Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)


  1.  EPSRC is the main UK government agency for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing around £500 million a year in a broad range of subjects—from mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering.

  2.  The Council operates to meet the needs of industry and society by working in partnership with universities to invest in people and scientific discovery and innovation. The knowledge and expertise gained maintains a technological leading edge, builds a strong economy and improves people's quality of life.

  3.  The work of EPSRC is complementary to other research investors including other Research Councils, government agencies, industry and the European Union. The Council actively engages in and encourages partnerships and collaborations across disciplines, boundaries and internationally.

  4.  EPSRC also actively promote public engagement in science, engineering and technology.


  5.  Digital technology and other new technologies have helped transform the world of media and creative industries in recent years. For example, access to on-line newspapers, digital television, computer aided design, software to create music, audio and video is now commonplace. EPSRC supports a wide range of research in technology areas that have driven these advances. We take this opportunity to draw your attention to key research supported by the EPSRC which is directly relevant to this inquiry.

  6.  Currently EPSRC supports media and creative industries mainly through investment under the fields of "User Interface Technologies" (36 current grants, £8 million) and "Multimedia" (18 current grants, £3.2 million) which includes Music and IT, Computer graphics, Computer Games, video and sound digital broadcasting.

  7.  As a result of their mutual interest in design, EPSRC and AHRC have established the Designing for the 21st Century Initiative as a vehicle for supporting design research over a five-year period from 2005-09. This initiative aims to foster the formation of a new diverse community with a common reference framework and shared understanding of theoretical concepts, cultures, methods and languages; to stimulate new ways of design thinking able to meet the challenges of designing for 21st Century society; and to support leading-edge design research that is self-reflective, socially aware, economically enterprising and internationally significant. The first stage of this initiative saw 21 one year networks funded to run over 2005, totalling £1 million. Many of their activities were related to the impact upon creative industries of recent and future developments in digital convergence and media technology. Examples include clusters on "Technology and Social Action" (led by Professor Andy Dearden of Sheffield Hallam University) "Digital Design, Representation, Communication & Interaction: Screens and the Social Landscape" (led by Professor Gunter Kress of the Institute of Education), and "Interrogating Fashion—Practice, Process and Presentation: New Paradigms in Fashion Design" (led by Professor Sandy Black of the London College of Fashion). Most clusters included multiple representatives of the creative industries within their membership—typically three to four per cluster. In addition, a call during 2006 will allocate a further £5 million for research projects and we would expect many creative industries firms to be collaborators on or to have their work informed by these projects, and a range of dissemination activities will be used to promote the output of the projects to them. In addition to this initiative in Design, EPSRC has an active relationship with the Design Council. During 2005 we ran a joint initiative Design for Technology Research exploring how the skills and thinking of designers can speed technology's route to the marketplace and we expect to work with them on future design related activities.

  8.  EPSRC has promoted bridging the interface between science and engineering and the arts and humanities through its Culture and Creativity programme. This programme has supported £700k in 14 research networks and four visiting fellowships to assist in building these ties and with potential for both scientific and cultural outcomes. One of the networks supported under this initiative is the new international and interdisciplinary research Network Pervasive and Locative Arts Network (PLAN, This network draws together computer scientists and engineers leading the field in developing pervasive and locative technologies; artists who are using these technologies to create and publicly deploy innovative and provocative experiences; social scientists studying interactive installations and performances; industrial partners from the creative industries, spanning the arts, television, games, education, heritage, mobile computing and telecommunications sectors; and international partners who are coordinating parallel networks around the world.

  9.  EPSRC supports the £10.6 million Equator Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC) which has played an essential role in developing the inter-relationships and integration between physical and digital interaction. For instance, the Equator IRC has developed a portable mixed-reality interface for outdoors used to re-create Nottingham's medieval castle on the site of the modern one, thereby enhancing the visitor experience and Enlighten interactive flashlights technology to support large interactive displays in public settings such as museums, galleries and exploratoria. The Equator has also collaborated with the artists group BlastTheory to develop and produce Can You See Me Now? (CYSMN), which is a pervasive game that mixes players on the streets of a city with online players in a virtual model of that city. This has been toured around abroad and was awarded the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica for Interactive Art in 2003 and nominated for a BAFTA in Interactive Entertainment in 2002. The University of Nottingham has filed for a patent and is currently establishing a spin-out company to take the technology to market. At the time of writing, three customers have offered contracts for installations including the MAGNA Science Activity Centre in Rotherham. The Equator project collaborated with Blast Theory, British Telecom and Microsoft Research to create a pervasive performance called Uncle Roy All Around You that was staged in London, Manchester and West Bromwich and that was twice BAFTA nominated in 2005. As a result of their collaborations with Equator, British Telecom, the BBC, Microsoft Research, Blast Theory have joined with The University of Nottingham and also the University of Bath and the company called ScienceScope Ltd, to create a pervasive computing platform to support mass-participation campaigns for mobile, broadcast and online media. A three year project beginning in 2006 has been funded under the DTI/EPSRC Technology Programme. Led by researchers from the Royal College of Art, Equator has collaborated with the Ordinance Survey (who donated terabytes of aerial photograph data) to create the Drift Table, a piece of interactive furniture that employs load-sensing technology to enable its owners to fly a birds-eye camera over Britain from the comfort of their living room.

  10.  Another example of new technology broadly taken up by creative industries is a software used to add special effects to hundreds of films and adverts, including "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings". This was an outcome of the EPSRC project "Video and Virtual Camera Integration" (LINK GR/M82790/01). This project involved three partners: Oxford University for the original research; the company 2d3 (, for the development of industry standard software; and the company Mill Film (, as an end user of the software. The project succeeded in developing a commercial camera tracker software package. The camera tracker software was particularly welcomed by the television industry, which conferred an Emmy award in 2002.

  11.  EPSRC and ESRC will be launching in March 2006 a new programme of research entitled "Technology Enhanced Learning: Understanding and Exploiting Digital Technologies for Learning". £6 million is being made available in the first instance to fund high-quality adventurous research in projects cutting across the disciplines of learning, cognition, ICT and education. This programme is expected to be of great interest to the Creative Industries.

  12.  EPSRC is also currently seeking to achieve a joint funding agreement with AHRC in order to strengthen the support for projects that we can offer in areas the cross our remits, including many impacts of developing digital media technologies.

28 February 2006

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 16 May 2007