiment in a non-live environment of the real world.
In our Strategic Delivery Plan, we stated that we will focus on four mission-inspired, interdisciplinary challenges, working across UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), but with engineering and physical sciences activities at their core. This investment spans two of those mission-inspired interdisciplinary challenges. They are:
- Artificial intelligence (AI), digitalisation and data: Driving value and security; and
- Engineering net zero.
For the first of these challenges, we stated that we will:
- generate scientific and technical advances to realise the benefits of AI and digital technologies, creating opportunities and improving outcomes for the UK economy and society
- deliver platform technologies that underpin a range of potential applications, as well as research and innovation across UKRI and its strategic themes
- encourage adventure, pushing boundaries to realise the transformational impact of digital technologies across industry and society
We recognised that a key outcome is enhancing national security to address the government’s Integrated Review and the UKRI strategic theme ‘Building a Secure and Resilient World’. Specifically, we committed to develop a digital twins use case in decarbonising transport which takes into consideration and embeds appropriate security in the way it is delivered and in the outputs it generates.
This funding opportunity and the research hub that will follow a successful proposal submitted under the second funding opportunity, will deliver on that commitment.
This investment will also help to address the engineering net zero mission-inspired interdisciplinary challenge. In our Strategic Delivery Plan, we recognised that our engineering and physical sciences research is critical to the discovery, development, and deployment of solutions to tackle climate change, enhance sustainability and ensure economic prosperity and fairness.
We are committed to support a whole systems approach to developing the technological solutions which will decarbonise our economy and society, to create a sustainable net zero future.
The transport sector is advanced and well positioned to coordinate and create world leading advances in digital twinning to achieve the UK’s net zero ambitions, improve the user journey and support economic growth, as set out in the Decarbonising Transport: A Better, Greener Britain. This plan is already delivering positive change, as detailed in the Decarbonising transport: one-year-on review, helping to drive the investments needed to support necessary infrastructure and improve user confidence in new technology.
The EPSRC digital twinning research hub has the potential to build upon this existing expertise and the UK’s excellent research base to deliver the supporting research, people and skills necessary to deliver this vision.
EPSRC and key stakeholders such as the Department of Transport, envisage that two of the highest priority areas where an advanced digital twinning capability can add value are in decarbonisation and improving transport systems for the user through better integration. These are described as follows:
- Decarbonisation of transport systems:
How digital twins can contribute to a systems-level understanding of the impact of different interventions on overall decarbonisation goals and provide methods through which changes can be made to influence and accelerate progress to decarbonisation.
- Improving transport for the user through improved integration:
How digital twins can be used to put people at the centre of decision-making and dynamically manage and improve the integration of transport systems, such as digital twins for public transport timetables linking modalities and operations and for network management.
A digital twinning capability for transport in the UK can also support economic growth.
The successful digital twinning transport research leader is invited submit to the second stage as project lead for the new interdisciplinary, digital twinning research hub to support the decarbonisation and integration of the transport systems in the UK.
Information on the EPSRC digital twinning research hub
If the consortium application is successful, the appointed leader or co-leaders from this funding opportunity will establish and lead the EPSRC digital twinning research hub for the decarbonisation and integration of the UK transport systems. The leader will become the director of the research hub that will receive up to £19 million, plus indexation, of EPSRC funding. They are expected to generate additional leverage to amplify our investment.
This interdisciplinary research hub should follow a ‘learning by doing’ approach, developing a proof of concept for the next generation of digital twins for transport and connected sectors within a live and controlled testbed environment.
The research should be transformational (for digital twinning) and application driven with a strong user focus, tackling digital twinning research challenges that no single organisation would be able to address on their own, but which would be of benefit to many across the whole of the UK transport and connected sectors.
The research hub must establish an appropriate management and governance model with effective monitoring and evaluation, develop a clear equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) plan, and support early career researchers. We expect the director to build a diverse and sustainable hub that integrates social, economic and environmental sustainability at all stages of the research and innovation process.
The successful leader will report to us and engage with our leadership team as the use cases develop. They will also be expected to engage with linked digital twinning investments, including the National Digital Twin Programme in BEIS, and relevant governments and industry stakeholders, such as the Department of Transport (DfT), DfT’s Transport Research and Innovation Board (TRIB) member organisations and others, to identify and develop the digital twinning use cases for the future research hub.
The successful leader will need to strike an appropriate balance between addressing important digital twinning research challenges critical to the development of the national capability in digital twinning and using digital twinning as an approach through carefully selected use cases to tackle important and relevant objectives in the decarbonisation and integration of transport systems in the UK.
Some of the digital twinning research challenges that are required to build a national digital twinning capability include:
- data acquisition, analysis, curation, storage, processing, standardisation and sharing, including the interoperability and integration of complex spatial data from multiple sources and combining publicly available data with commercially sensitive data
- multi-fidelity and multi-scale modelling, including working in high fidelity
- working in real- or right-time
- using AI and different levels of automation
- challenges to federation of digital twins, including semantic rules for federation of digital twins, developed for different reasons, and defining a clear systems architecture
- digital safety and security, including cybersecurity, to understand vulnerabilities and build resilience through diversity and other paths
- uncertainty, complexity, validation, verification, and assurance, including assurance in safety critical applications
- decision making and understanding systems of systems, and how to most effectively use digital twinning based on clarity of purpose
- visualisation and user interface, making digital twinning as an approach accessible for decision makers and those affected by the system or systems
- working with large volumes of data to understand and improve systems and their interaction over time using large data storage while concurrently using edge computing to enable rapid interactions within systems using sensors and updates to optimise operation in the moment
- environmental sustainability, understanding and optimising the power efficiency of digital twinning as an approach through design and operation
- developing digital threads to develop, design, understand and optimise the performance of systems, and parts of the systems, over time
- using high performance computing and related infrastructure
- offline simulations and emulations, testing and improving options with digital twinning generating learning loops
- hardware and software for digital twins
- human behaviour and humans in the loop, including EDI, ethics, trustworthiness and personal data aspects, protecting privacy and security while empowering users
- infrastructure requirements
- liability, legal, standards and regulations
- aspects of public policy development, including balancing competing public goals
- supporting legacy infrastructure assets as well as new transport systems and their interactions
- skills development, including skills needed to work in multi and interdisciplinary settings
- cultural change while moving towards national and multi-modal level transport solutions
Please note this list is not exhaustive.
The research hub will act as a central focus point for collaboration with existing and future digital twinning transport research investments to address some of the above important research challenges, reaching beyond into the net zero landscape and taking a whole systems approach to providing real world solutions.
Work on some of these areas is already taking place as part of the National Digital Twin Programme and therefore liaison with this programme will be critical to ensure best use of resource and long-term alignment and to avoid duplication.
There are a wide range of possible transport specific use cases linked to decarbonisation and integration that the digital twinning research hub could address, such as accelerating speed of net zero product development and improving quality of resultant technology, optimisation and decarbonisation of fleets, freights or aviation, managing traffic to deliver efficiencies on the road network, and supporting user mode shift to lower carbon options.
The appointed leader will report to us and will need to closely engage with our leadership team as the use cases develop. They will also be expected to engage with relevant governments and industry stakeholders, such as DfT and DfT’s TRIB member organisations, to identify and develop the digital twinning use cases that will have the maximum impact on achieving net zero, improving integration across the systems of transport and supporting economic growth.
The transport sector is a system of systems, and as such actionable insights and lessons learned from the work of the research hub should be applicable to different modes of transport, to different places and to connected sectors, such as the energy grid.
The majority of the proposed research for the new digital twinning transport research hub must be within the remit of EPSRC.
The long-term goals for the leader are to:
- provide leadership and coordination on digital twinning transport research, including through the design and delivery of a world-leading digital twinning research hub for the decarbonisation and integration of the UK transport systems (if the funding proposal is successful)
- contribute towards the evidence base for digital twinning, informing strategies to meet the UK’s 2050 net zero target and broader global environmental and sustainability goals
- enhance utilisation and engagement with digital twinning research across society
- deliver digital twinning activity that will lead to real world solutions to decarbonise transport and enhance transport integration, codeveloped and coproduced with users
- ensure the work of the digital twinning research hub is conducted in a security-minded manner and that appropriate security is built into the outputs it generates
- deliver efficiencies in physical infrastructure management and proactive maintenance with digital twinning research activities, and as such reducing disruptions, costs and carbon emissions for the UK transport systems.
Applications are welcome for ‘co-project leads’. In this case, the distinct roles and responsibilities of the two co-project leads must be clearly set out. There will be no change in co-project leads from stage one to stage two of this investment.
Co-project leads must make clear to the panel how they would work together effectively and co-lead the wider consortium.
For applications with co-project leads, the application must demonstrate that the co-project leads jointly fulfil the assessment criteria.
The one project lead will have editing rights to the application, supported by their research office who will be the grant holder.
Up to £19million, plus indexation, is available from us for five years. This grant is expected to start in July 2024.
The funding can be used for the following:
- project lead time
- co-project leader time
- administrative support
- project management support
- costs for networking activities and workshops, such as professional facilitator
- research associates (RAs) salary to support workshops and other activities
- travel, networking and venues
- other standard expenses
Resources may also be used for activities that initiate, grow, and maintain collaborations with stakeholders (for example academia, business, government, third sector) such as:
- staff exchanges
- regular travel
Although this is not a funding opportunity designed for significant capital expenditure, equipment over £10,000 in value (including VAT) and up to £400,000 is available through this funding opportunity. All equipment should be fully justified and essential to the mission of the hub. Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the Directly Incurred – Other Costs heading.
You should look to use local compute capacity and national facilities where possible. In circumstances where this is not possible, and there is a specific need, compute may be requested; this should be fully justified in the Resources section.
We do not require this role to be full time. It is for you to assess how much time you could reasonably commit to this role balanced alongside your other responsibilities, to recognise the strategic, high-profile nature of this role and the anticipated level of commitment required to develop the research hub. You should be prepared to justify the time committed to the role.
Read more information on our approach to equipment funding.
We are fully committed to develop and promote responsible innovation. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.
We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor and to encourage our research community to do likewise. Therefore, applicants are expected to work within the EPSRC Framework for Responsible Innovation.