Engineering for Life Feasibility Account

Lead Research Organisation: Sheffield Hallam University
Department Name: Faculty of Arts Computing Eng and Sci


The Feasibility Account will be used to support the most exciting and innovative projects from a pipeline of multidisciplinary projects developed through Engineering for Life (EfL), a Bridging the Gap award held at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU). EfL has the core aim of creating multidisciplinary teams to find pioneering ways to enhance people's lives by addressing problems related to the ageing, disability, the promotion of healthy living for all and sustainability. The Account will be operated through the following research centres: Materials and Engineering, Art and Design, Sports Engineering, Biomedical, Communication and Computing. The potential applications and benefits are very wide ranging. Example projects which may be considered for funding by the account are (i) Novel biomaterials for muscloskeletal disorders which is a project developing new composite materials which can re-expand a collapsed spinal disc and stimulate disc regeneration. (ii) Second Lives, Third Age, a project developing virtual interactive technologies to greatly improve the quality of life of the elderly and those suffering from isolating physical disabilities such as dementia by allowing them to participate in creative and physical activities in a virtual world modelled on Second Life. EfL has been very successful in using sand-pit events to create multidisciplinary research projects and provided them with modest seed-corn funding. The level of funding of the projects in EfL ranges from 10k to 20k. The aim of the Feasibility Account is to allow the most promising of these projects to be taken to the next level of development with funding in the range 40 to 60k. Thus, of the approximately 20 projects which emerge from EfL it is proposed to fund 3 to 4 at this level. A small number of the most highly speculative projects will be funded at a lower level; this number is expected to be again 3 to 4. The funding allocation will be achieved through an innovative two stage assessment process. In order to reduce the investment risk, the second stage of the assessment process will examine not only the quality of the research but also the need, the barriers to development and the economic impact. The allocation of funds from the project will be governed by an Award Panel through the following two stage process:-Stage 1: Quality of the projectProjects will be assessed against the following criteria: (i) Interdisciplinarity.(ii) Innovation and originality. (iii) Quality of proposed research. (iv) The need for the technology.(v) Potential impact. (vi) Clear outcomes. (vii) The potential to attract external support. (viii) Cost effectiveness. The most promising projects from stage 1 will be allowed to proceed to stage 2. The remaining projects will be assessed for a lower level of support.Stage 2: De-risking the investmentThe purpose of the second stage-gate is to undertake a forward look to (i) Assess the commercial feasibility(ii) Identify the key technical barriers (iii) Gain input from the end-user community These assessments will be undertaken by independent academics, external consultant and end-user groups. The reports generated by these three assessments, together with information from the first stage-gate, will form the basis of the final funding decisions.The projects funded by the Account will proceed to compete for funding from a range of sources including RCUK, NIHR, the EU, TSB and through direct commercialisation through support mechanisms such as Proof of Concept funds. The Account aims to achieve overall leverage 5:1, longer-term, and further embed the cultural change which EfL has achieved within the University in creating a very active multidisciplinary community. EfL has achieved very significant success; the Feasibility Account will ensure that this success is carried forward.

Planned Impact

Beneficiaries: Achieving an impact on people's lives is the explicit purpose of the projects which will be funded by the Engineering for Life Feasibility Account. Indeed, Enhancing people's lives is the strap line of the Engineering for Life (EfL) project. The theme of EfL is to address problems related to ageing, disability, the promotion of healthy living for all and sustainability. Success in these areas would have an important impact on a large section of society. Depending on the precise projects which are selected from the EfL pipeline, end-user beneficiaries would include some of the following:- 1) the elderly 2) people with a range of medical conditions. Projects currently within EfL are addressing problems related to a. autism b. dementia c. joint replacement d. degenerative spinal problems 3) people seeking physiotherapy 4) the general public through improved healthy living arising from increased activity and sports 5) disadvantaged communities by the encouragement of lifestyle changes 6) sustainability 7) the NHS through increased cost effectiveness of delivery, plus reduction in numbers of people attend due to increased health living. In addition to these beneficiaries, a wide range of companies could benefit by exploiting the technology which will arise from the funded projects. For example (i) companies which service the health sector through the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, medical devices or technologies for assisted livening (ii) companies involved in sports technology, with the possibility of diversifying their product into health related products. The work on sustainability could have a diverse impact on industry through new products, new processes or improved efficiency with a reduced carbon footprint. Nature of the benefit: The nature of the benefit will be very varied. The following are a few examples:- The projects addressing problems related to the elderly or those with conditions such as autism are aimed at improvements in quality of life through both increased activity and socialisation. This will have significant health and cognitive benefits for these two groups. The work on musculoskeletal disorders will provide direct benefit through improved treatment. Similarly a number of interventions are being developed which will assist in physiotherapy and lead to more effective treatment. Approaches based around the Field Lab principle are being explored to encourage lifestyle changes in disadvantaged communities. If successful this could have a significant impact as is illustrated by statistical evidence of an 11 year gap in the life expectancy of people in Sheffield between different socio-economic groups. A wide range of technologies and approaches to sustainability are embedded in the research centres associated with the Feasibility Account. These include biodegradable packaging, environmentally friendly marine ant-fouling agents, coatings for bio-mass furnaces, cutting edge photo-voltaics. For the industries involved the principle benefit will be new and innovative products and hence increased competitiveness and profitability. There is a wide range of timescales over which the benefits will be delivered. It is possible that some of Field Labs will result in fairly immediate benefits because of the direct nature of the contact with the public. However, in contrast the work on medical interventions such as the biomaterials for muscloskeletal will take longer to benefit the end-user. Research staff will gain specific specialist skills but the largest benefit will be the opportunity to exploit and experience the benefits of multidisciplinary research. In particular, it has been found that the opportunity to work on research which has a direct benefit to people is strongly motivating for many researchers.


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